Cafe Society

Top five reasons why people love Trader Joe's so f*@%ing much

The prayers, pleas and entreaties of Coloradans have been heard, and we are finally getting a Trader Joe's store at the Twenty Ninth Street mall in Boulder in 2013. The hoopla surrounding this blessed event -- akin to the birth of the Christ child -- has some uninitiated locals wondering why TJ's is so incredibly popular. Trader Joe's brilliant ascendency began in Pasadena in 1967, with its founder's expressed mission of providing customers with foods catering to their burgeoning global tastes. Among the many miracles of TJ's is the fact that what has grown into a 365-store chain not only managed to survive but thrive in an industry filled with big-box and grocery stores. (In other words, Wal-Mart hasn't killed it off.) In fact, TJ's customer base displays a brand loyalty and enduring passion that rivals organized religion.

So for all you heathens who don't understand the sacred divinity of Trader Joe's, we offer the top five reasons why people love Trader Joe's so f*@%ing much. You may genuflect after reading.

5. Cultural awareness never tasted so good.

Ethnic foods aren't new to Americans by any stretch of the imagination, but Trader Joe's breaks down its ethnic food products all Sesame Street-style, and presents them in ways that even backwater hicks can easily understand. Hell, they TJ's even makes its signature products' packaging fun by assigning various international personas to them, such as Trader Jose's (Mexican food), Trader Ming's (Chinese food), Trader Giotto's (Italian), Trader Joe-San's (Japanese), Arabian Joe's (Middle Eastern) and Trader Jacques' (French). Almost everything in the stores is a Trader Joe's brand -- the company buys direct from smaller vendors both locally and overseas -- and this somewhat adolescent approach to diversity makes shoppers feel sophisticated without the hassle of having to read labels in foreign languages.

4. Their customers are treated like rock stars.

With good customer service disappearing faster than Newt Gingrich's supporters these days, Trader Joe's obviously schools its employees and management to be the exception to the rule that grocery stores are staffed by workers who punch a time card, push a broom, and don't want to be bothered with pesky shoppers asking questions and wanting things. TJ's staffers wear comfy clothes, they smile like drunken birthday clowns, and they're full of product knowledge and shopping suggestions for any and everything in the store -- from bath salts to fingerling potatoes. They are friendly, helpful and accommodating, and seem as sunny as a bucket of sunflowers. Perhaps they are only pretending to care about their customers' every whim and fancy, but they do it so convincingly that you kinda wish you could shop there for used cars and home appliances, too.

3. Its new foodie boot camp.

Buying things like saffron and heirloom tomatoes can be intimidating the first time, but foodie virgins are safe and snuggled in the loving arms of Trader Joe's. The stores are relatively small, the choices are finite, and almost everything is expertly and colorfully labeled so that finding Italian pastas, Dutch cheeses and bags of Key lime-flavored gumdrops is easier than finding an egg up a chicken's ass. They even have faux-island-cantina huts set up for sampling out the goods, so no foodie-in-training is deprived of tiny cups of organic, unfiltered apple juice, white Cheddar-asparagus risotto or vegetarian eggrolls. Those marketing-savvy grub-guardians also make pairings slobberingly simple by placing unobtrusive signs all over the place with unsubtle sayings like "This would go PERFECT with our goat chevre medallions" and "Try me with the fair trade Peruvian coffee." You can walk into a store with no earthly idea how to serve green beans, and walk out with a frozen package of green beans in tropical tamarind sauce.

2. Trader Joe's beautiful cheapness will leave you with rent money.

Instead of having to yank out your gold fillings at the register of Whole Foods to pay for half a cart of brown rice and some onions, Trader Joe's offers bargain-shopping prices for gourmet goodies by having virtually no advertising budget, dealing directly with vendors and axing unpopular or low-selling products. It also helps that TJ's isn't a one-stop shop, so if lettuce prices hit the roof, it doesn't have to carry it. TJ's has gotten some backchatter in the past for refusing to reveal the sources of products, but it's widely believed that the company is staying mum to keep competitors from undercutting its prices. Sure, we could care about where its Lemongrass Chicken Stix came from originally, or we can rejoice in the fact that Trader Joe's Mojito Salmon is cheap, its vegan Very Mini Meringue Cookies are cheap, and its organic Muscat Champagne Vinegar is also quite cheap.

1. We're all in luck -- there's Two Buck Chuck!

Trader Joe's famous -- or infamous -- Charles Shaw wines are owned by Franzia, purveyors of fine wines in fine cardboard boxes, and are sold for the insanely ridiculous price of $1.99 a bottle. The selection is limited to Cabernet Sauvignon, White Zinfandel, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz, but since you can buy a bottle of each for less than what you could pay for a glass of wine at a restaurant, they are worth exploring. Sure, the Chardonnay tastes a bit like woody jet fuel and the Shiraz could take the tarnish off of silver, but overall these bottles aren't too bad if you don't develop high expectations between refills. Trader Joe's is providing a public service by offering customers fruity liquor for couch-change, because sometimes you just need to get wack-a-loon drunk and microwave up some delicious Trader Joe's Tofu and Edamame Nuggets.

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Jenn Wohletz
Contact: Jenn Wohletz