Making Grocery Shopping Cool

It’s the Trader Joe’s renaissance. Especially among millennial and Gen Z crowds, the grocery store chain has managed to make something as innocuous as weekly food shopping cool again. Consumers who otherwise might not give much thought to the simple errand, now consider their preferred grocery destination a personality trait. 

So, how did they do it? Let’s dive into the history and strategy of Trader Joe’s. 

The first Trader Joe’s storefront opened in Pasadena, California in 1967. Founder Joe Coulombe wanted to create a “neighborhood grocery store” atmosphere, while providing customers with unique, inexpensive goods. 

Since then, one of the ways Trader Joe’s has maintained success is through a very strong sense of brand identity. Unique fonts, cartoonish illustrations, and quirky packaging makes even pantry staples like beans or pasta feel fun and fresh. Trader Joe’s has also established a reputation for having relatively reasonable prices for quality produce and packaged foods, especially compared to more upscale competitors like Whole Foods.

The age of social media seems to have been a boon for the brand as well. They even have dedicated Instagram accounts like @traderjoeslist and @traderjoesobsessed that have accumulated six- and seven-digit fan bases who are eager to see their latest product. On TikTok, videos of shopper’s new product reviews or employee’s favorite seasonal picks go viral overnight.

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Offline, their branding is strong too. Trader Joe’s is not just a grocery store; it’s become a brand dynasty in itself. While plenty of grocery stores have their own private label lines of goods, none seem to be as popular as Mr. Joe’s. Their shelves are almost entirely stocked with Trader Joe’s-branded products. If you’re super loyal to your favorite brand of ketchup or ice cream, this might very well be a drawback. But, for shoppers who haven’t established strong preferences yet (especially college students and young adults), this streamlines the process and makes the errand a lot less overwhelming.

These days, a lot of shoppers are thinking about the shopping experience just as much as the product itself. Perhaps one of the reasons so many flock to Trader Joe’s is for the neighborly, authentic ambiance, which especially stands out when contrasted against the industrial, modern aesthetics that many newer grocery stores are opting for. They’ve created a uniquely unpretentious, unstuffy brand environment. One great example of this is their use of bells to communicate between employees. These gentle, tinkling bells are a lot friendlier than the harsh PA system used in most grocery stores. Customer experience is in the details and thoughtful choices like this can make all the difference in creating a unique atmosphere.

In an age where shopping is increasingly virtual and delivery-based, it is essential that brands find a way to preserve the charm of in-person shopping. Trader Joe’s has clearly thought carefully about every aspect of the customer experience, from entry signage to checkout protocol. Great customer service––smiling, chatty “Crew Members” in Hawaiian shirts who would never judge you for buying 5 boxes of Organic Shells & White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese––just can’t be replicated online.

In competitive markets like food and grocery, there are only so many ways you can differentiate yourself in terms of product; every store will have a similar selection of produce, frozen entrees, dry goods, et cetera. However, by investing in your brand’s customer experience, you can create something special for your audience––and who knows, maybe even develop a similar cult-like following. 

Trader Joe’s is a great example of how a clear brand persona and a sense of authenticity can elevate a brand. Ready to evolve your brand experience? The team at Tag can help!