Whole Foods’ Customers Are NOT Fans of Amazon—So Why Are More People Shopping There?
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Two new studies found that negative reviews of the grocery store are growing, but so is foot traffic.
For the first 36 years of its existence, Whole Foods gained a reputation for being a certain type of grocery store—one that offered scrupulously organic and high-quality foods, but at a price point that earned it the nickname "Whole Paycheck."
However, after it was purchased by Amazon last year, that reputation—and whether the store will remain the same, or will change—has been a subject of plenty of public speculation. Will the shoppers who know and love Whole Foods still find it meets their needs? And if it changes, are there new shoppers out there that Amazon will be able to attract?
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According to New Food Economy, a new pair of studies released about a year after the purchase are finally pointing to some answers.
The first study comes from Yelp, which found that after the purchase, reviews of the grocery store that mention "Amazon" are significantly lower than the average reviews—and that many users who had rated Whole Foods before the purchase updated the review with lower ratings after the purchase.
More articles about Whole Foods and Amazon:
What were the biggest issues? According to New Food Economy, reviewers said "the staff was less friendly post-takeover, and that the quality had gone down." An article on Medium by Jenny Yu and Yinghan Fu on the study cites a few reviews as examples: “I wasn’t too impressed when Amazon acquired Whole Foods Market… Customer Service — is lacking in terms of friendliness and knowledge… Amazon is taking part of the advertising,” and “I get the impression the quality has gone down. The employees don’t seem to love their jobs as much anymore, so I wonder what happened behind the scenes with Amazon.”
However, those reviews apparently haven't harmed the company's bottom line. In fact, according to a second study by Sense360, foot traffic is actually up. It may seem unsurprising, but Amazon's new Prime-based rewards system seems to be having the intended effect: Prime members are increasingly shopping at Whole Foods (at twice the rate of non-Prime members) and Amazon's reputation for low prices seems to be drawing shoppers from traditionally lower-priced stores, such as Trader Joe's.
All of this points to the possibility that, despite the often well-founded concerns about how Amazon treats employees and grumbling over other less-than-friendly business practices, Whole Foods may soon end up becoming as much a part of most Americans' grocery shopping as the website is of our online shopping—which is to say a major percentage.
Is Whole Foods Really that Expensive?
The prices of Whole Foods Market (WFM) have earned the organic grocery store chain the joking nickname, "Whole Paycheck." While shopping for groceries at Whole Foods does not usually devour an entire paycheck, its prices are noticeably higher on average than the prices available at other grocery shopping venues, historically by 10% to 20% more.
However, since being purchased by Amazon (AMZN), prices at Whole Foods have been coming down, sometimes quite significantly. Moreover, Amazon Prime customers receive special promotions and discounts, and those that pay with an Amazon Prime-branded credit card can receive 5% cash-back on all store purchases.
- Whole Food has been slowly losing the nickname “Whole Paycheck” since being acquired by Amazon in 2017.
- Prior to its acquisition by Amazon, Whole Foods’ products sold for a premium of upwards of 20%, and as high as 40%-50% on some products.
- More recently, Whole Foods’ prices have come in at only a slight premium to more generic rivals like Kroger, with Whole Foods' produce actually coming in at a discount in many cases.
42 Cult Favorite Items From Whole Foods Only True Fans Know To Buy
It's no secret that Whole Foods is a place where dreams come true (. especially for Amazon Prime members). Here are some absolute cult favorites from the most heavenly of grocery stores.
Whole Foods has been big on cage-free produce for more than a decade, but they've since widened that to add other qualifications their 365 Everyday Value eggs are pasture-raised, too.
There's not much the store doesn't have in terms of non-dairy milk alternatives. Their wide selection of almond milk, in particular, is super popular.
Like we said. So. Many. Dairy. Alternatives. When the oat milk craze first kicked off, Whole Foods stocked up on items from brands like cult-favorite Califia Farms.
Have you had these delightful crunchy chickpea morsels? Do you know what it's like to be ALIVE?
Kite Hill makes its cream cheese style spreads from nuts, and Whole Foods is known to carry a huge selection.
