How Products Make It On Trader Joe’s Shelves

Hint: It’s not just about the customer's taste
Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
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Trader Joe's breakfast display
In a newly aired podcast, Trader Joe's marketing pros shared that all products are sampled by internal tasters.

Anyone browsing some of the newest products to land at Trader Joe’s stores, like a recently-added Mango Blueberry Chia Bowl or pack of Onion Confit Swirls, might wonder how they taste. Well before the launch, a team of insiders at the retailer likely wondered the same thing.

The latest episode of the “Inside Trader Joe’s” podcast focused on the grocer’s tasting panels, formed to sample and assess potential new items from manufacturer partners. Co-hosts and marketing VPs Tara Miller and Matt Sloan provided some insight into what those panelists look for when tasting products and how the process distinguishes the Monrovia, Calif.-headquartered chain.

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“The tasting panel is the thing that every single product we sell in our stores has in common. To put it bluntly, we don't sell anything unless it passes the tasting panel,” declared Sloan.

Once Trader Joe’s works with a manufacturer on a concept that aligns with its standards and market interests, the grocer assembles internal panels to ensure that the finished product meet its threshold for quality. “We actually eat the thing, and we eat the thing independently of any other preconceived notions other than the first question being, 'How does this taste? Is it any good?',” Sloan explained.

According to Sloan, a product only makes the cut if 70% of panelists vote in favor of the company offering that particular item. “How that's different from the whole other grocery industrial complex is that, well, they don't do that,” he said.

Beyond the sheer sensory experience, Trader Joe's tasters bear in mind not only their satisfaction with the product but how shoppers would perceive it, something that Miller described as “eating with intention.” Expanding on that idea, Sloan emphasized the fact that Trader Joe’s ultimately wants to provide products that make the store a destination in an ever-competitive food retailing marketplace.

Given cost-consciousness among today’s shoppers, the price-value equation is also part of the discussion. “It's not just price on its own, the lowest being the best. It's price relative to what you get for it,” Sloan added.

With more than 500 stores in 40-plus states, Trader Joe’s is No. 27 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. PG also named the company as one of its Retailers of the Century.

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