Some folks smuggle weed, others risk their lives illegally transporting cocaine. Michael Hallatt smuggles Trader Joe’s gluten-free granola and roasted gorgonzola crackers across the U.S. border into Canada.
Hallatt, a genius grey-market entrepreneur, buys large quantities of Trader Joe’s products in Seattle, then brings them north to Vancouver, where he re-sells the groceries at a markup at his store, Pirate Joe’s. He’s been doing this for the past two-and-a-half years. “I’ve been thrown out a few times,” Hallatt says about one particular TJ’s in Bellingham, Washington. “It’s a difficult play, but it’s a great store. They got a lot of stuff,” he tells Mo Rocca in a CBS News interview.
One thing you should realize before we go on: There are no Trader Joe’s in Canada. So Vancouver residents, addicted to TJ’s quinoa tortilla chips and frozen tamales, depend on Hallatt for their fix. “Roasted gorgonzola oven-crisp crackers are the gold,” Hallatt explains to Rocca.
Hallatt estimate that he’s spent $800,000 US shopping at TJ’s. But Trader Joe’s isn’t impressed. The grocery giant banned him from some of their stores, but Hallatt wasn’t deterred—he just wore disguises.
Trader Joe’s tried to sue Hallatt in 2013, but the company lost. “If you own something, you’re legally entitled to do anything you want with it—including selling it to your friends in Canada,” Hallatt explains. He actually feels emboldened by TJ’s hassling. “I don’t like being pushed around, no one does,” he says.
Hallatt is a serious businessman. He enlists U.S.-based shoppers to buy groceries for him to smuggle. He has a literal CARTEL OF GROCERY SHOPPERS. Speaking about one shopper, Rocca explains, “Once her cart is loaded, the white van swoops in for the hand-off.”
He also made friends with a manager at the Bellingham TJ’s, named Kyle, who “would help him out, because supplying Hallatt would be a huge boon for the Bellingham store’s sales.” When Hallatt became concerned what would happen if corporate found out, Kyle replied, “They’re too stoned to find out.”
Hallatt sends this message to Trader Joe’s: “I’m really sorry, but we have to do this. We just love your tamales, we love your chocolate, and you’re just too far away from us. So we’re going to take matters into our own hands. Please open in Vancouver.”