When you consider the fact that these nuts have 70 percent less sugar than traditional chocolate-covered almonds, you can almost convince yourself they're a health food.
Not only is there just about every flavor of cereal (or a 365 version of them), but they're much cheaper than they typically are at other stores.
A super niche product, but one that certain people would die for. Whole Foods has been on the ghee beat for awhile now.
Again, there are about a million peanut butter brands at Whole Foods, but their 365 Everyday Products peanut butter is (1) healthy, and (2) tastes luxuriously good. Justin's gets an honorable mention, though. Hi @Justin, ilu.
The gourmet Indian food brand, Sukhi's, has fans for daaaays. Although this quick tikka masala meal is a favorite, their Indian-style street wraps (found in the freezer section) are also amazing. The veggie samosa one, in particular, is a joy.
Quite honestly the most delicious snack dessert to ever exist.
Don't sleep on the Whole Foods beauty department&mdashin particular their soaps are amazing. The scents of A La Maison de Provence will send you on a trip to France, while Goodsoap is an all-time Whole Foods fav.
Another house line that's 100 percent worth buying. Their frozen fruit selection is A+ and makes a million lives easier every day, just about.
Delicious, nutritious, and exclusive to Whole Foods.
There are plenty of chip substitutes out there, but none are more addictive than Dang Coconut Chips. The thin, wispy slices of coconut meat will have you close to swearing off junk food altogether.
Aaand while you're juggling your coconut oil and coconut chips, you might wanna pick up some of this good stuff too. Trust us, you won't regret it.
If you find yourself in the snack aisle, don't forget to grab these sweet 'n' salty delights. But you already knew to do that!
These gluten-free options are always available at Whole Foods.
Are you even human if you walk through a Whole Foods bread and pastry section and don't buy. all of it?
Though Health-Ade's not cheap, it is delicious and frequently on sale at Whole Foods.
Both the salad bar and hot bars are so fresh and fancy, it's easy to get carried away. Whole Foods experts know to take advantage of the scales the store puts all around those areas and how to best hack it so their lunch is closer to $7 than $17.
Though there are plenty of rice options at Whole Foods, people swear by the texture and natural sweetness of this brand's product specifically.
The store's nuts, spices, powders, and snacks are easily accessible and allow for relatively cheap bulk buying, considering what you're getting. This from a girl who once went on a month-long goji-berry-on-everything kick . and spent about $20 in the process.
Those who love fall-flavored things know the 365 pumpkin spice yogurt is the only acceptable way to get that pumpkin flare into your breakfast.
2. Good-for-you legumes are banished.
The Whole30 preaches that legumes contain "anti-nutrients," which is simply not true. It's well-established in nutrition science that legumes like beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and peanuts are hands-down the most nutritious foods you can possibly eat!
They're loaded with prebiotic fiber, which is linked to boosting immunity. The antioxidants and minerals in legumes also improve blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and cancer. Legumes are also nature's gift for weight loss. They're low in calories from fat, but higher in fiber, reducing the temptation to snack.
TRY THIS INSTEAD:If legumes make you feel bloated, you're either not used to eating them or you're not drinking enough water! If you're not a regular chickpea-chomper, gradually introduce these foods into your diet, and sip more H2O.
Taking the 'Cognitive Load' Out of Online Grocery Shopping
ELM Foods is a Los Angeles-based grocery delivery startup with an out-of-the-ordinary focus and a deliberately limited lineup of SKUs: The company, which launched this month, offers only plant-based products.
Niche? Sure. But founders Joel Jackson and Melissa Williams, who met while working at newly publicly trading The Honest Co., are hoping to ride a wave of rising consumer interest in plant-based eating—and make it easier to choose and cook plant-based through a recipes-centric approach to grocery buying.
Whatever consumers' dietary preferences, buying groceries online often isn't the easy-breezy experience that retailers make it out to be, Williams said. Difficulty finding sought-after items, out-of-stocks and baffling substitutions can add time —and headaches—to a process promoted as a more convenient way to buy and get groceries, she noted.
