Trader Joe's is one of those places where people gush breathlessly about their favorite item. Is it the Edamame Hummus? The frozen Chicken Chili Verde Burritos? Pizza 4 Formaggi? (This reporter misses Journey to the Center of the Cookie. Where have you gone?)
The store's small footprint and sense of adventure have helped Trader Joe's sell more food per square foot than the industry average...though it's twice as hard to find a parking spot. The company is owned by the family behind a massive German discount grocery chain. David Orgel, editor-in-chief of Supermarket News, said the family hopes to double TJ’s growth. Yougov’s Brand Index reports the gap in positive buzz is growing between Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, as TJ's has an increasingly better image of selling high quality food at lower prices.
Kathie Canning of Store Brands Magazine points out that many of the most popular products at the chain are sold under the Trader Joe's brand, which includes whimsical offshoots such as Trader Jose's for Mexican food, Trader Ming's for Chinese food, and Trader Giotto's for Italian food. "The fact that Trader Joe's is able to command such loyalty to its products is a reflection of the strength of the store brands it has built," she said.
Supermarket News said the stores give consumers several things they want: indulgent foods that don't cost a lot, foods that seem healthier yet taste good, and its frozen foods are especially popular because of their convenience.
But when you look at the top/best/most popular items at Trader Joe's, indulgence seems to be the key factor.
Here are the top five.
No. 5: Two Buck Chuck
An oldie but goodie. When Trader Joe's cut a deal with the Bronco Wine Company a dozen years ago to begin selling excess wine under the Charles Shaw label for only $2, no one was sure it would sell.
Two Buck Chuck put Trader Joe's on the map. By 2003, it grabbed 15 percent of the entire retail wine market in California, and although prices have risen over the years above the original $1.99, Charles Shaw wines remain a big seller. Consumer Reports even named the 2011 Chardonnay a "Best Buy."
No. 4: Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole
You can pig out on guacamole and not feel so guilty? GENIUS. The dip has 30 calories per 2-tablespoon serving, about a third less than normal. This is exactly the sort of indulgent-yet-healthy product that sells well here. Also, it's guacamole. 'Nuf said.
No. 3: Joe Joe's Cookies
Here's another indulgent-yet-health...ish treat that people can easily buy on impulse inside stores. The cookies have no hydrogenated oils (healthy!), and contain real vanilla bean (tasty!), which sort of makes up for the fact that they have more calories per cookie than Oreos.
No. 2: Speculoos Cookie Butter
The only surprise here is that this isn't No. 1. It's butter WITH COOKIE CHUNKS IN IT. This is the most brilliant creation since putting peanut butter and chocolate together!! Kathie Canning at Store Brands Magazine said items like this, "really represent what Trader Joe's is all about - kind of a treasure hunt environment." Amanda Topper at Mintel said this is part of a trend of "people looking for an alternative to peanut butter."
No. 1: Triple Ginger Snaps
The Triple Ginger Snaps are a triple whammy, and that’s why they come out on top. A) they're good. B) they're indulgent but in small bites. C) They seem healthy. "Ginger Snaps could be popular because ginger has medicinal benefits,” said Mintel’s Amanda Topper. “People might think it's healthier than another type of cookie."
Now if they could just do something about the parking at Trader Joe’s. That is NOT indulgent, or healthy.