When Hawaiian shirt-clad Trader Joe’s employees open the
new Silverdale store’s doors for the first time at 8 a.m., you can
bet a bottle of “Three Buck Chuck” that a line of people will be
Kitsap residents eagerly awaited its opening, filling Facebook
with love notes, chiding newspapers for not writing more about it
and gratifying Kitsap Sun reporters and bloggers who did with thousands of page
Elsewhere, the chain has inspired fan blogs,
cookbooks and discussion groups about “TJs”.
When faced with such rampant adult enthusiasm, it awakens a
journalistic tendency to question nearly everything, a tendency
that, if left unchecked, can turn to mockery.
So I asked, what’s the big deal?
I hit Google and a Trader Joe’s store to attempt an honest
As one Facebook fan
posted on the Bring Trader Joe’s to Silverdale WA page, “I
think TJs is a love it or don’t get it place.”
On entering the Trader Joe’s in University Place, you’re greeted
by hand-drawn signs advertising specials and new deals under thatch
umbrellas consistent with its South Pacific theme.
It’s more like Cost Plus World Market than Safeway.
Employees, called “crew members” are generally friendly. On the
job applications, part-time crew members are instructed to “become
smitten with your customers. … Make sure customers know they are
welcome and cared for.”
All the stores are like that, intended to feel laid-back,
neighborhood-like, much like the company’s first store, which
opened in Pasedena, Calif. in 1967. This despite having been bought
out by the Albrecht family of grocers in Germany, the opening of
365 stores nationwide with profits estimated at $8.5 billion,
according to industry analysts Supermarket
But walking down the aisles, I can see that the products
themselves are what set it apart from other grocery stores.
The first aisle on the left filled with organic nuts and dried
fruits, including (catch my breath) green mangoes. Where else do
you see that at a store outside of Hawaii?
Oh, dark chocolate almonds tossed with salt? In the basket.
A $3 six-pack of lager … can it really be worse than PBR? In the
Sunflower butter and f rozen, deep fried Mac and cheese? Hold on
a minute, I’ve got a budget.
It’s the kind of thing the company touts on its website as “the
thrill of discovery.”
The company has cultivated a product line that includes plenty
of organics, exotic ingredients and pre-made sauces and frozen
As one Pepperdine University marketing analyst sums
it up the difference is that, “(Trader Joe’s) culture, because
it involves the customers in an ongoing sense of discovery and
adventure, is both unique and difficult to copy. And because it is
aligned to their specific target market rather than broad
differentiation built around quality and service, it is more
difficult to replicate by those companies that are serving a more
expansive competitive space.”
And somewhere between products and culture is the sense that
shopping at Trader Joe’s is more responsible. Branded products
claim to be free of artificial colors and preservatives, MSG or
added trans fats. The company highlights
a fair trade culture and has been responsive to customers’ requests
for non-GMO foods, and a move to phase out by the end of next year
seafood that doesn’t come from sustainable sources.
But, as a private company likely trying to maintain control of
its relationships, it’s tight-lipped about where its products come
from, making it difficult for an outside organization to track just
how sustainable its buying practices are, according to
Sustainable Industries magazine.
Those who lean toward knowing the exactly where the food came
from would be better off sticking to local farmers
But often unlike organic, fair trade products elsewhere, Trader
Joe’s offers them cheaply.
The company generally purchases items directly from
manufacturers, buying in bulk and doing its own repackaging mostly
— by one estimate, 80 percent —under the Trader Joe’s label.
Items that in style (if not always in exact makeup) are familiar
and cheaper than the original products at regular grocery
Take, for example, an 8 oz. bottle of Annie’s Naturals Goddess
dressing, which runs $4 to $5 at local grocery stores. The
Trader Joe’s version cost $1.99, lists nearly all of the same
ingredients in the same order with slight variations in wording,
such as “sea salt” vs. “salt” and “parsley, chives” vs. “spices” on
the Annie’s and Trader Joe’s versions respectively.
And sometimes, that includes the brand name, too. A block of
Dubliner cheese which has been cut and repackaged in plastic wrap
sells for $6.49 per pound. A brand-packaged block of the same
cheese retails for $12.55 per pound at Safeway.
That’s not to say everything is cheaper at Trader Joe’s. A look
at six-packs of Northwest microbrews or, for example a tube of
Tom’s of Maine mint toothpaste or box of Puffins cereal, are no
better or slightly more than at my local grocery store.
And it’s not a place a person is likely to find an entire
grocery list’s worth of goods.
According to a
Fortune magazine article, “With the greater turnover on a
smaller number of items, Trader Joe’s can buy large quantities and
secure deep discounts” and simplify stocking.
