Ah, Trader Joe's, we hardly know ye. But that soon will change.

Just when you thought Boulder couldn't support yet another natural-grocery store, in comes Monrovia, California-based Trader Joe's, which is opening at Boulder's Twenty Ninth Street retail center on Valentine's Day. That same day will see the chain also open stores in Denver and Greenwood Village, with at least one other location in the works for Denver, and plans for a Fort Collins store.

Trader Joe's joins a crowded natural-grocery scene in the Boulder Valley, which already boasts:
• Alfalfa's, which maintains its flagship store at Broadway and Arapahoe Avenue in downtown Boulder and which is building a second store on South Boulder Road in Louisville.
• Whole Foods Market Inc., which operates stores throughout the Boulder Valley, including the Ideal Market at Alpine Street and Broadway in Boulder. Whole Foods also will anchor the Village at Twin Peaks, a redevelopment of the Twin Peaks Mall, in Longmont.
• Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, operating stores in Boulder, Lafayette and Longmont.
• Lucky's Market, a home-grown chain that operates stores in Boulder and Longmont, and which is expanding in the Midwest and West.
• Sprouts Farmers Market, which operates four stores in Boulder, Lafayette and Longmont.

Add to those options the increasing inventory of natural and organic products offered at mainstream grocers such as Safeway and King Soopers, and Trader Joe's will find no shortage of competition.

And, yet, I suspect that Trader Joe's will thrive. Boulder has shown a huge hunger for natural grocers, and Trader Joe's has certainly built a cult following, with more than 400 stores in 36 states. The chain carries more than 3,000 products under the Trader Joe's private label.

But Boulder also loves its homegrown favorites, such as Alfalfa's and Lucky's (Ideal Market now being owned by Whole Foods.)

Natural grocers have been key factors in the growth of the Boulder Valley's natural and organic industry, with stores such as Alfalfa's providing valuable shelf space and nurturing for locally produced natural and organic products.

Health-conscious consumers have embraced natural grocers, and each of the retailers in the Boulder Valley offer something a little different, be it the overall atmosphere or specific products. Alfalfa's in Boulder, for example, offers a selection of beer, wine and spirits, a rarity for grocery stores, which are limited to one liquor license within the state. (The Pearl Street location of Whole Foods also sells alcohol.)
Trader Joe's, famous for its "Two-Buck Chuck" wine, will not sell alcohol in the Boulder store.

Variety is key for this competitive sector, from onsite bakeries to vitamin selection, natural meats to bulk foods. Each store has to differentiate itself from the other.

I suspect that Trader Joe's will garner a huge crowd for its grand opening and will continue to do well, even in a crowded Boulder natural-grocer scene. It will be fun to experience it for the first time.
But I'll still have to visit Lucky's for one of those fresh-baked cinnamon rolls.

Christopher Wood can be reached at 303-440-4950 or via email at cwood@bcbr.com.