food

Facts Only Trader Joe's Superfans Will Know

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If you’ve ever stepped into a Trader Joe’s, you’ve become a TJ’s shopper for life. From the unique range of products to the friendly and accommodating staff, the grocery store chain has a loyal following for a reason. The store also has a number of quirks that sets it apart from its competitors. We rounded up all of the tips and tricks that only *true* TJ’s superfans will know.

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Yes, There Is A Real Joe

Joe Coulombe founded the grocery store chain with the sole purpose of delivering high quality and interesting foods at low budget prices. Joe’s vision was to create a laid-back atmosphere “for overeducated and underpaid people, for all the classical musicians, museum curators, journalists,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 2014. The founder passed away in 2020 at the age of 89.

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The Chain Wasn’t Always Called Trader Joe’s

According to the store’s website, the first store was called Pronto Markets and was a convenience store. After running a chain of Pronto Markets for 10 years, Joe switched up the business model, and with it, the name.

a sign hanging off the side of a building

The Store Has A Nautical Theme

If you’ve shopped at TJ’s before, you may or may not have noticed the nautical theme. This is because Joe was reading White Shadows in the South Seas at the time and was inspired to make the people at the store like”traders on the high seas.”

a person standing in front of a store

There’s A Meaning Behind Those Hawaiian Shirts

Paired with that nautical theme is the bright tropical Hawaiian shirts worn by the employees. “We wear Hawaiian shirts because we’re traders on the culinary seas, searching the world over for cool items to bring home to our customers,” the store’s website explains.

food, facts only trader joe's superfans will know

The Store Was Bought In 1979

Although Joe stayed on as chief executive officer until 1988, the founder sold his stake in Trader Joe’s in 1979 to German grocery retailer, Theo Albrecht. The company remains in the Albrecht family ownership to this day.

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Don’t Mind The Bell

It’s just another element pulled from Joe’s nautical inspiration, but it’s also incredibly useful. Instead of using a PA system, the store uses the bell and a special code for various requests.

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The Company Was Into Organic Before It Was Trendy, Too

One thing that the founder engrained into the company’s ethos was delivering high-quality ingredients, which means non-GMO and organic produce.

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Bananas Are Sold At A Flat Rate

You won’t find any $2 bundles at your local Trader Joe’s. The store strictly sells all bananas individually and for no more than 19 cents.

a bunch of bananas on display in a store

There’s A Funny Story Behind the Banana Prices

As the story goes, Trader Joe’s was trying to figure out how to price bananas (by the bundle or individually) when a Sun City employee noticed an old woman inspecting the fruit and ultimately putting it back. When he asked her why, she told him, “Sonny, I may not live to that fourth banana.” According to Dan Bane, CEO and chairman at Trader Joe’s, the company “decided the next day that we were going to sell individual bananas, and they’ve been 19 cents ever since,” he said on the Trader Joe’s podcast.

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The Company Owns A Private Label

Almost everything you pick up off of the shelf at Trader Joe’s is made under the Trader Joe’s private label—from coffee creamer to coconut oil. Operating this way helps keep the shelf price down. In 1977, the company created sub brands for specialty food items.

a bowl of food on a plate

The First Private Label Product Launched In 1972

The company experimented with the idea of launching its own product line of granola—and no one’s looked back since.

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A Lot Of TJ’s Products Are Actually Brand Name

How different are those Trader Joe’s chips from your favorite brand name chip? Not very. It turns out, some of the manufactures of Trader Joe’s products are brand name companies. The grocer is able to deliver goods for less by simply cutting out the middle man and buying directly from manufacturers and growers, rather than the distributor.

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The Store Offers Fewer Items Than You Think

Any tried and true Trader Joe’s shopper can tell you that the shopping experience is unparalleled to any other store. But the reason for that? Smaller inventory. While the average supermarket keeps up to 50,000 items on the shelf, Trader Joe’s only keeps 4,000 in stock.

a close up of a bottle next to a cup of coffee

There’s A ‘Try Anything’ Policy

Wonder if that salsa is too spicy? If that dark chocolate is too bitter? Well, with the Trader Joe’s “Try Anything” policy, you can test any product before purchasing it to make sure it’s exactly what you want.

a woman in a car

There’s A ‘No Hassle’ Return Policy

The company floats a very generous return policy, too. If something isn’t exactly what you wanted, you can bring it back for a refund, no ifs, ands, or buts.

a can of food

The Frozen Food Aisle Has A Fan Following

There’s no shortage of selection in the Trader Joe’s frozen food aisle—from Spicy Orange Chicken to Gone Bananas to frozen pizzas galore. This section alone has made the grocer a standout among its competitors. We even had the pleasure of testing every TJ’s frozen meal and ranking them for you. You’re welcome!