The products regularly change, as the company puts it, “If an
item doesn’t pull its weight in our stores, it goes away to gangway
for something else.” But that doesn’t work against them, says
Fortune, because “customers accept that Trader Joe’s has only two
kinds of pudding or one kind of polenta because they trust that
those few items will be very good.”
The big deal, in short, is that the stores have a consistent
store brand and an ever-changing product line targeted to a middle-
to upper middle-income shoppers who are socially, health- and
And because of that, shoppers will be waiting Friday, ready to
do their darndest to clear the shelves and stock up on cheap wine
and the hundreds of other goodies that they’ll have just realized
they can’t live without.
Just a short note for all of you local food lovers out there: If
you haven’t caught it already, Diane Fish over at the Kitsap Farm to Fork
blog last week started a series taking a historical look at
farming in Kitsap.
This weekend kicks off the food and other exhibits for the
Kitsap County Fair.
There’s not much time to enter most of the categories if you
haven’t already started something, but here’s a little information
on entering your food to be judged at the fair:
Cooks can enter in the open class food and canning exhibitions
between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23. The open class and
canning includes things like breads, cakes, baked goods, candy,
jams and jellies and other preserved foods.
You do, however, have a whole week to prepare for the pie baking
contest, which this year includes a cheesecake category. You can
enter fruit and berry pies between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Saturday,
Aug. 29 and the cheesecakes from noon to 1 on Sunday.
I wonder if they still need judges for that cheesecake
I participated in one last year with a Silverdale farm. I paid a
set amount upfront and was able to pick up fresh veggies grown on
the farm every week at my local farmer’s market. The one I joined
that also had a plus side in that he regularly brought over fruit
from Eastern Washington that I incorporated in my share. I had
fresh fruit and veggies through the summer and into fall.
If you’re interested in learning mor about CSA’s and/or local
farms, the Kitsap Agriculture Alliance has a web site, buylocalfoodinkitsap.org. They will have a
meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday March 10, at the Norm Dicks Center,
I saw that Kitsap Food
Co-op, group was hosting another public meeting about
their efforts this Saturday (Feb. 21), and thought it would be a
good time to catch up with how they’re doing.
The group has been
working for more than a year to lay the groundwork for a
community-supported and member-owned grocery store that would
specialize in locally grown, natural and organic foods.
They’ve been fundraising and doing some basic market analysis
since that time, and they are currently on the cusp of
incorporating, said Laura Moynihan, one of the co-op organizers.
Incorporation will allow them to start signing up members and
collecting membership fees to help fund further progress.
They’ve decided memberships will be structured as an annual fee
system — as opposed to a large, one-time fee — where
members will get discounts and a profit refund, similar to the way
REI sets up its member dividends.
The next step will be to do a feasibility study that will help
them focus on where would be the smartest place to build, among
“We’re still a ways off from having a physical building,”
But it’s still a good time to try and start the co-op, despite
the economic downturn, she said.
They may, for example, be able to take advantage of newly
affordable real estate. And though the desire to save money may
drive shoppers to discount grocers like Wal-Mart, having an
organization that supports local foods in a down economy becomes
additionally important, Moynihan said.
“When you shop at a food co-op, when you use local producers,
farmers, craftspeople who shop local for feed and seed and other
products,” she said. “That’s when the community really gets to hold
on to its money” rather than having those dollars go to Arkansas or
Food Co-op members will talk more about the economy’s effect on
the co-op at Saturday’s meeting.
The meeting will be from 3 to 5 p.m. at Seaside Church in Bremerton, near Evergreen
Rotary Park. They’ll be talking about the economy as well as hold a
silent auction for items, such as a quilt, free tree-trimming,
haircut, yoga classes and other services.
But not just any food. What you’ll find on this blog will be
resources, ideas and a place to talk about food for those of us in
So a little bit about me: My name is Angela Dice.
I’m not a veteran food critic or a gourmet chef. What I am is a
food enthusiast who loves taking photos, videos and sharing
Most of the happy memories in my life involved food:
Barbecues with my friends. Morning breakfast bowls of miso soup and
rice with my grandma as she tells stories about life in Japan.
Thanksgiving dinners where we stuffed ourselves so full of turkey
and mashed potatoes that we could do nothing afterwards but lounge
and joke around the dining room table just long enough for our
stomachs to digest down room for one slice of pumpkin pie.
So I’ve set myself on the path to making better meals for my
friends and family, learning from people and places around Kitsap,
Seattle and surrounding areas, and sharing what I learn along the
way. I’ll be joined on occasion by other Sun bloggers.
So with that said, I hope you’ll join me on this journey, and I
look forward to sharing what I find and hearing from you. Always
wanted to learn how a local food expert made something? I can’t
promise to get the answer, but I’ll ask for you. Feel free to treat
me like your personal scout.