There isn't a Trader Joe's in my town, but I run with hipsters, so I was pretty sure I knew all about it. The grocery store of cheeses, açaí berries, fair-trade oatmeal, and probably a stunning array of hummus? Home of Two-Buck Chuck, the world's number-one cheap wine? A smaller version of Whole Foods?
Then I heard a rumor that all the canned goods under the Trader Joe's house label are packaged in BPA-free cans (and store receipts are printed on BPA-free paper), which had me wondering — how on earth did I not know about this before? Naturally, I needed to know more.
And then, a few days ago, I was driving through a city near a Trader Joe's, so I dropped in. As it turns out, I didn't know as much about it as I thought I did.
Here are some things I (finally) found out.
1. Their groceries are cheaper than I expected.
I asked the nearest crew member what I should know about Trader Joe's, and the first thing he said was that 98 percent of their products are private labels. Their business model aims to cut out the middleman and fulfill the core part of their mission: "Provide customers with the best food and beverage values that they can find anywhere."
2. Their wine options are surprisingly legit.
Speaking of beverages, Trader Joe's is well-known for their wide array of very affordable wines. According to a manager, this is because wineries approach Trader Joe's when production exceeds the amount they can sell under their own label. Trader Joe's buys it in cash and relabels the bottles with the house label and then sells it for cheap.
3. You can return products you don't like.
Confirmed by both a manager and crew member, if you buy a product and don't like it for any reason (including personal preference and taste), you can return it at any time — no explanation necessary. That's a pretty amazing incentive to try new items.
4. Their products are free of the things I avoid.
Trader Joe's has some set standards for the private-label products they sell. There are no antibiotics, preservatives, or synthetic colors in their private-label products, and they do not sell genetically modified (GMO) foods. As far as the BPA question, many (but not all) of their private-label products are in BPA-free packaging (see more about that on their FAQ). It was a relief to shop without label-checking.
5. The stores are set up to be fun.
Let's face it — grocery shopping can be totally awful. I usually dread trips to my local store, but these are the first things I noticed when I walked into Trader Joe's: crew members wearing Hawaiian shirts and multi-colored leis, tiny children pushing tiny red carts, and bright, almost natural lighting. The apples in the fruit aisle literally smelled like they had just fallen from a tree after a day in sunlight. I tried a new batch of Trader Joe's Honeycrisp apple cider at the permanent store tasting station and converted right then and there.
When I asked why Trader Joe's was so pleasant, I got this reply: "Rule number one — always have fun."
These things may all be old hat to you (TJ's certainly has its legions of fans), but to those of us who don't live near one and wonder what all the hype is about, these are a few reasons that explain the popularity of this chain. I, for one, will be making it a regular stop whenever I'm near.
Are you a TJ's fan?