Trader Joe's Secrets Revealed (and It's What We Always Suspected)


trader joe'sWhy are Trader Joe's products -- like the frozen mac 'n' cheese and the peach salsa, mmmm -- so darn tasty? And how can the chain charge so little for such high quality items?

A Fortune magazine article goes inside the usually secretive world of the famously quirky grocery store chain and reveals a few tidbits we've always suspected but were probably better off not knowing ...

That the speciality grocery store chain is tight-lipped about its business practices is a fact that is as legendary as its vegan Pad Thai with tofu. And even as the chain continues to expand across the country, new info about the company hasn't come to light ... until now.

Fortune spent two months convincing former executives, competitors, industry analysts, and suppliers to spill the (chocolate-covered espresso) beans about the rumors and speculations surrounding the enigmatic company. Here's what they (anonymously) revealed:

  • Despite its image as a small-scale retailer, big, well-known food companies make many of Trader Joe's products. The example in the article: Trader Joe's pita chips are made by Stacy's, which is a division of Frito-Lay. That's not to say the grocery chain doesn't support local and artisanal purveyors -- they absolutely do. But those food snobs who "only buy from small, local producers" might need to rethink their weekly trip to Trader Joe's.
  • Many of the items at Trader Joe's are lower-cost in part because they are, quite simply, lower-quality; in fact, many of the products are inexpensive versions of items sold at high-end grocery stores. Example: The "Punjab Eggplant" that supplier Tasty Bite makes for Trader Joe's is almost $1 less than its "Punjab Eggplant" counterpart at Whole Foods.
  • Another way to keep costs low? Trader Joe's only offers a small selection of products (compared to other grocery stores), which not only keeps stocking simple but allows them to "buy large quantities and secure deep discounts." Customers accept the quality over quantity business model because they trust that the few items will be good. It's pretty brilliant if you think about it.
  • When it comes to expansion, Trader Joe's utilizes some borderline elitist practices in deciding where to build the next locale: They'll not only look at demographics of a potential market -- specifically, education level -- but also who's subscribing to high-end food and cooking magazines. It makes sense, though, because the chain caters primarily to foodies and epicures.
  • Employees are worried that as the brand continues to expand, it will lose its cult following and "quirky cool." But is this the inevitable consequence of a small chain going nationwide?

Which is your favorite Trader Joe's product?

Image via kawanet/Flickr


food, grocery shopping, trends


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APeve... APeveteaux

I love their snacks. The sesame sticks, thai chili lime cashews and chocoalte covered caramels. YUM. However, I would never buy produce at Trader Joe's. And a lot of their pre-made meals are not so hot.

But staples, snacks and beverages more than make up for their negatives!

Awesome info, thanks Kim!

tempe... tempest26

Mmmm - peanut butter filled chocolate covered pretzels!

KatieP. KatieP.

The owners also own Aldi's......

abels... abelsmama07

a new favorite... their frozen vegetarian pad thai. serious YUM.

my husband LOVES the orange chicken... for me, so so.

my kids love thier freeze dried fruit... strawberries, bananas, blueberries.  fruit strips, veggie straws.

someone mentioned their chili lime cahews.  OMG i love those, but haven't had them since my son was diagnosed with peanut/tree nut allergy. :( 

hotic... hoticedcoffee

Interesting info.

TJ's used to sell a rosemary maple marinade that was FANTASTIC.  It was discontinued a long time ago.  I nearly had a tantrum in the store.  So now my favorite item is the roasted red pepper & eggplant spread (not sure exaclty what they call it) - super versatile stuff!  I also adore their cheese selections, and I buy their mayo mainly because it's in a glass jar, but it's also tasty.

momav... momavanessa

I love the cookies and the teriayki chicken! The naan is not bad either! We shop there 2 times a month. My hubby only likes the marinades while I am the one that stocks up on HEALTHIER items!!lol

Amigram Amigram

Their whole wheat pizza dough and sheep's milk cheeses (brie and cheddar).

nonmember avatar helen crump

There are certain foods at Trader Joe's that I absolutely love, and which make the drive worth it. I always stock up on their chicken gyoza and dark chocolate raisins. I've been pretty satisfied with their frozen food. I also like being able to make my own trail mix from their selection of nuts and dried fruit. However, a lot of my groceries still come from the chain grocery stores, which offer more choices for me. And I've found the taste quality of Trader Joe's fresh food and boxed/canned food to be inconsistent. Nevertheless, I don't mind trying their new selections, in hopes of finding something I really love. I recently discovered their marinated Korean short ribs which made for a quick and tasty meal! All the workers appear happy to work there, and are always helpful to me.

sarch... sarchasmic_1

I read the article on yahoo. I buy some of our groceries at Trader Joes because they have reasonable prices and why pay more somewhere else for the same thing?

skins... skinsfan26

Never heard of the place. Must not have a store in Oklahoma that I know of.

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