Consumers want solutions for the meals they're going to make and eat in the next week, said Williams—and that's why ELM (which stands for Eat Less Meat) emphasizes shoppable recipes and a platform that learns customers' flavor and ingredient interests to make personalized shopping suggestions.
In a conversation with Winsight Grocery Business , Williams shared more about the how ELM Foods is looking to find its footing in an increasinglycrowdedgrocery-deliverymarketplace.
Christine LaFave Grace: Tell me more about the inspiration and impetus for ELM.
Melissa Williams: ELM actually started as a prepared plant-based meal-delivery service that Joel, my co-founder, started back in 2017. He started the company as a way to help people reduce their environmental impact. Over time he realized, I don’t think prepared food is the space for this or the way I'm going to make the biggest impact.
He took a pause from it, and over conversation, we just realized, a lot of people are cooking dinner at home—this was all pre-pandemic—and getting most of their food at grocery stores. So how can we go into grocery and provide something that inspires people to eat a more whole-foods, plant-based diet in the grocery space?
Do you see plant-based as, beyond being part of a larger mission, a market differentiator in a grocery-delivery space where a growing number of startups are vying for attention?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s something that’s core to our company and our mission from the sustainability and health aspect of what we’re trying to accomplish as a company, but also I think it allows us to do things strategically. Right now we offer around 90 SKUs, and we’re trying to show people how you can use those 90 ingredients to make different types of foods and different recipes.
Being able to take up a much smaller footprint and a much smaller space is something that will help us logistically and will hopefully be a big differentiator for us.
There are significant tailwinds, it seems, for plant-based right now and a growing willingness among consumers to try plant-based products. At the same time, many consumers have questions about using and preparing these products. How did ELM settle on a meals- and recipes-based approach to shopping for plant-based foods and beverages?
Our approach in using really a recipe-driven experience was coming from a place of having tried to talk to as many people as possible about their grocery habits, their needs, what they’ve tried, what they liked and didn’t like, repeatedly coming across that people love the idea of meal kits in that they provide inspiration and guidance, and it helps take that meal-planning equation out of their week. But subscriptions are tough to manage sometimes. They’re not as flexible as you need them to be, or they might not suit everyone’s dietary preferences in your household.
So we thought, hmm, maybe there's something we can do here. Every time we cook for friends and they come over, they're like, "Oh, this is great—this is plant-based?” They're definitely open to it. And we say, "You, too, can make these things!" So if we can get people interested based on showing them this inspiration and then making it actionable by saying, "Hey, here are all of the ingredients you need to make it, and we’ll bring it to you," we're hoping to get more people to try things that maybe they wouldn’t normally.
I think for us with the plant-based perspective, it allows us an area of focus that is harder for maybe one of the larger [grocery] companies. These larger grocers often are so much to so many people—for us, being focused on plant-based, it allows us to really dive into those recipes.
As a consumer yourself, what have you wished could be better about grocery delivery?
I think it goes back into why we're working on a recipe-driven experience. Convenience—it's so hard right now. Grocery shopping online, you definitely save the time of going to and from the store. But the time you spent wandering the aisles is now probably the time you spend looking for the things you need, searching for it, realizing you can't find it at that one store, so then recalibrating your experience—do I get everything from one place, or now I have three things from somewhere else, and then everything else is from this other store, trying to meet minimums, things like that.
I think there's a new type of cognitive load on some of this online grocery experience. We already know that a lot of people are trying, especially with the pandemic and all the time that people have spent cooking at home, to experiment more with meal-planning, and that can take a lot of time. So if we can take away some of that meal-planning time, that time trying to figure out every week, “What do we want to eat this week?,” we could maybe actually really save people time here.
ELM put out a news release saying that one way it makes grocery shopping easier is by "offering intelligent suggestions for what to eat based on understanding customers' habits and preferences." Can you tell me more about this AI piece?
That's another reason I think the recipe-driven format is so interesting, because now we have an idea about [basket] contents and how much someone is using, so we can make intelligent recommendations. This is really big for me personally in how I think about meal planning and food waste. So we can say, "Hey, we know you used half a head of cabbage for this recipe here's another way you can use the other half, and here are the ingredients for it, and we can bring them to you."
