The Insider Secrets Trader Joe’s Shoppers Need to Know
It’s the land of nationally-priced food, incredibly creative frozen meals, and succulents alongside your produce for the pickings — what’s not to love about Trader Joe’s? The company has a near-cult following as a result of its competitive prices, creative marketing, and of course, super cheap wine (but we’ll get to that).
While there are over 460 locations throughout 41 of the states, plenty of people aren’t aware of the serious benefits they can reap by taking their business to good ol’ TJ’s. We’ve compiled employee’s insider secrets to shopping at Trader Joe’s that every TJ fanatic (and shopper who wants to seriously save) should know.
The store is optimized for your convenience — including free samples and returns
Move over, Costco. Trader Joe’s offers free samples at stands to promote new products or ones they love. However, you don’t need to limit yourself to the sample stand. A Trader Joe’s manager responded to a Reddit Ask Me Anything thread that you can ask to sample anything in the store within reason. “We’re not gonna grill up a steak for you,” they said, “But something that you can open up and taste, yeah, go for it. They’ll be happy to open it and let you try.”
And don’t worry too much about irking an employee — the manager assured users that he loves when customers ask to sample products. “You get to eat as much as you want and the remainder will be given to crew members. We donate as much food as we can to local food shelters … Just make sure it’s a reasonable request.”
There’s a prime time to sample food as well, so head over to the demo station around closing time. “If you’re there at the end of the night, and we’re just trying to clean everything out of there, you can probably stand there for 10 minutes and eat,” an employee told Thrillist.
Don’t have time to try your food before buying it? According to Popsugar, customers can buy anything, try it, and still return the product for a full refund if there’s an issue. While they claim the policy is usually no-questions-asked, employees warn against trying to fool a staff member. One explained that they can tell if you are faking it and trying to “return” an item you just found in the aisles.
“For example, our vitamins can run up to about $20 for a small bottle, a customer will grab it off the shelf and come to a register claiming a refund. The company knows this happens and enforces the policy, knowing well they are being frauded. It eats at my core though. The worst kind of person.”
The wine is crazy cheap
Ever heard of Two Buck Chuck? You have now. When Trader Joe’s introduced it’s popular Charles Shaw wine from California it sold at only $1.99 a bottle — and it’s good. The store sells other brand wines for $4.99 to $60 a bottle with wines from respected regions in California, France, and Italy.
Charles Shaw is made by Bronco Wine, a company with a few tricks up their sleeve to keep production costs (and prices) low. They ferment their wine with oak chips in a cheaper method than barrel fermentation. Their vineyards are located in California’s San Joaquin Valley, which wine expert George M. Taber found is cheaper than land in Sonoma or Napa Valley. There’s a risk you take with the valley, however: the higher average temperatures in San Joaquin Valley can over-ripen grapes.
KALW Public Radio uncovered another secret TJ’s uses: “one of the cheapest forms of natural cork.” Bronco also makes a startling 90 million gallons of wine a year, which keeps production costs lower.
You can find a complete list of which Trader Joe’s stores sell wine here.
Some Trader Joe’s employees have the coolest job ever
Trader Joe’s labels its international cuisine in unique ways (Trader Jose’s is the name of its Mexican food, while Trader Giotto’s refers to its Italian cuisine) but it’s still committed to creating the best global product. That’s why the chain hired a product innovator in 2016 to “travel the world looking for the most creative food trends, in order to create the most exciting — WOW! — products for Trader Joe’s.”
The innovator’s job takes a lot of skill, but we doubt they can complain. They literally travel around the world and taste food — sounds like a good gig to us.
There are two ‘best days’ to shop
We know, Sunday afternoon is easily the most convenient time to get your grocery shopping done for the week. However, if you can swing a Tuesday or Wednesday early morning visit to Trader Joe’s, you’ll reap the benefits of peaceful aisles and empty registers. “Right when we open is honestly the best time,” a Trader Joe’s employee said in the Reddit thread. “We get fresh produce in every morning so you can get the best products, and some stuff actually will sell out for the day around 2 to 4 p.m., including perishable and non perishable items.”
Don’t bother complaining about the long lines if you save your shopping for the Sunday rush … the employees find it humorous. “I think it’s hilarious people go on Sunday and complain that we are so busy,” the employee said.
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