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The Tower

The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

Trader Joe’s Friendly Neighborhood Deception

The complex relationship of Trader Joe’s and its shoppers
Emeraude Westlake
Which of these snacks can you find at neighboring grocery stores but in different packaging? It’s a Trader Joe’s mystery.

Walking down Trader Joe’s aisles, you remember years ago when you would look for the stuffed animal hidden in the store, so you could earn your lollipop — it’s a nostalgic place. Trader Joe’s sells iconic foods too — the Everything but the Bagel seasoning, the Chili and Lime Flavored Rolled Corn Tortilla Chips (fake Takis), the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, and the World’s Puffiest White Cheddar Corn Puffs, to name a few.

Although the beloved grocery store portrays an appealing illusion of individuality, Trader Joe’s secretive business model is deceiving its customers. Are customers aware of this dishonesty? And if so, how will it affect shopper loyalty to the store?

Trader Joe’s is popular in part because of its high quality products and their practicality. Lela Felix (‘26) said, “Everything’s just really good. It tastes really good, and they have very convenient meals.” (Emeraude Westlake)

Trader Joe’s, known for its high-quality and unique products decorated in eye-pleasing packaging, was exposed in 2017 by Eater: many of their products are supplied by common food manufacturers of other grocery stores and simply repackaged in Trader Joe’s designs. According to Eater, the store and its suppliers “all but swear” to disclose which products are duplicates of other brands and which are truly exclusive to Trader Joe’s. 

“I mean, I am aware of it and part of my heart is like, that’s a little bit sad,” said Ava Bradley (‘24), a Trader Joe’s fan. “Because I don’t outright know what products they’re ripping off, I’m having the illusion of better products when they might not necessarily be,” Ava said. Acknowledging this, she plans to keep shopping at Trader Joe’s.

The allegations have been confirmed by several former employees, one of whom, Mark Gardiner, took the job for the sole purpose of discovering Trader Joe’s business success secrets. Gardiner was previously the Vice President of Marketing and an Advertising Consultant at other, undisclosed companies and became a crew member at a Kansas City Trader Joe’s. Fascinated by the success of the store despite its lack of advertising, he wrote and published a book in 2012 about the company’s branding tactics.

Credit: Vince Dixon through Eater
(Vince Dixon )

Even while working there, Gardiner was not able to discover the identities of the suppliers of Trader Joe’s products. There is a list of unveiled products, however, as noted by MoneyWise and Eater. Data Visualisation Reporter Vince Dixon of Eater also conducted a blind taste test to see if people could tell the difference between Trader Joe’s and name brand products — recording which ones they believed tasted better, too.

Credit: Vince Dixon through Eater (Vince Dixon)

The only way to uncover the identity of Trader Joe’s producers is through recalls, Gardiner told Eater. Once a product is recalled, the manufacturer lists the stores at which their products were sold. And, surprisingly often, the name “Trader Joe’s” unexpectedly pops up.

Gardiner told Eater, “[People think] ‘it’s Trader Joe’s — that’s the brand,’ and it’s a special brand that you can only get here. The truth is that almost all of this is stuff that you can probably get at another store within a few miles of that Trader Joe’s in a different package with a different name.’”

There is no “Trader Joe’s brand.” If the grocery store has a unique product, it’s that it has an exclusive supplier, not that the store has manufactured the product itself.

Suppliers agree to sell their products to Trader Joe’s as long as the producer’s identity is kept secret. This way, suppliers can sell their products for a higher price elsewhere.

The grocery store has high standards for its vendors’ products. Amid the mystery, shoppers can be sure that their purchases will not contain any artificial flavors, artificial preservatives, MSG, added trans fats, dairy ingredients from rBST sources or genetically modified ingredients. And, any artificial coloring must be derived from natural ingredients.

This means that no matter the source of the Trader Joe’s product, shoppers can still be assured of its quality. That is a leading reason for Trader Joe’s huge success and customer loyalty. Ava said, “Generally, things tend to taste or feel more natural than a regular store.”

Trader Joe’s is also known for its seasonal items. “They always introduce fun fall flavors, [which is] always nice,” said Ava Bradley (‘24). (Emeraude Westlake)

Trader Joe’s is also grounded in its friendly-neighborhood grocery store image. “It has small business vibes,” laughed Ava, “I look at it, and I’m like, this isn’t corporate America.” Lela Felix (‘26), another frequent Trader Joe’s shopper, added that Trader Joe’s extra touches make it unique and inviting as a grocery store. “They have a newspaper, and so they’ll have information about their products, and what product is the weekly special, which I think is just adorable,” she said. “Trader [Joe’s] is much happier. It’s a friendlier vibe [than at other grocers],” Lela continued.

Trader Joe’s has achieved great success and maintained customer loyalty despite their deceptive business model. “I appreciate the business model. I recognize that I’m sort of being lied to, but it’s okay,” Ava said.

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About the Contributor
Emeraude Westlake
Emeraude Westlake, Content Editor
Emeraude is a senior and this is her second year on The Tower. This year, she is a Content Editor and she loves covering campus events and trends. Along with writing, Emeraude enjoys creating art, watching (and making!) movies, and eating food. She is on the Varsity Cross Country and Soccer team and every night, she will laugh over an episode of Modern Family with her family. 

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