What do Hawaiian shirts, folksy staff, silly brand names, and a ship's bell have to do with food shopping? A whole lot if you're at Trader Joe's!
This story is long overdue. When I first moved over to Barcelona, I wrote a story about me going to the supermarket but I realized a couple of weeks ago that I've never written about one of my favorite stores here in the U.S. Actually, Trader Joe's is probably more accurately described as an "experience" rather than just a store. Since their humble beginnings in 1950s, this Los Angeles area-based chain of grocery stores is now in 29 states and has over 350 locations. This is the one in Escondido, California, right near where I'm staying:
Trader Joe's is unique for a whole bunch of reasons that range from their folksy staff, outstanding customer service, and unique product lines. They've done all kinds of little touches to make the stores fun and interesting places to visit. I like these tiny, kid-sized shopping carts that they have:
Don't let their fun, casual style give you the wrong impression though. They are pros at what they do. The layout of the stores and the product mix are highly engineered to get you to enjoy your shopping experience enough so that you stay for a relatively long time and buy a lot of stuff. One example is when you first walk in the front door, they have fresh flowers for sale, which is an old store-design trick to make you feel like everything there is super fresh. From there you move on to the fresh fruit and veggie section and then onto the awesome cheese-assortment section:
I think that what makes TJ's really successful is that they offer a lot of (mostly) Trader Joe's branded items that just don't exist anywhere else. If you look closely while you shop, you'll notice that the name Trader Joe's is changed depending on the ethnicity of the food being sold. I've seen Trader Giotto's, Trader Ming's, and Trader Jose's among others at one point or another. Some of my favorite items are their salsas and chips, which are great:
Another highlight of Trader's is their wine selection. The chain started out as a specialty wine vendor where you could go to find pretty much every California wine. Over time, they added snacks like cheeses to their wares and it's continued to expand ever since. Below is my local Trader's wine area with a big "Two Buck Chuck" display. Two Buck Chuck is actually a series of wines from the Charles Shaw winery that are sold only in TJ's and cost between $2 and $3 per bottle. The cost doesn't reflect how good these wines are. I have to be honest, though, that my favorites are some of the Pinots that they sell in one of the other aisles.
Finally, my strongest Trader Joe's addiction is for these mini chocolate chip cookies that sell for $4 a tub. I've been known, during my more portly years, to polish off at least half a container in one sitting. I do better now but I still eat too many.
Oh, and the ship's bell. When the lines in the front of the store get too long, one of the Hawaiian-shirt-clad employees rings the bell once to alert one of their coworkers to come running and open a new register.
Like I mentioned, they've spread throughout the U.S. to the point that they're now in Philadelphia too. What makes it super convenient to get my Trader's fix while there eliminated one of the easiest annual Christmas gifts for my family. I'd go and load up a whole box of salsas, cookies, and a bunch of other stuff to give out to my grateful family. Oh well, I guess the trade off is worth it.
See you there!