6 Trader Joe’s Secrets Shoppers Should Know, Straight from a Former Employee

published Oct 21, 2022
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trader joe's shopping cart
Credit: Lauren Masur

Part of the allure of shopping at Trader Joe’s, in addition to its stunning array of $5 wine and seasonal snacks, is the air of mythical history that seems to surround the store. We could call it an Everything But The Bagel-seasoned je ne sais quoi, and we’d be pretty spot-on.

As someone who used to work for Trader Joe’s, I can confirm many of the grocer’s wildly entertaining bits of folklore. Get any Trader Joe’s crew member talking and they might let you in on some of these completely true (yet surprising) facts shoppers should know about the retailer, including why there are no stores in North Dakota and what (or who) makes those budget-friendly wines so sippable.

Credit: Kelli Foster

1. Low sales aren’t the only reason items are discontinued.

Sure, unpopular items often get discontinued, but there are plenty of other reasons that an item is sent off to the Big Trader Joe’s Parking Lot in the Sky. The most heartbreaking? When a product becomes too cost-prohibitive to make (and Trader Joe’s doesn’t want to sell it at a higher price), or a supplier can’t keep up with demand. There was even a moment in 2020 when all coconut milk items were on an indefinite production delay because suppliers had to stop using illegal monkey labor to help harvest coconuts (Really! I got many stares when I explained this.)

Wondering if your favorite item is discontinued? Recently, Trader Joe’s has implemented a new rule of thumb: If a product can’t be brought back within 90 days of being on a delay, it’s officially discontinued. So if it’s been a solid minute since you’ve seen an item, it’s likely gone for good. There’s always a chance a new distributor will bring back a beloved product, but it’s always better to find a way to move on in case that day never comes. I’m still waiting for the return of my precious Sweet Cream Coffee Creamer, but this recipe help fills the void.

2. Trader Joe’s in California play a prominent role in what you see — and don’t see — on shelves everywhere.

Determining whether a product is “popular” is not too dissimilar from voting and the electoral college. Think of it this way: There are way more Trader Joe’s stores in California than any other state, so the trends of “unpopular” items that tend to be discontinued skews very Californian, for better and for worse.

3. Your favorite item might have been swooped up by resellers.

I can’t count on my hands (or feet) how many times I saw one person buy an entire stock of Everything Bagel Seasoning, Brazil Nut Body Butter, or Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. You read that right: One person. Yes, resellers are very much out there and they’ll easily clear out a whole shelf of a product to resell at a higher price online to those who live far from a Trader Joe’s. Sadly, there’s no company-wide rule for limiting purchases, so these resellers can buy as much as they want. And with how Trader Joe’s delivery truck schedule works, it can take two to three days for that product to be restocked. The lesson here? If there is a product you really, really want, call your store and ask them to hold it for you.

4. There are no Trader Joe’s in North Dakota (and there’s a very good, albeit weird, reason why).

There are no plans to have a Trader Joe’s in North Dakota due mostly to, well, a pirate. Yes, you read correctly. In Canada, there was someone called “Pirate Joe” who travelled over the border to buy massive amounts of Trader Joe’s items and re-sell them at a storefront appropriately called Pirate Joe’s. The store is now officially closed after a lengthy legal battle (hence the past tense), but the limited number of storefronts near Canada is not a coincidence and that is largely why there aren’t many stores near the Canadian border (including North Dakota).

Credit: Kristi Blokhin

5. You can bulk order Trader Joe’s flowers.

With larger orders (such as for a wedding or other large party), simply call your store and specify any color and flower preferences (all white flowers, only roses and hydrangeas, etc.). While Trader Joe’s does get a flower delivery most every day, they don’t get every single flower varietal each day, which is something to keep in mind. Seasonality is also at play here, so don’t expect tulips in November. But with a color scheme or price point and roughly two to three weeks of lead time, your Trader Joe’s is more than happy to bulk order flowers for your special day.

And the reselling game is strong in the floral department, too. Local florists will commonly clear out Trader Joe’s flower supply early for special events and for their own stock (especially on Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day). If you want flowers and it’s near a holiday, I highly recommend grabbing them four to five days prior to when you need them, or come in right when the store opens.

Credit: Lauren Masur

6. Even Trader Joe’s branded wines come from well-known producers.

Some products taste eerily similar to some brands you likely already know and love (taste a bag of TJ’s pita chips alongside Stacy’s Pita Chips and you’ll see what I mean), but did you know that the wines at Trader Joe’s also come from larger, well-known suppliers? One of my favorites is called Phigment, a $6 red blend that is almost identical to Bogle’s $12 red blend.

Often these private-label wines are either “shiners” (unlabeled wine bottles sold directly from distributors), commissioned by a retailer to certain specifications (like flavor and price), or are made when a retailer buys bulk grapes and juice from growers. Even $3 Buck Chuck was made by the people that brought you Franzia, the boxed wine staple.

Fred Franzia was well-known for buying bulk grapes. Those grapes combined with lightweight bottles and cheap cork ultimately led to the famously cheap $3 Buck Chuck. Thankfully for our wallets, this practice is largely responsible for all those delicious, affordable private-label wines we can now find at Target, Whole Foods, and even Costco.

Let us know of any Trader Joe’s folklore you’ve heard in the comments.