Trader Joe’s Just Revealed How New Products Get Approved for Stores

updated Feb 24, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

On Episode 28 of the Inside Trader Joe’s Podcast, hosts Matt Sloan and Tara Miller finally answered a question that has long haunted me: HOW does TJ’s constantly roll out new products like it’s no big deal?

After getting a glimpse into what it’s like to be on TJ’s top-secret new product tasting panel, I’ve learned it actually is a Very Big Deal. The episode includes audio recordings from an actual tasting panel session to show the long and arduous process of “how a cool idea, that’s gone all the way through our innovation and development teams, working with various vendors and manufacturers, now has to get past a very picky panel of tasters to get one final “Okay,” says Tara.

Who’s on the panel?

Interestingly enough, the panel is not a bunch of Trader Joe’s executives. It is actually a diverse cross section of Trader Joe’s crew members. “These crew members are different from the people developing the products. They’re different from the category managers. We want that degree of objectivity. These crew members represent a pretty broad cross section within the company from the customer relations perspective to running a store, to overseeing marketing work. And what all of those people have in common is that they’re actually customers and they bring with them a customer point of view,” says Matt.

According to Tara and Matt, the panelists are very picky (which is a good thing). “I’ve been known to take things to panel three, four, five times. Until it’s perfect,” says Jennie, a panelist.

How does voting work?

A new product gets presented and justified to the assembled panel. Packaging and branding and price are discussed. Then, the panel asks questions and provides comments and any concerns to the presenter.

“It’s a democratic process,” says Tara. “We’re after basically 70% voting yes, to approve a product. We want more than a simple majority. We want this to have an overwhelmingly good chance of succeeding,” Matt says.

Fun fact: Panelists vote by a show of hands. If there isn’t a resounding YES, then it’s back to the drawing board to iterate on the product even more.

Credit: Lauren Masur

What new products might be headed to stores soon?

During this episode, we first listened to panelists vote on papadum crisps, which were made from mostly lentils and got sent back for more adjustments due to shipping and breakage concerns. After that, there was a unanimous decision to bring Beacon Fell Cheese to shelves next summer.

Next up? A vote on organic salted almond butter (which passed) and a frozen carne asada burrito (which passed after agreeing to a black pepper reduction).

Overall, this glimpse into the process just made me even more impressed with TJ’s ability to bring awesome new products to shelves month after month. Here’s to having many more new (thoroughly vetted) items to taste test in the near future!

What would you give to be on the TJ’s top-secret tasting panel?