Making sure people are getting the most out of their food and then having the context of knowing how they’re using it so we can offer substitutions if we know something about their dietary preferences is so valuable. Maybe I love chard, but I’m not a huge fan of kale, and [if our] recipe features kale, we can say, oh, just try chard in this instead.
We hopefully will be able to continue to personalize and make smart recommendations as you’re thinking about what you want to make the next week. We can say, "Hey, we know you probably have this much harissa paste in your fridge here’s something you can make with that," and then streamline that order process for them.
What's next for ELM?
Right now we’re really just focused on customer acquisition and proving that people are interested in shopping this way and interested in the company and our mission then [we're] hoping to raise a seed round to continue growing the company.
We're in listening and learning mode. We're listening to what resonates with people, what recipes and types of foods they’re interested in making, and that will help us with the next set of things that we create.
Label Consumers vs. Brand Consumers
Marketing organics in general (as opposed to marketing a specific organic brand) is a tricky distinction, but one worth looking into because organic consumers shop differently than conventional consumers.
Many conventional shoppers are very attached to specific conventional brands. For example, folks who are major Honey Nut Cheerios fans stick closely to that brand. Because of this, it makes sense that General Mills doesn't often market "cereal in general," but instead works hard to advertise Honey Nut Cheerios specifically, because they're creating major fans of that single brand.
Meanwhile, many new or potentially new organic consumers aren't looking for specific organic brands. Instead, they're looking for organics in general. These customers don't tend to research which organic brands are more ethical or more sustainable. They're just looking for that organic label, plain and simple.
Even some long-term organic buyers are like this. For example, someone might always buy organic milk, organic cereal or organic apple juice, but not a specific brand of organic milk, cereal or juice. They're just looking for the best deal they can get that still features the USDA organic seal. With this in mind, it makes sense to make sure customers see you as an "organic company," as opposed to "Brand XYZ" company.
Although you should be seen as an organic company, marketing organics too generally is a mistake. Long-term, more informed organic consumers do want to see how your specific brand is better than other organic brands.
You can market to both groups at the same time. Once customers know you're certified organic, make sure they also know why you're different and better than all the other like-minded organics out there. Organic Valley is a company that has found this balance. The company promotes organics in general and often markets the many organic benefits to consumers, which draws new organic consumers in. Beyond that, Organic Valley has managed to position itself as a sustainable organic brand that supports smaller family farms, which appeals to a smaller, but still significant, group of savvy organic consumers who are looking beyond the USDA seal for something more substantial.
It's a fine line to market to both new organic consumers and more engaged organic advocates, but if you want to sell more organics, you should try to find that line.
20 Fresh Examples Of Customer Experience Innovation
What customers want and expect is constantly changing. To stay ahead of the competition, companies need to constantly be finding new ways to serve customers and enhance the customer experience. These 20 companies showcase the freshest examples of customer experience innovation.
1. Mercedes Launches AR Owner’s Manual
Car owner’s manuals are notoriously big and bulky. Mercedes designed a personalized app that not only replaces the manual but tracks everything about a car and driver. The Mercedes Me service and app showcases a car’s features without having to read a manual and allows drivers to easily see data about their car from anywhere in the world.
2. Singapore Taxis Offer Convenience Stores
Need a snack on the go? Forgot your toothbrush or charger? It’s not a problem at Grab, a line of taxis in Singapore that offer in-car convenience stores. The simple solution shows that innovative ideas don’t need to be flashy as long as they meet customers’ needs. Providing items to customers when they need them most solves a major pain point.
3. Rum Company Designs Connected Bottles
Malibu updated its rum bottles by selling limited-edition connected bottles to give customers an enhanced experience. Customers could scan a QR code to get access to exclusive cocktail recipes and play an interactive mobile game with the chance to win prizes.
4. Tim Hortons Adds Gamification To Loyalty Program
Not all loyalty programs are created equally. Tim Hortons in Canada recently upgraded its rewards offerings by adding gamification elements. Aside from an updated app that makes it easy for customers to track their rewards progress, customers can also participate in games to earn prizes and level up as they visit the coffee shop more frequently.