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Every Product Is Taste-Tested

Let’s make this clear: Nothing gets on the shelf at Trader Joe’s if it hasn’t gone through a series of tests—the most important being the taste test. And since the company doesn’t collect slotting fees, like a lot of other grocers, there’s no incentive to stock something just to get it on the shelf. “There’s no ‘pay to play’ for product placement as is the case with most other supermarket chains,” Trader Joe’s vice president of marketing Matt Sloan told Kiplinger.

food, facts only trader joe's superfans will know

The Wine Section Is A Straight-Up Bargain

Even back in the ’60s, Trader Joe’s was selling wine, but only bottles from California. Since then, the store has become one of the best places to snag a bargain vino. Three words: Two Buck Chuck—aka the Charles Shaw sensation that took off in 2002.

Naomi Watts standing in front of a store

You Can Reserve Flowers Ahead Of Time

Trader Joe’s started selling fresh cut flowers in 1994 and since then the store’s flower reputation has blossomed. Flowers are delivered in a fresh shipment every day, which means shoppers get the freshest stems possible. If you have an event you need to reserve a few bouquets for, you can work out an order ahead of time with an employee.

a room filled with furniture and a table in a library

There Are Hidden Toys Around The Store

Wow, this store never stops putting the customers first—even the littlest ones! Around each store, there are hidden nautical stuffed animals. If your child finds one, they’re rewarded with a lollipop.

food, facts only trader joe's superfans will know

The Murals Really Are Works Of Art

Those beautiful murals on the walls? They’re actually hand-painted by the store’s in-house artists and are created to reflect the town’s locale.

food, facts only trader joe's superfans will know

All The Signs Are Handmade, Too

Again, this is done either by the store’s artists or employees, depending on how extensive the sign is. This adds to the store’s laid-back atmosphere.

a plastic water bottle

You Won’t Be Surprised By TJ’s Best Sellers

Some of Trader Joe’s products have developed a cult following. The top-seller in 2019 was the store’s Everything but The Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend, followed by the Cauliflower Gnocchi. Other popular items: The Mandarin Orange Chicken and the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups.

a man sitting in a box on a table

You, Too, Can Become A Vendor

The store is very transparent about its supply chain. There’s a new vendor form on the website if you’re interested!

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Tuesdays And Wednesdays Are The Best Days To Shop

If you’re trying to avoid the notorious lines, shop on Tuesday or Wednesday. According to a Trader Joe’s manager on Reddit, those are the best days to get in and out without crowds. Mornings are always quiet as well.

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Products Are Rotated On And Off Of The Shelves

Don’t be surprised if you can’t find an item. Since Trader Joe’s carries fewer products than most grocery stores, employees are quick to cut something if it doesn’t sell. That being said, new products are launched almost every week.

a person sitting in a basket

Customer Feedback Matters Big Time

All businesses look for customer feedback, but it’s rare to see a company fully implement concerns. Not TJ’s. “Based on customer feedback and in support of our work to source sustainable seafood—we stopped selling Chilean Sea Bass in 2005, Orange Roughy in July of 2009, Red Snapper in March of 2010, and Frozen Swordfish caught in Southeast Asia in 2012,” Trader Joe’s shared on its website.

food, facts only trader joe's superfans will know

The Store Sells Fertile Eggs

Trader Joe’s has a huge selection of eggs—from cage-free and free range to organic and fertile. The company writes that fertile eggs are “laid by hens in contact with roosters.” Interesting.

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Sales And Coupons Aren’t A Thing At TJ’s

Since the store’s prices are alway low, they don’t offer sales, coupons, or membership cards. In their eyes, they offer the best prices every day.

graphical user interface

There’s An App to Help

Trader Joe’s recently launched a mobile app that integrates with Facebook to help customers discover items in an easy and streamlined way.

a bottle of wine on a table

The Store’s Items Are Not Available Online

No, you can’t get your favorite Trader Joe’s products delivered to your door. “After considering the options, we’re still just big ‘ole fans of the neighborhood grocery store where we can say hello when you’re looking around wondering– ‘what’s for dinner?'” the company writes on its website.

a store filled with lots of food

You Can’t Make Bulk Orders Either

Trader Joe’s focuses on creating a community of shoppers, and through that local approach, the store is not able to accommodate large or bulk orders. “As your neighborhood grocery store, our focus is on providing you–our customers–our products, in our stores, every day,” the company shared on its website.

a man preparing food inside of it

The Company Donates To Local Communities

Trader Joe’s prides itself on working to enhance the communities it serves, and donations are a big part of that. The company works with various non-profits to provide food for good causes.

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Don’t Forget To Check Out The Fearless Flyer

When Trader Joe’s first began, the original store put out a flyer to connect its customers with in-store events and updates. Although the name of it changed to the Fearless Flyer in 1985, the idea is the same and this newsletter is a great way to stay on top of new products to try.

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