Trader Joe’s, the supermarket chain admired for its unlimited free samples, no questions asked return policy, and employees who wear funky Hawaiian shirts, is quickly becoming one of our favorite grocery stores to shop in. And not just because of the Two Buck Chuck (its seriously cheap wine line, ICYMI).
There’s a lot about the nautical-themed franchise you don’t know. Every store has it’s own in-house artist, for example. And plastic lobsters are Trader Joe’s go-to decoration. And—gasp!—there really is a Joe. Before you head out to TJ, read this list of amazingly fun facts. And before you grab a shopping cart, don’t miss our essential report on the 20 Best Trader Joe's Finds Under $5.
Joe Is Real!
The real Trader Joe is actually Joe Coulombe, a Stanford Business School graduate who founded the chain in 1958. He bought out part of the Pronto Markets chain and only in 1967 decided to eponymously name the stores “Trader Joe’s.” The first official market was born in Pasadena, California.
It’s Owned By Aldi
Yup, the German supermarket conglomerate that offers off-brand quality products for dirt cheap is in fact Trader Joe’s parent! One of Aldi’s founders purchased TJ in 1979 but decided to keep the name, mission statement, and old management the same. We think he made the right decision. Speaking of the wallet-friendly shop, check out these awesome 20 Ways To Save Big At Aldi.
You Can Sample Literally Everything
Fancy a cube of goat cheese with that cracker? Or perhaps some wine to wash down the cheese’s brine? Just ask any staff member in the store and they will gladly open anything for you. Yup, even booze—if your home state’s laws permit!
Stores Are Decked Out—Literally
Courtesy of flickr user Aranami
The unique nautical theme makes TJ stores look and feel like they’re ready to sail the seven seas! Even the employees AKA “crew members” are all on board with their quirky job titles like "merchants," "mates," and "captains."
The Triple Ginger Snaps Are A Best Seller
Trader Joe’s top selling product is their delicious Triple Ginger Snaps. Since these sweetly spicy cookies are concocted with ground ginger, crystallized ginger, and ginger puree, their popularity doesn’t surprise us! Something else that’s not too hard to believe? Speculoos Cookie Butter is the runner up bestseller.
Its Own Brand Is Worth It
Speaking of Speculoos, 80% of Trader Joe’s products are its own brand—including this delightful spread (that you should totally consume in moderation!). Plus, TJ’s got its own line of beer that it has been brewing for quite some time. Its Vintage Ale actually ages gracefully, so the older it gets, the better it tastes! The best part about its exclusive brand? The TJ-stamped products are free of all the bad stuff like artificial flavors, preservatives, synthetic colors, genetically modified ingredients, and artificial trans fats.
Granola Is A Store Staple
The first Trader Joe’s branded product was actually granola. The franchise debuted its own version of the crunchy breakfast staple back in 1972.
It’s Famous For Its Wine
The two buck Chuck, AKA “the undisputed champion of affordable wines,” is exactly what it claims to be. In fact, TJ sold over 600 million of the Charles Shaw bottles as of 2012. Although the price of a bottle increased since it was introduced to TJ stores in 2002, it’s still a great value if you’re trying to get loose on a budget.
The Crew Wears Hawaiian Shirts For A Good Reason
Sure, the crew members are easily distinguishable, but have you ever wondered exactly why they don funky Hawaiian shirts? TJ proudly states, “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.” No wonder why they have so many fans!
They Discontinue Products Often
Since TJ stores aren’t too spacious to accommodate an endless variety of products, they must manage their space very effectively. (A typical TJ carries about 4,000 products while an average supermarket sells around 50,000!) This forces them to sift through and choose the products with the best quality and value. This includes nixing seasonal merch (sorry pumpkin spice lovers!). Not to mention, stores introduce new products every single week, so they must boot some items in order to make way for the new ones.
Each Product Must Pass The Test
TJ holds taste tests where each product is tested for certain criteria. If a product doesn’t meet the rigorous requirements, it doesn’t score a spot on the shelves!
It’s More Widespread Than Whole Foods
As of February 2017, there are 461 savings-savvy TJ locations in the U.S., which beats Whole Foods’ 431 stores. While the franchise began in SoCal, it expanded over the years, taking over Arizona in 1993, the Pacific Northwest in 1995, the Boston area in 1996, and Chicago in 2000.
Trader Joe’s Is A Good Samaritan
As if it doesn’t pass around enough free samples of yummy eats and elixirs, the grocery store chain commits itself to donating its extra grub to food banks. TJ donated over $260,000,000 worth of goods in 2003, and we’re very impressed. FYI, they even have a Donation Coordinator who is responsible for responding to donation requests, so they clearly take their charity work seriously. Kudos!
Bells Are Its Language Of Choice
Instead of obnoxiously yelling requests over the loud speakers, TJ has its own special PA system that requires only bell jingles. One bell means the Crew needs to open another register, two bells mean a customer has questions at checkout, and three bells means that a manager is needed at the premises.
It Doesn’t Believe In Sales Or Specials
TJ explicitly states, “’Sale’ is a four-letter word to us. We have low prices, every day. NO coupons. NO membership cards. NO discounts. NO glitzy promotions or couponing wars at our stores. We offer the best everyday values, every day.” We like the way you think, Joe. And speaking of saving money while shopping, don't miss these essential 20 Ways to Save $$$ at the Supermarket!