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Trader Joe’s Questionable Practices

March 27, 2011

I like business, I like marketing. I have a marketing degree. But I really, really like consumer activism.

And I freakingg LOVE Trader Joe’s food, I LOVE $3 bottles of wine. But you know what I don’t like? Being lied to.

TJ’s comes off as a “cultural creative” company. From Wikipedia:

“The 2008 marketing text, Karma Queens, Geek Gods and Innerpreneurs, by Ron Rentel, was the first to identify the Cultural Creative subculture in entrepreneurship. Rentel named entrepreneurial Cultural Creatives “innerpreneurs”. Innerpreneurs have the defining characteristics of an entrepreneur:

  • high need for achievement
  • high need for independence
  • low need for conformity
  • internal focus of control
  • love of ambiguity
  • propensity for risk-taking
  • obsession with opportunity

But while entrepreneurs use their business for monetary gain, innerpreneurs use their business to find personal fulfillment (creatively, spiritually, emotionally) and create social change.”

Granted, TJ’s is not an entrepreneur, it’s a huge company. But for a company that puts things like this on its website:

“And that’s important, because “Value” is a concept we take very seriously. And by value we mean great everyday prices on all of our great products — no sales, no gimmicks, no clubs to join, no special cards to swipe… How do we do it?

  • We buy direct from suppliers whenever possible, we bargain hard to get the best price, and then pass the savings on to you.
  • If an item doesn’t pull its weight in our stores, it goes away to gangway for something else.
  • We buy in volume and contract early to get the best prices.
  • Most grocers charge their suppliers fees for putting an item on the shelf. This results in higher prices… so we don’t do it.
  • We keep our costs low — because every penny we save is a penny you save.

It’s not complicated. We just focus on what matters — great food + great prices = Value.”

See the pics below. If this isn’t a “gimmick” I don’t know what is. Furthermore, it’s downright wasteful. Yeah, I was petty enough to do the math. The total surface area of outer packaging is 102.625 sq. in., the total surface area of the 6 bars that come in the package is 36.375. So roughly 66.25 sq. in is waste. FOR NO REASON. That’s not even accounting for the wrapper. Granted I’m no math-magician, so my numbers could be a bit wrong. But it’s not hard to simply visualize the waste going on here. There are 353 stores. Now imagine there are 1000 boxes sold per year. That’s (353X1000) 23,386,350 sq. in. of wasted material per year. Oh, I didn’t see any post-consumer recycled material markings on the box. Really though, I see this as dubious marketing. Who knows what other shit they are pulling under the guise of being different and caring.

Anyone else ever notice stuff like this? Post it in the comments. Email me at for the xl sheet.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2011 12:47 pm

    Interesting post — I’m often surprised that I place so much more faith in the ALDI company and its sister-franchises (like Trader Joe’s) and hold them to higher standards than, say, Target or Kroger where you expect to see stuff like that going on. But I do. As a food blogger who took an oath to only shop at ALDI or Save-A-Lot for all recipe ingredients on my site, as an experiment to availability of products, I’ve had my eyes opened to a lot of double standards like that. Would we even blink if we’d seen that packaging at a high-end store? Surely not. We’d assume that’s how the world works. But somehow when we put our trust in these smaller, seemingly “friendlier” companies, we set ourselves up for undue disappointment.

    Sure we could read the ounce label on the outside of the package, but even then, it’s often hard to tell. I frequently get excited about a certain “special buy” or offer in my local ALDI flyer only to get to the store and discover the actual product is much smaller or contains much less volume than I was led to believe by the ad. And while I’d shrug my shoulders and forget about it from other companies, somehow I feel betrayed when the ALDI/TJ’s company does it. What sense does that make?

    None, I know, but it still happens.

    Thanks for the interesting post, Rob! I’ll keep checking back.

    –Gracie @ The Red Kitchen Project

    • Rob McGee permalink*
      March 29, 2011 9:38 pm

      Thanks Gracie! I’ll check out your work. My next article will be investigating how the digital age didn’t really bring a massive consumerist rally like it should have.
      It’s definitely our responsibility to point out stuff like this. As a student of marketing it is easy to see that most “good will” efforts by corporations have a darker side. Check out this article to see what I mean

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