An authentic aesthetic, private brand and friendly employees have granted Trader Joe’s a cult following
When you hear the name “Trader Joe’s” what often comes to mind is a moderately sized, old-timey grocery store with eerily similar-looking employees in different colored Hawaiian shirts and a casual atmosphere.
The first Trader Joe’s shop was established in 1967 in Pasadena, CA by Joe Coulombe who launched a small chain of convenience stores around the Pronto Market area of Los Angeles. As of April 2020, there are 504 Trader Joe’s stores in 42 states with annual sales of over $14 billion.
Knowing that customers enjoyed a variety of foods with the average American having an increasingly diverse palate, Coulombe began to introduce foods from all over the world under the Trader Joe’s private brand. Introduced in 1970, the first of these products was granola, then considered a novelty item. Between 80-85% of the food items at a Trader Joe’s food are from their private brand.
The chain store is famous for its small-town shopping vibe and highly curated selection of high quality, affordable food items, fresh produce and a medley of frozen dishes from cuisines around the world—from Indian chicken tikka masala to Chinese steamed pork soup dumplings to the tried-and-true American classic Mac ‘n Cheese. Seasonal products are often sought after, like the fall-inspired Pumpkin Biscotti, wintertime favorite Peppermint Bark and Thanksgiving-inspired Turkey Pot Pie. Trader Joe’s even has its own beer and wine label.
If you’ve been to Trader Joe’s, it’s obvious why many people prefer to shop there. The employees are taught to engage with customers, always offering smiles and helpful directions when a shopper cannot find what they are looking for.
Its friendly staff and calm atmosphere has made it a popular shopping destination for UC Davis students. As Anika Patel, a third-year computer science and engineering major, put it, “[The] friendly employees always make me feel welcome. [Trader Joe’s] consistently has the lowest prices so they are the best economical option in Davis, [… and] they offer unique products I really like.”
Elizabeth Hershey, a fourth-year English major, also appreciates the kind Trader Joe’s staff. “[The] staff as well typically are more friendly than Safeway and Target,” Hersey said.
It comes as little surprise that Trader Joe’s has acquired a cult-like following with a loyal customer base and as a popular shopping destination for college students thanks to its plethora of frozen meals and affordably priced food items.
When asked what the appeal to Trader Joe’s was, Shambhavi Mishra, a fourth-year biochemistry and molecular biology major, answered, “Trader Joe’s has really unique snacks. They have a wide variety of foods you won’t find anywhere else. They don’t sell basic or mainstream brands. They sell their own Trader Joe’s brand and have their own unique stuff.”
Trader Joe’s also offers a social experience. “[It’s] always super fun to walk down the aisle. I like to talk to friends about recs. [It] has become a super mainstream thing in social media where people even do Trader Joe’s hauls,” Mishra said.
Not only that, Trader Joe’s also boasts its own social media fan pages such as @traderjoeslist, an unaffiliated Trader Joe’s food item finds page with over 1.5 million Instagram followers.
By emphasizing unique ingredients and having branding that feels authentic, Trader Joe’s is able to give each customer a unique shopping experience. In addition, the Trader Joe’s shopping model is not convenience-based, in which one click of a button can do all the shopping you need, but rather promotes an environment in which shopping is fun and interactive.
The classic aesthetic of the grocery store—Hawaiian tiki designs, wood paneling, fake palm trees and cute, hand-written item signs with dad jokes—contributes to the excitement of shopping there.
“I feel like Trader Joe’s has a younger crowd. Sounds silly, but [it] gives me a nature-outdoorsy hippie vibe, especially in Davis,” Hershey said.
The effort Trader Joe’s puts into store appearance makes all the difference. “In my brain it’s a chain store, obviously. It is always exactly the same,” Hershey said. “What makes it feel different is they do all their own branding. [It] makes it feel more like a homey, smaller grocery store. [Its] the branding that really sells it—small signs made out of construction paper. It’s just not like regular stores.”
Whether Trader Joe’s is your go-to grocery store or a treasure-cove of uncommon food items that you can bond with friends and family over, it has become increasingly ingrained into popular culture. There are numerous recipe pages, food-bloggers and Instagram accounts dedicated to Trader Joe’s with loyal customers always curious about the next binge-worthy food item.
Simply put, Trader Joe’s might just be a grocery store, but it has become a curated shopping experience that customers keep coming back for.
Written by: Muhammad Tariq — firstname.lastname@example.org