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November 12, 2010 / joyful plate

Friends of Trader Joe

This week I checked out the new Trader Joe’s on the upper west side in nyc.  I used to shop at Trader Joe’s regularly when I lived in CT back in the mid-90’s, but have become loyal to Fairway since moving to the city. Curious to see what all the hoopla was about, I donned my black sunglasses and stepped in for a quick visit.

As any engaged marketer knows it is almost impossible to run in and out of the supermarket without taking in all of the trends. Trader Joe’s is an incredibly powerful mark, able to carry its entertaining legend across everything from Bavarian bratwurst to beef jerky to General Tsao’s stir-fry sauce to garbanzo beans. Unlike typical grocery stores, which may carry 50,000 sku’s, apparently Trader Joe’s stocks about 4,000 items to discover, 80% of which bear the Trader Joe’s name. So I started thinking-what brands make up the other 20%? Do they share any values? What brands are so desirable and good tasting for Trader Joe to welcome into his brand story and store?

Dairy: They have a huge offering here including milk, kefir and probiotics, but keeping Joe company are brands like Fage, Laughing Cow and Land O Lakes. Clearly, dairy brands are in vogue at the moment. In fact the current Laughing Cow campaign “Have you laughed today?” is brilliant-targeted to busy women looking for a low calorie, convenient snack, it is the kind of must have, feel good shopping list item you go to the store for. I can see why it makes the cut.

Meat: They look to Nieman Ranch for some farm-raised style or Hebrew National for premium cuts of Kosher Beef  (the new packaging sits confidently on the shelf as a true leader).

Cereal: Trader Joe’s extends nicely across grains, but what retailer in their right mind wouldn’t carry Kashi? Always on the pulse, Kashi’s new campaign (“as much protein as an egg”) continues the craze.

Frozen: This area is pretty frozen by Trader Joe’s, although I was interested to see Dr. Praeger’s chilling right there along with Trader Giotto. The super simple clinical feel of this package does seem very sensible and different in the mix.

Beverages: Now here’s where it gets interesting. They may have a few of their own brands (Trader Joe’s Hofbrau Bock!) but the category is dominated with lifestyle names like Figi, Orangina, Red Stripe and Dos Equis. Image is everything in this space.

Power Bars:  Brands like Cliff Bar, Think thin, Larabar and Luna rule and dial up the energy.

Health/Vitamins: Trader Joe may be a healer, but leaves it to brands like Oscillococcinum and Airborne for holistic immune support.

Soup: They’re cooking up a lot of soup but look to mama Annie Chun’s for some authentic Chinese with original personality.

Last but not least, toilet paper- you guessed it, covered!

So what do the brands on shelf with Trader Joe’s have in common?

-Originality-there is nothing else like them in their segments. They broke the mold.

-Iconic –Their names, identity and logos have strong character and legend.

-Culture-whether new or old, these brands have a unique point of view. Fage paved the way as the leader in Greek yogurt, focusing on super premium purity over regionality. Oscillococcinum’s lengthy name and uplifting package brings curiosity and new-age wisdom. Orangina offers vintage art and French fame. These brands have the power to change habits and inspire loyalty (my fridge is now filled with Fage for breakfast and cooking and Laughing Cow wedges for a no-guilt cheese to melt in an omelet).

In an era where house brands like Trader Joe’s are offering top quality and top value across so many categories (360 by Whole Foods, Archer Farms by Target and DeLish by Duane Read), the bar has been raised. For brands to be welcomed into these kind of power retailers, they will need to bring something truly unique to the party.

Trader Joe is a character with a lot of range to his personality, but even he gets by with a little help from his friends.

Author: Michelle Lawton, joyfulplate.



Leave a Comment
  1. Penny Hammond / Nov 13 2010 7:45 pm

    I recently picked up an absolutely stunning stem of brussels sprouts at Trader Joe’s, and good-quality frozen fish. It seems that they make their own brands appear more premium than many branded products.

    Private label / own-brand sales are increasing, and other stores (including Fairways) are bringing in new products. This increase is often attributed to the state of the economy. Traditionally, stores have rather boring-looking private label products, but now many stores really put some effort into designing something appealing, even entertaining (I smiled when I first noticed the Trader Giotto name on a label). Do you think that own-brand product sales will continue to increase as the economy turns around?

    • joyful plate / Nov 15 2010 2:38 pm

      Yes. Consumers are loyal to these brands for the same reason they are true to any other brand. They bond if they are satisfied with the product experience, if they have gotten a good value and if the brand story is one they can identify with. And store brands can express themselves in so many creative ways-through new product innovation, merchandising and even with how the staff connects with consumers. This is no longer a trend-this is a paradigm shift.

  2. Michelle / Nov 15 2010 6:32 am

    Love, love, love Trader Joes and make the 45 minute drive down from the Mountains to Reno to pick up my favorites.
    – West coast Michelle

  3. The Healthy Apple / Nov 16 2010 4:38 pm

    Great post! I love this…and your comment above regarding brand loyalty to consumers is right on target! Thank you for sharing this content; I love Trader Joe’s…great deals and great products!
    Thank you, again; I look forward to your future posts, which are always incredibly educational. You’re an inspiration. Keep up the great ‘Joyful’ work!
    The Healthy Apple

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