Trader Joe’s

Today’s NYT has a lovely, lovely article that takes us behind the scenes at Trader Joe’s. The article looks at how Trader Joe’s buyers and taste testers select, craft, and approve their products, how the chain got started, and what their philosophy is. You should definitely read this if you’re a Trader Joe’s shopper, because it gives us a fascinating window into how the chain operates, and because certain sentences will ring amusingly true: “The stores are small, the selection is uneven and the corporate culture can be described as dorky.” And even if you don’t go to Trader Joe’s, you might enjoy the article’s depiction of the obsessive, nutty people who make up the Trader Joe’s company. I loved and laughed at this description of the company’s taste-testing panel:

The group fell silent and began chewing intently. Immediately, comments flew. “Interesting nutty flavors on No. 1.” … “This one has a cardboardy texture at the end.” … “What about the omega-3’s on this one?” Eventually, a favorite was determined by a show of hands and a plan sketched for the step ahead: persuading the supplier to make refinements and solve problems.

Next, aged goat cheeses. Then truffled cheeses. (“Like dirty socks.” … “I think people want to see those black flecks.” … “I worry that we’re just too far ahead of the curve with these.”) Toasted walnuts, then granola clusters. (“How are these not cookies?” the house nutritionist asked.) And finally a new category: trail-mix-based cereals. The group poured milk and chewed. “I am not happy to get a whole almond in my bowl of cereal,” one said forcefully.

That’s why I love Trader Joe’s! Not everything there is a winner, but it’s a good good place for people who like food.

I told Jason about this article, and he was confused about why anyone would object to almonds in their cereal.

I replied, “I don’t like whole nuts in my cereal either!” He wanted to know why, so I elaborated: “Well, nuts are very crunchy, but they’re not crunchy like cereal flakes. Flakes crunch easily and then disappear, but you have to keep chomping on a whole nut for a while.”

A pause. Then, “You’ve given a lot of thought to this.”

I have! I wouldn’t really want to be a buyer/tester for Trader Joe’s, nor would I want to be a contender on Top Chef (which premiere episode I watched tonight and got sucked into, despite my lack of interest in the previews), but I certainly can understand and discuss at length the finer points of food… like whole almonds in cereal.

Speaking of which, Trader Joe’s toffee clusters cereal has halved nuts in it, and it is delicious.

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at]