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Throwback Trend: The Unusual Origin Story Of Trader Joe’s ‘Two Buck Chuck’

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Delicious wine at a great price. That’s the promise of Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw Wines, popularly known as “Two Buck Chuck” because it was originally the price was standardized at just two dollars. That pricing was unheard of and grabbed the attention of the entire wine industry. Consumers enthusiastically bought the wine and have been jumping at the deal since the company first offered it in 2002. In fact, as of mid-2018, almost a billion bottles of the wine have been sold.

The Sad Story Behind “Two Buck Chuck”

The story of how “Two Buck Chuck” came to be is full of twists and turns. Originally, the Charles Shaw label was founded by Shaw and his wife in 1970’s Napa Valley. For a while, they were very successful and produced well regarded award-winning wines at a premium price point. Then bad luck set in. Packaging problem caused them to lose 10,000 cases of wine and an infestation destroyed their main vineyard. In a third setback, Shaw’s wife divorced him, he was separated from the business, and a winery trustee gained ownership of the label and brand management.

At this point, the fortunes of the label began to change. Businessman Fred Franzia, who worked for Bronco Wine Company, bought the label for just $27,000 and held it for a while. Franzia eventually established the relationship with Trader Joes and used the label as the basis for its “Two Buck Chuck” product and distribution. Sadly, Charles Shaw himself hasn’t earned any profits from the product at all.

Is The Price Really Just Two Dollars? How Do They Do it?

It is sadly true. After taxes, shipping, and pricing that’s been added on because of local liquor laws, the wine hasn’t always been a standard two bucks everywhere. It just wasn’t possible. But it generally stayed at or very close to its famous price point for a little over a decade after it first hit shelves until market forces kicked in and raised the price. The company officially changed the cost of its bottle in 2013 to a price of $2.49. That’s still a great bargain for a bottle of wine and keeps it accessible to a wide group of customers.

How do they do it? Bronco Wine Company can keep to the price point largely due to the sheer volume of the amount they can produce and because of the way that they run their winemaking, packaging, and distribution processes. There have been rumors that the can keep their prices lower because of poorly run manufacturing processes that also add things like unacceptable levels of arsenic or even dead animals into the final products. These stories were wildly sensational but haven’t ultimately amounted to anything so far.

So It’s A Great Price. How’s The Quality?

Customers are generally happy with the quality and they buy the wine by the caseload. This was particularly true at first and went a long way towards establishing the legendary popularity of the brand. It also contributed to establishing an entirely new category of super-bargain priced wines that maintain strong quality and introduce new customers to the wine world. Once Two Buck Chuck hit the market, its popularity forced other winemakers to find ways to improve what they could offer for a lower price point. Wine retail was never the same.

At this point in time, the quality of each wine seems to depend on which wine is being imbibed. The brand’s Zinfandel has universally been disliked by experts and by experienced wine drinkers alike. They compare it to tart candy or a Jolly Rancher. Other of the brand’s lighter wines fare similarly. Darker wines, like the Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the red blend fare better. Ultimately it is up to each consumer to try the wines for themselves and see what they’d like. One of the main benefits of the brand’s lower price point is that its easier than ever for customers to do just that.

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