5. VF Uses AR Mannequins To Showcase Products
The retailer behind brands like The North Face and Vans is using technology to enhance the traditional retail experience. At VF’s new retail space in London, clothing and accessories are featured on avatar-based AR mannequins. Customers can change the settings or highlight certain aspects of the items to get a full picture of how the products could work in their own lives.
6. Uniqlo Creates Pop-Up Experience To Mimic Online Shopping
In an effort to connect its in-store and online experiences, Uniqlo created a pop-up experience that mimics shopping online or through the app. Customers could browse the store and see items as if they were shopping online. Each listing also had a QR code customers could scan for more information or to order the item to have delivered to their home.
7. Ford Personalizes Self-Service Technology
Ford has made it easier than ever to receive personalized service. Each driver’s FordPass app is tailored to information based on their vehicle, including personalized responses and maintenance reminders. The app also allows customers to easily schedule appointments and earn rewards.
8. Cleo Chatbot Offers Personalized Finance Advice
Imagine getting finance advice from a good friend. That’s the goal of the app and chatbot Cleo. Customers can chat with the bot to easily track their spending and budget and get financial advice. Taking it a step further, users can choose to be “roasted” or “hyped” by Cleo for a fun take on finances.
9. Brideside Takes Pain Out Of Wedding Planning
Many brides find it difficult to find a dress that is flattering on all of their bridesmaids. Brideside removes much of the stress by using personal stylists to make recommendations. The wedding party can get together in person at their home or virtually to try on dresses. Bringing dresses to the bridesmaids with professional help creates a stress-free environment.
10. Nike Provides Fast Service For Busy Shoppers
Nike has long been known for its customer experience, but it’s taking things to the next level at its new New York City flagship store. The Speed Shop allows customers to order shoes online and try them on in store. Customers use a special entrance to find their shoe locker, which is unlocked via smartphone. After trying the shoes on, they can check out on mobile without having to interact with a person.
11. Albertson’s Tests Customers DNA For Accurate Prescriptions
Many companies offer DNA testing, but Albertson’s takes it a step further by offering in-store genetic tests. Albertson’s partnered with a medical tech company to offer genetic tests at select store pharmacies. A simple swab can quickly and conveniently help customers find the best antidepressant medication.
12. Whole Foods Chatbot Finds Recipes
Whole Foods created a powerful chatbot that helps customers find new recipes and ways to use ingredients from the store. Customers can chat with the bot to get ideas about certain types of foods or recipes. People who are really in a hurry can send a food emoji to instantly get that kind of recipe.
13. Target Revamps Powerful App
Target has created a number of innovative digital solutions in recent years, including its recently revamped app. Target partnered with Pinterest to use visual search technology that allows customers to take a picture of an item and find it online with other recommended products. Customers can also scan items they wish to purchase and save them in the app’s wallet for faster checkout.
14. BMW App Showcases Entire Vehicle
For luxury car owners, what happens under the hood matters as much as the car’s exterior. BMW’s InSight App uses AR to show customers what happens inside the car. As customers walk around the car, they get a virtual look at what’s happening inside and learn about the innovative technology. The interactive app adds a new dimension to car shopping.
15. Madison Reed Chatbot Helps Users Find Perfect Hair Color
Choosing the right hair color can be a challenge, but hair color company Madison Reed is helping make it easier with a chatbot. Users upload a selfie and the bot Madi identifies the primary and secondary hair tones. From there, the bot recommends hair colors and helps users make the purchase right in the app.
16. HBO Enhances Show With Immersive Experience
Fans of HBO’s “Westworld” got a chance to fully experience the show with an immersive adventure at SXSW. HBO turned two acres into a real-life version of the show’s town, complete with actors, costumes and sets. The experience added a new layer for viewers to truly step inside the show.
17. Beer Company Adds Games To Labels
Rock music has long been a part of SingleCut Beersmith’s brand in Japan, so the company built QR codes into its labels that allow customers to experience the culture. Scanning the code opens a music trivia game and “name that tune” contest.
