14 Surprising Things You Never Knew About Trader Joe's
Oh, Trader Joe’s. How do we love thee? Let us count the ways. Between some of our favorite guilty pleasures (hello, Almond Windmill Cookies!), the best frozen apps for when we’re in a hosting pinch, and, oh yeah, our most beloved Two Buck Chuck, the budget-friendly, environmentally conscious grocer is number one in our books. Even with its widespread (and growing!) popularity, Trader Joe’s is kind of a mystery—what’s with the Hawaiian shirts? Who is Trader Joe? Erm, have you noticed those plastic lobsters lying about? Read on for 14 little-known facts.
There really was a “Trader Joe.”
Joe Coulombe, a Stanford Business School graduate from Southern California, founded the chain in 1958, when he bought a chain of Pronto Markets in the late 1950s. Struggling to compete with the rampant 7-Elevens, Coulombe rebranded as Trader Joe’s in 1967. German supermarket conglomerate Aldi Nord has owned it since 1979, but Coulombe remained the company’s chief executive until he retired in 1988.
It has a killer return policy.
You can return anything, at any time—no questions asked.
You can try literally any product in the store if you wish.
Yes, even wine! If you ask an employee to try something, it is policy to open it up and give you a taste right there!
The bells you’re hearing? Employee code.
No blaring intercom system here, folks! The golden maritime bells are actually employee code. One ring means it’s time to open an additional register. Two rings signal that a cashier needs assistance, while three rings mean chaos is afoot and a manager is needed.
Trader Joe’s was originally a California-only brand.
The first Trader Joe’s store, originally called Pronto Market, opened in 1967 in Pasadena, California. Expansion began in 1993 (to Phoenix, Arizona), and there wasn’t a single East Coast outpost until 1996 (Boston)!
Every single Trader Joe’s store has a plastic lobster in it somewhere.
The reason remains a mystery…
Each store has an in-house artist.
What, you thought those charming chalkboards illustrated and painted themselves?
The first Trader Joe’s private-label product was granola.
Launched in 1972, the Trader Joe’s private-label granola would set the standard for the store. Today, 80% of the 4000 items sold are Trader Joe’s brand.
Trader Joe’s is good to its employees.
Part-time workers can earn $20 an hour with full benefits, while managers can make $130,000 a year.
Two Buck Chuck FLIES off the shelves.
As of 2012, Trader Joe’s had sold over 600 million bottles of the Charles Shaw wine lovingly referred to as Two Buck Chuck. Though the wine used to sell for $2, it now costs $2.49 or $3.69, depending on where you live.
It introduces new products every single week.
It’s why some of your favorite items might disappear every once in a while.
Its famously punny product names sell.
“This Fig Walks Into a Bar” Cereal Bars, “Trader Joe’s Contemplates Inner Peas” Crunchy Snack—the list goes on! A 2004 Dutch study found that consumers prefer products with witty slogans.
The Hawaiian shirt is not random.
The first Hawaiian shirt was worn sometime around 1969, when “tiki culture” was booming, and soon became standard uniform. Legend has it that Mr. Coloumbe was first inspired to infuse his grocery store with the laid-back spirit of a Caribbean store after traveling there himself.
Triple Ginger Snaps are the number one most popular product in the store.
We have a hunch it’s that crystallized ginger that makes these so widely loved. Coming in at the number two spot is the insanely delicious Speculoos Cookie Butter.