Pirate Joe raids Trader Joe’s shelves

“I have to be careful where I park,” said Mike Hallatt. “I can’t park in front of the window. I don’t want them to see the van.”

Cruising through West Seattle in his white van, Hallatt has to be very careful.

Hallatt is shopping … for groceries.

He pulled up front of a Trader Joe’s. “Is it one you frequent?” asked correspondent Mo Rocca.

“Yeah. Well, I’ve been thrown out a few times,” he said. “So it’s a difficult play. But it’s a great store, they’ve got a lot of stuff.”

A lot of stuff that Trader Joe’s doesn’t want Hallatt buying, because he hauls it north to Vancouver, Canada, where he resells it at a markup at his store: Pirate Joe’s.

You see, there is no Trader Joe’s in Canada. So Vancouverites depend on Hallatt for their fix of Trader Joe’s eclectic selection of quirky foodstuffs, like quinoa and black bean-infused tortilla chips … rosemary and thyme maple toffee sunflower seeds … soft-baked snickerdoodles, which CBS News’ hidden camera captured Hallatt scoring during this Seattle run.

Afterwards, Rocca asked, “Did you get everything that you were looking for?”

“I did, yeah, it was all there,” Hallatt said. “I got gluten-free granola. This is the maple. This stuff’s, this is quality.”

He also scored some Thai green curry: “I really wanted to grab ten of these. I grabbed four.”

“If you’d cleaned them out of their Thai green curry –”

“Well, first, it would be rude,” Hallatt said. “And, I’d get tossed.”

And then the gold: Roasted Gorgonzola-flavored oven crisp crackers. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” Hallatt said.

What drives Hallatt to drive so far to satisfy the cravings of his fellow Canucks? It started when he was living in the San Francisco Bay area on a budget.

“So I’d get some tamales home, I put ’em in the microwave as instructed. Best thing I’ve ever had,” he said. “I lived on the frozen food section at Trader Joe’s for three years.”

“You fell in love with Trader Joe’s?” Rocca asked.

“I did, yeah!”

And he wanted to share that love.

He estimates he has spent about US$800,000 shopping at Trader Joe’s.

“You’re a pretty good customer,” said Rocca.

“They tell me I’m their best customer,” Hallatt said.

That didn’t stop Trader Joe’s from banning him from some of their stores, to the point where he began wearing disguises: “I would try whatever I could to keep the business going. And in one terrible sequence of events, I ended up getting into a muumuu with a straw hat. I needed to put nail polish on, of course.”

Then, in 2013 Trader Joe’s sued Hallatt … and 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 said.

“There’s no piracy; the goods here were not stolen.”


“They weren’t smuggled; you paid duties on them.”


“They’re not counterfeit; these are not knock-off salt-and-pepper pistachios.”


“So it’s all above board?”


Trader Joe’s is appealing. We reached out to them for comment; they didn’t respond.

In the meantime Hallatt enlists a number of U.S.-based “shoppers” to keep his pipeline flowing. Rocca met JCat (not her real name) who runs groceries for Hallatt out of Bellingham, Wash.

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