18. Asos Helps Customers Organize Product Wish Lists
Data at Asos revealed that most customers have dozens of items saved in a wish list. To make it easier to find the right item, Asos introduced sortable boards that help customers sort their items by type, event or price. The new system makes it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for and provides more insights to the company.
19. Glasses Company Uses Technology To Find Perfect Pair
UK glasses company Specsavers recently rolled out new technology to help customers find the perfect pair of glasses. Customers can access Frame Styler on in-store tablets, which creates a 3D model of their face and finds glasses to best suit their face shape. Customers can then try on the glasses virtually before making their final decision. The process makes it easier and faster to find the right frames.
20. Boxed Uses AI To Refresh Orders
Online retailer Boxed uses a feature called Smart StockUp to predict when customers are running low on products they use regularly. The system uses AI to create accurate predictions and recommend products customers might need at the right time. The more customers buy, the smarter the system becomes.
Blake Morgan is a keynote speaker, customer experience futurist and the author of two books including her new "The Customer Of The Future." Stay in touch with her weekly on her newsletter.
On the Record: How Whole Foods has affected the grocery business one year after the Amazon deal
It’s been more than a year since e-commerce giant Amazon.com bought Whole Foods Market Inc. for $13.7 billion, a deal many expected would upend the grocery industry, especially in the hotly competitive Southern California region.
Given Amazon’s record of aggressively using lower prices, technology and vast, efficient distribution to revolutionize retail sectors such as books and electronics, there was speculation Amazon would have the same effect on grocery sales. For instance, Amazon rolled out free two-hour delivery of Whole Foods products to Amazon Prime members in April and four months later added curbside grocery pickup at Whole Foods stores.
But the merger hasn’t yet set off a major transformation of the industry, although Amazon’s arrival has sparked some changes both at Whole Foods and its rival supermarkets, according to Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm.
Flickinger is a longtime observer of the grocery business, especially in Southern California, and his analysis has included a detailed look at Whole Foods before and after the Amazon deal.
Whole Foods helped pioneer the large-scale selling of natural and organic groceries, and its 465 stores include 85 in California. But it’s still a niche player, with only 3% of the Southern California market, and the chain had been struggling when Amazon swooped in.
At the same time, Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos is famously patient, rarely making radical changes in the immediate aftermath of a purchase.
We asked Flickinger — who, in full disclosure, owns small stakes in Amazon and several grocery and drugstore chains — to review what’s happened so far. Here’s an excerpt that’s been edited for space and clarity:
Whole Foods is dubbed “Whole Paycheck” because of its relatively high prices. What’s happened with prices at Whole Foods since Amazon took over?
To Amazon’s credit, they’ve had a few price reductions, including for Amazon Prime members. But Amazon has not, to this point, been able to leverage its size, scale, skill in procurement and buying power to effectively lower prices much.
So, shopping at Whole Foods is still more expensive compared with the so-called legacy chains such as Kroger Co., which owns Ralphs and Food4Less, and Albertsons Inc., which also owns Vons and Pavilions?
Yes. If a family of five in Southern California is spending an average of $100 a week, or $5,200 a year, at those legacy grocers, the price paid to do the same shopping at Whole Foods would be between $1,500 to $2,500 higher per year, and it would be $5,000-plus higher per year for families that spend $10,000 per year.
Is that partly because the legacy grocers cut their prices once they realized Amazon was jumping into the market?
Yes. The Southern California grocers lowered prices in anticipation of Amazon buying Whole Foods after the merger was announced in June 2017. And the legacy grocers already had been stocking their shelves with more of their own natural and organic groceries to compete with Whole Foods and others.
That means competitors in Southern California are now eclipsing Whole Foods and what had been Whole Foods’ power alleys of strength.
We hear about advances in home delivery of groceries and other innovations at Whole Foods and other markets. But you’re saying price is still what matters for many families?
People like Whole Foods there are still highly motivated Whole Foods shoppers. But overall it’s an economic decision, especially in Southern California. With the cost of living so high there, saving money on food is one of the only ways to make it, economically.
