Brace yourself -- and the kids. Consumerist reports that Trader Joe's will stop giving out helium balloons to little kids. The news garnered dozens of comments in just a few short hours; as one disappointed Trader Joe's shopper put it: "Not only does a balloon make my son smile, but it actually does influence whether or not I shop at Trader Joe's."

So what's behind this? Will we soon see waves of diaper-wetting, tantrum-throwing tots storm the gates at the company's Needham, Mass. headquarters? As the father of two balloon-loving kids who'd never let me get out of Trader Joe's alive without a fistful of balloons, allow me to inject some clarity into an apparent scandal that deserves no less a title than "Balloongate."

Q: Why on Earth would Trader Joes get rid of balloons?
A:
Consumerist blogger Phil Villarreal quotes one Trader Joe's shopper, who heard from a manager via [Trader Joe's] corporate email "that balloons are going away because of their cost or [that] the helium is bad for environment." So which one is it? Obviously the cost. Because with balloons, it's all about inflation.

Q: If the news is true, how do we break this to our kids?
A:
Easy. Sit them down and say, "Honey, we know how much you love the balloons. How much they make you smile. How much happiness they bring into your day. But you know, Trader Joe's says the helium is really, really bad for the environment." Make sure you do this as fume-belching semi trucks full of artery-clogging gouda cheese back into the Trader Joe's loading dock.

Q: In food industry annals, how does Balloongate rank in terms of its corporate PR value for Trader Joe's?
A:
Hmmm, let's see. New Coke comes to mind. So does "WOW!," those Olestra-containing Lay's potato chips that gave people a permanent case of the runs -- actually referred to in Frito-Lay documents as "anal oil leakage." (They should have been named "WOAH!") Here's an idea: Trader Joe's should celebrate the end of balloons with free servings of New Coke and Olestra Lay's.

Q: We're really upset about Balloongate. What does Trader Joe himself have to say?
A:
Well, the company's founder Joe Coulombe hasn't had much to do with Trader Joe's for some time. He's into collecting wines, serving on the board of the Cost Plus World Market and hawking $300 jeans for True Religion. But he does have an 80th birthday coming up on June 3. Wonder how he would like it if there were no balloons there? Huh?

Q: Wow, there's no more Trader Joe behind Trader Joe's? What happened?
A:
Joe cashed out in 1979. He sold his growing chain to Karl and Theo Albrecht, two German businessmen who own the Aldi supermarket chain. When you think about it, this makes sense: Some Germans don't simply know much about balloons. The Hindenburg thing, you know.

Q: Wow, you mean Trader Joe's and that ultra-no-frills-budget chain Aldi are actually related?
A:
Several hundred yuppie snobs just passed out in the gluten-free section.

Q: What other changes might Trader Joe's be planning?
A:
Honestly, we don't know. But just follow the Balloongate graph line and extrapolate. Maybe the Hawaiian shirts, which could cause seizures in some more sensitive shoppers, will be replaced by crisp military uniforms in the style of Kim Jung Il. And perhaps the bell ringing, which might lead to tinnitus if you're standing to close, will give way to semaphore flag-raising by mimes.

Q: Who cares? I just want to buy my bottles of Two Buck Chuck and party down.
A:
Relax, my vino-quaffing friend. The Charles Shaw wine is here to stay. But if, by chance, that guy in front of you buys the last case, I'll bet you that spoiled toddlers won't be the only ones throwing temper tantrums at Trader Joe's.

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