15 things all Trader Joe's employees know that most shoppers don't

Joe Raedle / Getty ImagesMake the most of your next Trader Joe’s expedition.
  • Trader Joe’s stores are pretty unique in the grocery world.
  • So it’s no surprise the company has picked up a cult following.
  • Here are some facts and tips to help you out on your next Trader Joe’s run, courtesy of current and former Trader Joe’s crew members themselves.

Trader Joe’s stores boast plenty of unique traditions and quirky practices.

And, of course, no one knows better about them than Trader Joe’s employees themselves.

According to Glassdoor, Trader Joe’s has more than 460 locations in 41 states. About 38,000 employees work for the company. Their roles are divided up into nautically themed categories, including crew members, merchants, mates, and captains.

Since its founding in 1968, the chain has acquired a cult following thanks to its unique offerings, customer service, and its ridiculously cheap wine.

Here’s a look at some facts that Trader Joe’s crew members know but many shoppers don’t.


Packaging isn’t important to the chain

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“A core foundation of Trader Joe’s is to spend more money on the product than the packaging,” Matt Klaver, a former Trader Joe’s crew member, said on Quora. “You’ll see that in the store the same item may not look identical across the shelf, and that’s for a good reason.”

He added that the chain “spends very little money on packaging because they don’t care about small colour differences or cans that don’t stack right.”

“This makes life significantly easier on the manufacturer, who in turn gives them a discount,” Klaver wrote.


Trader Joe’s sends some crew members on global food expeditions

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Trader Joe’s goes out of its way to bring unique international fare to its customers.

In 2016, the grocery chain hired a product innovator to “travel the world looking for the most creative food trends, in order to create the most exciting – WOW! – products for Trader Joe’s,” according to the job description.

That’s right – Trader Joe’s employs people to travel around the world and taste food.

Sounds like a rough gig.


Trader Joe’s gets creative with its branding

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Frequent Trader Joe’s shoppers may pick up on some amusing trends on certain product labels.

Here are a few examples of the chain’s creative branding,according to the website Club Trader Joe’s:

• Mexican food is billed under the name Trader Jose’s.

• Chinese food is labelled as Trader Ming’s.

Baker Josef’s refers to baked products.

• Clam chowder and fall-themed foods are sold under the name Pilgrim Joe’s.

• French food and soaps are labelled Trader Jacques.

Trader Darwin’s refers to vitamins.

• Middle Eastern cuisine is sold under the name Arabian Joe’s.

Trader Giotto’s is the label that covers the store’s Italian food.

• Japanese food receives the label of Trader Joe-San.


There’s a reason that many items get discontinued

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“They’re extremely strict about contracts with suppliers – we won’t buy a product if we have to raise the price too high,” a Trader Joe’s employee said in a recent Reddit AMA. “That’s often why so many items are discontinued.”


If you’re shopping with kids, tell them to keep an eye out for a hidden surprise

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Trader Joe’s is home to a special tradition meant to make shopping expeditions a bit more exciting for certain lucky children.

In some stores, crew members stash a stuffed animal somewhere in the store. If a kid spots it, they will win lollipop at checkout.

“My store used to hide it in the shelves, but the stuffed animal would get so dirty, disgusting, not to mention the germs it was carrying around,” a Trader Joe’s employee wrote on Reddit. “Another thing is we would ask the kids who found it to rehide it for us and they would sometimes hide it so well we couldn’t find it for weeks.”

The employee said some stores would hide the stuffed animal within the shelves, while others would place it high up somewhere.


Crew members really appreciate it when you pitch in at checkout

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“In my experience, and the experience of anyone I ever worked with at TJ’s, the customers who bagged were ALWAYS vastly more appreciated, regardless of skill, than those who stood there, watched their items pile up, spaced out, and passed the time delay on to the other patrons in line,” Natalie Mullin, a former Trader Joe’s crew member, said on Quora.

Mullin added that the exception to this rule were customers in the express line.


There’s a strategy that will help you get a ton of free samples

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Love the free samples at Trader Joe’s? Then hit up the store toward the end of the night.

“If you’re there at the end of the night, and we’re just trying to clean everything out of there, you can probably stand there for 10 minutes and eat,” a crew member told Thrillist.


Or you could get a job at Trader Joe’s for endless sampling

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Trader Joe’s crew members actually get to sample the store’s latest products.

Matt Sloan, the vice president of marketing at Trader Joe’s, said in an episode of the grocery chain’s podcast that he “once even tasted one of the dog biscuits,” Business Insider’s Jessica Tyler reported.

For the most part, though, crew members typically leave the dog-food testing to their pets.


Understaffing isn’t an issue at the store

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Overstaffing is said to be a pillar of Trader Joe’s customer-service strategy.

“They totally overstaff so that you don’t feel like your stocking duties or your register duties trump interacting with customers,”a crew member told PopSugar.


Each store also has as sizable group of middle managers

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Trader Joe’s doesn’t just employ a ton of crew members, Business Insider’s Rachel Gillett reported – a lot of middle managers also work for the chain. “Captains” lead the store, while eight to 12 “mates” serve as middle managers.

“I thought that having so many middle managers would cause problems, but in fact it turns out to be good for everyone,” Hayley Benham-Archdeacon, a former Trader Joe’s employee,wrote in a post for Lattice.

She said tasks were distributed evenly.

“And if you don’t feel comfortable going to one manager about a problem or personal event?” she wrote. “No problem, you have 10 others to speak to.”


Employees don’t just ring bells for the fun of it

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The bells at Trader Joe’s function as sort of a secret language for employees.

“One bell means everyone to your register, which means the lines are getting too long and they need everyone at a register,”an employee told PopSugar. “Two bells means you need an employee to come over and help with something … Three bells means a manager needs to come over.”

INSIDER’s Cassidy Hopkins reported that the idea came from the old maritime practice of communicating via ships’ bells.


Store “spoils” are donated to local charities

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“Trader Joe’s donates a ton of food,” a crew member told PopSugar. “It’s called ‘spoils,’ which just means it’s not in perfect shape. There’s nothing wrong with eating a lime with a couple brown spots, but if you wouldn’t buy it and be excited about buying it, then it gets put with spoils and typically gets donated.”

The employee added that such produce is typically donated to local nonprofit organisations.

Trader Joe’s website mentions its “long-running policy to donate 100% of products not fit for sale but safe for consumption.”


Trader Joe’s job candidates are asked whether they have a “sense of adventure”

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In a Quora post, a former Trader Joe’s crew member named Luke Kaiser said the store’s application process was “straightforward” and not too unlike that for most retail positions.

But a few questions set the chain’s application apart.

“On their application, they ask: ‘Do you possess a sense of adventure?’ ‘Do you like to make people smile?’ ‘Do you like to eat?'” Kaiser wrote. “These are the characteristics of the ideal employee.

“Trader Joe’s wants to make sure that every customer feels valued, and they want your excitement about their products to inspire the customers you meet to make adventurous choices in the store,” he added.


Check out the Fearless Flyer for deals

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Trader Joe’s doesn’t really have sales.

The chain’s website says its anti-coupon policy came about because it is “focused on providing the best everyday values, every day.”

That said, the Fearless Flyer, the store’s official catalogue, does occasionally announce deals. You can find it online or in stores.


The return policy is generous

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In a Reddit AMA, a Trader Joe’s manager said: “Return anything for a full refund. Receipt not even completely required. We encourage people to try stuff, and the staff recommends products to customers. If a customer doesn’t like it, we want to fix that.”

The manager added that they had returned items at their store.

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