The Real Reason Your Favorite Trader Joe’s Product Was Discontinued, According to an Employee
You found a product you love … where did it go?
Any diehard Trader Joe’s fan can spout off a list of products they never leave the store without, from Mandarin Orange Chicken and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups to Greek Chickpeas with Parsley & Cumin and Shawarma Chicken Thighs.
A pain point shared by just about every TJ’s fanatic? When one of those beloved products suddenly disappears from shelves. A recent episode of the Inside Trader Joe’s podcast explains why these changes occur and reveals that it’s not always bad news.
In the podcast episode, co-hosts Matt Sloan, vice president of marketing, and Tara Miller, marketing director, meet with a high school Trader Joe’s Club (yes, these exist!) to spill secrets about Trader Joe’s process of developing and releasing amazing new products–and how they determine which items will remain on shelves and which sadly get the ax.
To start, there is a never-ending lineup of exciting new product possibilities under consideration at Trader Joe’s HQ. There might be a fresh combination of flavors now available in a new Chocolate Ice Cream and Raspberry Sorbet dessert, or a product you didn’t even know you needed until you discovered it on a shelf. Hello, Hot Cocoa and Cream Cheese Spread!
“Something I love about Trader Joe's is every time I go, there's a new product,” one of the students shared. “How do you guys do this so quickly?”
“It's no small thing to introduce a product, and it's so fun,” says Sloan. “We introduce on average more than 365 new products a year.” Once released, a product’s performance is tracked and reviewed closely throughout the year. “We look at which items didn't do well, which did well, what should we keep, what should we try for again?” he says.
Why Are Some Products Not Available at All Times?
One reason your favorite bag of chips or frozen dessert might suddenly be missing from stores is pretty simple: Trader Joe’s believes that if every product is always available, it isn’t special.
It’s no secret that the store has a strong seasonal product game, so it’s very likely a product will come back next year when ingredients are available again and there’s a seasonal appetite for it.
Non-seasonal products may have been taken off the shelf to make adjustments according to customer response, with plans on the horizon to introduce a new and improved version. Bottom line? A beloved product that you can’t find on one grocery run doesn’t always mean it is gone for good.
Releasing a New Product Is Like Taking a Bet
The Trader Joe’s strategy is special in that they are constantly coming up with new ideas for products. But how does the company know if a new product will be a hit or not?
“It's all about placing a bet,” Sloan says. Introducing a new product to shelves is not only taking a chance on the success of the item with customers, but also the quality of the item from the vendor.
Sloan tells the story of how Hold The Cone! Ice Cream Cones were originally ordered from a vendor outside of the country but then the quality of the product started to decline.
“It was really tricky to stay ahead, and so that caught us by surprise,” he says. “Then we found a company that could produce them here. Better product, different ingredients, actually–the ice cream has egg in it here, which is a classic ice cream ingredient, but it makes them have a much fuller mouth feel, and a better flavor and texture. They've gone crazy.”
Then there’s the illusive supply-and-demand sweet spot, Sloan says. When a new product is released, the company makes an educated guess of how much demand there will be and how to match the demand with the right amount of product. If there isn’t enough and the product is a hit, it runs out FAST!
What Happens When a Product Isn’t Popular?
You can try to guess the appeal of a new product, but sometimes it just doesn’t catch on with the store crowd.
To determine a product’s success and chances at longevity, Trader Joe’s puts each product in a category and ranks it based on sales. When an item doesn't meet expectations and ranks in the bottom of a category, it is removed from the shelves.
Sometimes a product, like Pita Chips with Cinnamon & Sugar or a new dessert hummus, is tasty but marketed in a tricky category–in this case, snacks–and doesn't gain traction in sales, Sloan and Miller explain.
“You have a snack category, and the snack category is predominantly savory, it's salty snacks,” Sloan says. “That was one of the few sweet snacks, and sweet snacks within snacks, they don't sell as well as a tortilla chip, or certainly the Chili Lime Rolled Tortilla Chips.”
If you’re grieving the loss of a favorite Trader Joe’s item, take solace in the fact that it could be resuscitated, either as a seasonal treat or in a new and improved form. And of course, with the perpetual innovations happening at Trader Joe’s, you might just encounter a brand-new favorite on your very next grocery run.