I like to think of Trader Joe’s kind of like Disney World — both are magical places filled with intrigue, friendly faces, and lots and lots of people. I’d never want to see a Disney character out of costume, and I'd be similarly alarmed to see a Trader Joe’s "crew member" out of the context of that cheerful Hawaiian shirt. Normally I’d prefer the inner workings of my favorite neighborhood store to remain mysterious, lest I find out something I don’t want to know, but when I found out Trader Joe’s has a podcast, curiosity got the best of me. I had to listen and I’m so glad I did, because the podcast only affirmed my love for all things Trader Joe’s.
I was shocked and delighted when, five minutes in, I found myself cracking up, literally laughing out loud alone in my office. In an episode from June 2019, three TJ corporate employees (Tara Miller, Matt Sloan, and Jon Basalone) answer questions from real customers that I didn't realize I, too, had been wondering. When asked why the stores don’t have WiFi, Basalone, without missing a beat, says, “Was that submitted by one of my kids?"
You’ll learn why the store doesn’t carry diapers, the reasons they stock a select few brands (like Babybel cheese, for example) outside of the Trader Joe’s label, and what sort of training their staff receives for chatting with customers. The answer to the latter? They are told to “be yourself, be genuine, be kind” and it’s not mandatory that they comment on the items you’re buying, or ask what you’re doing later, so I guess they’re just socially adept human beings.
It’s an interesting move for a notoriously secretive company (their corporate headquarters has no signage or logos, as reported by The Atlantic in 2010) like Trader Joe’s to open up in a forum as revealing as a podcast, but each episode gives inside insight into choices the brand has made. In episode 16, titled “Produce,” you’ll learn about the brand’s decision not to sell fruits and vegetables by the pound —“it’s mostly really to get [customers] to buy more", Basalone says candidly. It’s also mentioned that each store typically gets a fresh delivery every day, which is rare in the grocery industry. This is something I can attest to personally because I used to live next door to a Trader Joe’s loading dock (friendliest neighbors I've ever had) but I’d hear the trucks arrive early almost every morning.
Basically anything you've ever wondered about the brand can be found within the podcast. I was especially drawn to the episode on Trader Joe's seasonal items, but then again, I'm the person who buys their limited-edition items in bulk with zero shame (look, you can never have too many yogi skeletons plant holders, pumpkin rolls, or cat advent calendars). If you'd prefer to read instead of listen, full transcripts are available online too. And if Inside Trader Joe's doesn't fully satiate your hunger for all things TJ, check out this Freakonomics episode titled "Should America Be Run by… Trader Joe’s?" which goes into how the chain managed to inspire hardcore fandom nationwide and is actually really fascinating.
Either way, next time you go pick up Trader Joe's butternut squash mac and cheese, or cheesy spaghetti squash (which you should definitely try) make sure to tell a helpful crew member that you've started listening to the monthly podcast, because apparently they're genuinely curious about our lives, and we are blessed to have them.