Working people and poor people and seniors and people on fixed incomes, especially in Southern California, can’t afford the premium prices at Whole Foods even after Amazon bought them.
Amazon’s record speaks for itself. Do you expect it still will make waves in the grocery sector with Whole Foods?
In my professional view, Jeff Bezos is the most brilliant individual in American business in 100 years. Bezos will transform it and make it one of the best grocery retailers of any kind. They’re headed in the right direction.
But it’s going to take more than just 2018. Its competitors had caught up and Whole Foods’ management really hadn’t taken corrective action during the five years before they sold it to Amazon. So, it’s a slower evolution than many of us thought would happen.
If you're on a budget and you want quality products from Whole Foods, stick with the chain's 365 Everyday Value brand. The name brand products that line the shelves at Whole Foods are really expensive, and Livesey says you can get those for less at other stores.
If you have a favorite cereal or snack food, try ordering online elsewhere. An 11 oz. package of Nature's Path organic, gluten-free honey almond granola with chia is $5.99 a package at Whole Foods, according to local prices analyzed by CNBC using Basket, a grocery price comparison app. The app reports that Amazon has the item online for $3.56.
18 Things You Should Know Before Shopping at Trader Joe's
Trader Joe's is well-known to its fans for low prices on unique food items, ranging from cookie butter to turkey corn dogs. The chain is also known for its quirky culture. Employees, easy to spot in their Hawaiian shirts, go out of their way to be helpful, and plastic lobsters are used to decorate stores.
The global health pandemic has forced the supermarket chain to make some changes to its day-to-day operations. However, customers can still appreciate the unconventional touches that help make the Trader Joe’s shopping experience stand out from a traditional grocer.
If you've never set foot inside one of Trader Joe's 500-plus locations, here are the shopping secrets you need to know before making your first trip.
Trader Joe's Has No Plans to Offer Delivery or Curbside Pickup
Many big supermarket chains and big-box retailers that offer fresh grocery items are now offering online ordering for delivery or curbside pickup as a result of the pandemic. However, Trader Joe’s says there aren’t any plans in the works to offer these services to its customers. In a recent episode of its Inside Trader Joe’s podcast, the company’s vice president of marketing Matt Sloan explains why doing so now doesn’t make sense for the business: “Creating an online shopping system for curbside pickup or the infrastructure for delivery, it's a massive undertaking. It's something that takes months or years to plan, build and implement, and it requires tremendous resources.”
Rather than cut staff to help fund services such as self-checkout, online ordering and delivery, the company says it will continue to invest in hiring on-site staff. In that same podcast episode, Tara Miller, Trader Joe’s marketing director said, “The bottom line here is that our people remain our most valued resource . . . We know that this period of distancing will end, and, when it does, our crew will be in our stores to help you find your next favorite product, just as they've always been.”
Trader Joe's Store Hours Have Been Modified Amid the COVID-19 Outbreak
Like many retailers, Trader Joe’s has revised its operating hours during the pandemic. This has allowed them to ramp up their cleaning efforts after normal store hours. Most stores open at 9 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. local time. The first hour of operation each day is dedicated to customers age 60 and over, as well as those with disabilities. (In some locations, the store may open an hour early to accommodate at-risk shoppers. Check with your local Trader Joe’s to confirm the exact time.)
You Can Buy a Banana for 19 Cents
Buying produce in bulk can make financial sense as long as you’re sure you’ll use up everything before it goes bad. But if you end up tossing rotten food in the trash, the savings aren’t realized. That’s why some budget-conscious grocery shoppers avoid purchasing large quantities of fruits and vegetables, even though the price per unit might be cheaper. A chance encounter between Trader Joe’s CEO and a customer at a Sun City, Calif., store confirmed this hesitation and led the grocer to start selling bananas individually.
Like most grocers, Trader Joe’s used to sell bananas only by the pound. The smallest bag you could buy contained four or five bananas. One day while visiting the Sun City location, CEO Dan Bane observed an elderly customer examine a bag of bananas, then put it back on the shelf. When the CEO asked why she didn’t buy the bag of bananas, he recalls the elderly shopper saying, “Sonny, I may not live to that fourth banana.” The next day Trader Joe’s started selling single bananas for 19 cents apiece.
