Published on July 1, 2019

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Photo by Aaron Bengochea

Trader Joe’s is a supermarket enigma. Low prices and high-quality (often organic!) foods, tiny square footage and big, intricate wall murals—the store’s unusual makeup has spawned an army of loyal fans. And sparked a lot of questions. Luckily, a recent episode of the font of wisdom that is the Trader Joe’s podcast was all about getting answers. 

Jon Basalone, president of stores, and Mitch Heeger, executive vice president for marketing and merchandising, hopped on to respond to listeners’ FAQs. They covered a lot of ground, from how they feel about copycat products to why they don’t sell diapers—here are their answers to four of the most interesting questions: 

Why are the stores so small?

It’s intentional. “We want our stores to feel like a neighborhood store, [where] maybe you do literally bump into somebody and can talk about what you’re buying or what’s going on in your lives—that sort of thing,” explained Basalone. While you might not be feeling the love as you elbow your way to the last Everything But the Bagel seasoning on a Sunday afternoon, the cozy environment is what sets TJ’s apart from other mass grocers. 

Why are some major brands snuck into the Trader Joe’s merchandise? 

You’re not hallucinating; those are, in fact, Kind bars sandwiched between the TJ’s private-label granola bars. According to Heeger, about 85 to 95 percent of every store is private label, but they do include some other recognizable brands for their customers’ sake. “If we can have a great value on something that our customers want, there’s a place for that,” he said. 

Why isn’t there an online shop? 

Simply put: “Our brand is the store,” said Basalone. “The real magic is when people find all that stuff that isn’t on their list.” In other words, don’t expect a Trader Joe’s e-shop anytime soon. 

What’s the least successful product of all time? 

Blame it on Seinfeld. “We thought that muffin tops would be a really good product because everybody likes to take the top off a muffin,” said Heeger, referencing an episode of the show called “Top of the Muffin.” Apparently, that wasn’t the case. If you feel cheated, the good news is that the crew is always open to feedback: You can request the return of old favorites anytime. 

See more Trader Joe’s stories:
14 Trader Joe’s Secrets That Will Change the Way You Shop
These Trader Joe’s Products Are a Chef’s Weeknight Dinner Saviors
I Use These Trader Joe’s Sauces on Literally Everything

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