December 3, 2013

Specialty grocer Trader Joe’s gained fame with its “Two-Buck Chuck” wine deal, which SMU alumnus Scott Toalson ’85 helped create.

After Scott Toalson '85 helped create Trader Joe's "Two-Buck Chuck," he retired to his hometown of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

After Scott Toalson ’85 helped create Trader Joe’s “Two-Buck Chuck,” he retired to his hometown of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Toalson played a key role in launching the popular vino while working for Bronco Wine Company in California. Trader Joe’s approached the vintner for a well-priced wine to sell in its stores, which were mainly located on the West Coast at the time. Bronco pegged its Charles Shaw label as filling the bill.

As the quality assurance lead, Toalson helped refine many details of the project, including the colors of the labels.

“I got lucky. I was at the right place at the right time,” he says. “When you do something you enjoy every day, it’s not really going to work.”

In 2002 Charles Shaw wines debuted in Trader Joe’s. Priced at $1.99 per bottle, the red and white varietals were hits and quickly gained the moniker “Two-Buck Chuck.” Although the price now hovers above its original “two bucks,” the wine remains among the supermarket chain’s best sellers. Since its introduction, more than 600 million bottles have been sold.

With its blockbuster introduction at Trader Joe’s, the value of the Charles Shaw label quadrupled, Toalson says. “I was offered two options: take a lump sum and stay on with the company or take an annuity with lifetime benefits,” he explains. He chose the annuity and headed back to his native Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to care for family members.

Toalson studied business management at the Cox School of Business and credits his SMU background with opening doors that led to the trajectory of his career. Bronco’s manager of development had a brother who graduated from SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, so she appreciated the value of an SMU education, he says. “I got hired because I went to SMU.”

A loyal Mustang, Toalson remembers first seeing the campus as a child while visiting an aunt in Highland Park and deciding SMU was the University for him.

“I’m very proud,” he says. “Everybody in town knows who I am because I drive down the avenue with my big ol’ SMU sticker.”

— Sarah Bennett ’11