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Apparently This Matters: Trader Joe's walks the plank

Story highlights

  • Trader Joe's is suing copycat Pirate Joe's in Vancouver, Canada
  • The owner of Pirate Joe's re-sells products from Trader Joe's that he imports from America
  • Bellini: Island Soyaki from Trader Joe's could lead to world peace

I've often said I'd like to smother my entire body in soy sauce. But enough about my eHarmony profile.

The truth is I'm completely smitten with one particular sauce from Trader Joe's called Island Soyaki. It's a little gift from heaven made with pineapple and ginger and garlic and sesame seeds. And if given half a chance I'm fairly certain it could ultimately lead to world peace.

"Damn, this is delicious! Why are we even fighting?"

"Your God is different than our God."

"Ah, right. That."

Perhaps it'll take more than just Island Soyaki to bring us all together. But it's a starting point. Unfortunately, however, the revolution won't begin in Canada -- because they don't have Trader Joe's.

Instead, what they do have in Vancouver, British Columbia, is a place called Pirate Joe's, which is an "unaffiliated unauthorized re-seller of Trader Joe's products."

"Apparently This Matters" Is Jarrett Bellini's weekly (and somewhat random) look at social-media trends.

Essentially, it's like an eBay store for chocolate-covered nuts.

(I'm pretty sure there's also a place for that on Craigslist. But it's waaaaay different. So I've heard.)

Naturally, this imposter store is now being sued. Trader Joe's, who declined to comment for this article, filed their complaint in Washington state in May. Then, earlier this month, lawyers for Pirate Joe's fought back, delivering a motion to dismiss. And that's when the whole thing finally made news all over the Web.

It's a good old fashioned food fight!

Basically, Trader Joe's isn't too pleased that the owner of Pirate Joe's literally crosses the border into America, purchases tons of food from their stores, hauls it all back to British Columbia, and then re-sells it for a higher price.

Of course, Pirate Joe's doesn't feel they're doing anything legally wrong -- it's the basic principles of import/export, and their website specifically points out that they even "add Canadian compliant ingredient and nutrition facts labels."

Calories 110 (Sorry.)

Fat 7 g (Sorry.)

Cholesterol 30 mg (Sorry.)

So, as someone with six functioning brain cells and zero business sense, I have to ask: What's the problem?

Because, really, it all seems very win-win-win. Trader Joe's sells a lot of product. Pirate Joe's makes a little money. And people in Vancouver can have soup from a box.

Three bells! That means it's time to litigate.

Ain't life grand? Let's all get naked in a tub of Island Soyaki!

But apparently it's not that simple, for this is about trademark infringement, false advertising and a host of other legal issues arguing that Pirate Joe's hurts the Trader Joe's brand.

(That said, life is still pretty grand. And I'm totally game for filling up the tub.)

Now, what makes this all so truly weird and amazing is that the owner of Pirate Joe's, Michael Hallatt, calls himself Trader Joe's "best customer," and claims to have spent more than $350,000 with them over the past two years to supply his similarly-themed shop in Vancouver.

And Trader Joe's is basically saying, "Hey, thanks for giving us heaps of money. But go to hell."

Because, clearly, it's not about earnings. It's about branding.

Trader Joe's has worked hard to create a positive public image, and they certainly have every right to protect that. To Hallatt's credit, though, he has at least stopped selling perishable goods, for he says he understands that if something were to spoil, it could lead to health risks that might tarnish the reputation of Trader Joe's.

So, he really is trying.

Pirate Joe's has dropped the "P" to show how angry they are with this lawsuit. Isn't that so delightfully Canadian?

But with all the legal back and forth, things are getting rather intense. So much so, in fact, that Hallatt recently dropped the "P" from the name on his store front so that it reads _IRATE JOE'S. Which is to say, he's not overjoyed about the lawsuit.

On top of that, running his business has become increasingly difficult. Some Trader Joe's stores in the Pacific Northwest have begun asking him to leave. So he's resorted to shopping with cash while dressed in drag so as not to be noticed.

I do it to feel pretty.

Anyway, it's all sort of a moot point for me here in America. Trader Joe's is right down the street from my house, their shelves are always stocked with plenty of Island Soyaki, and a red, white and blue bald eagle soars over my really large tub.

Ain't life grand?

Follow Jarrett Bellini on Twitter.

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