Aldi Is Part of the Family
Trader Joe's was founded in 1967 in Pasadena, Calif., by entrepreneur Joe Coloumbe. It was acquired in 1979 by Aldi Nord, a German company that also operates Aldi grocery stores in Europe. Aldi Nord's sister company, Aldi Sud, operates Aldi stores in the U.S.
Despite the corporate ties, the two chains have distinct marketing strategies. Aldi is price-driven and undercuts competitors by selling cheaper private-label versions of the most popular items at traditional supermarkets, says Jon Springer, a former retail editor for Supermarket News. Trader Joe's also aims for affordability, but its driving force is uniqueness. It focuses on its own line of mostly prepackaged products in unusual flavor combinations that you won't find anywhere else.
There Are No Sales or Coupons at Trader Joe's
Most supermarket chains put select items on sale every week. But at Trader Joe's, what you see is what you get when it comes to price, says Jeanette Pavini, a household savings expert for Coupons.com. That means you won't find any Trader Joe's deals listed in your Sunday circulars.
The grocer claims that because it already offers the lowest prices it can every day, there's no room for sales, specials or coupons. To test this claim, we compared the price of a bottle of Trader Joe’s Vegan Caesar Dressing with a similar salad dressing available at Whole Foods. Here’s what we found: At Trader Joe’s you’ll pay $3.99 for an 11-ounce bottle, while you’ll pay $5.99 for a 10-ounce bottle of Tessamae’s Organic Creamy Caesar Salad Dressing at Whole Foods -- 50% more.
8 Out of 10 Items at Trader Joe's Are Store Brands
In 1972, the grocer introduced its first private-label product: granola. Today, 80% of the products carried by Trader Joe's are store brands, a company spokesperson told Kiplinger. The grocer says the heavy emphasis on store brands helps keep costs low because it buys direct from suppliers whenever possible (no middleman markup) and then passes the savings on to its customers. It’s a common industry practice for traditional grocers to charge their suppliers fees for shelf placement, which results in higher prices for customers. Trader Joe’s says it doesn’t do it.
Health-conscious customers should know that the company claims all of its store-branded food and drinks are free of artificial flavors, artificial preservatives, synthetic colors and genetically modified (GMO) ingredients.
Trader Joe's Prices Aren't Always the Lowest
To find out whether Trader Joe's really does offer lower prices versus other stores, we did some comparison shopping. We looked at the cost of several everyday grocery items and priced them against similar items available at Aldi, Target and Walmart. Here’s what we found:
At Aldi, a 12-ounce package of their Little Salad Bar Chopped Salad Kits (available in a variety of salad combinations) costs $2.89. You’ll pay $3.99 for a 9.75-ounce bag of Trader Joe’s Lemony Arugula Basil Salad Kit. That’s an extra buck for less product. We spotted a 4-pack of Morningstar Farmers Grillers Original Frozen Veggie Burgers at Target for $4.99, while a 2-pack of Trader Joe’s Turkeyless Protein Patties costs $4.49. For an additional 50 cents, you’ll get twice the amount of veggie burgers at the big-box retailer. At Walmart, a 5-ounce can of Pompeian Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray is $2.98. You’ll pay $3.99 for the same-size can of Trader Joe’s Organic Ghee and Sunflower Oil Spray -- an extra $1.
Another thing to keep in mind, says Cindy Livesey, founder of LivingRichWithCoupons.com, is that a lot of Trader Joe's produce items are prepackaged, which doesn't allow shoppers to choose how much they actually want to buy.
Trader Joe’s Products Come and Go From Shelves
It's easy to get attached to your favorite snack. Just be warned that at Trader Joe's those snacks might not be around forever. There are even social media accounts dedicated to letting shoppers know when items are slated to be pulled from shelves or are strictly seasonal items (for example, check out @traderjoestobediscontinued or @traderjoesgeek on Instagram).
Trader Joe's rationale? Because store space is limited and new products are introduced every week, items that don't catch on quickly with customers are wasting valuable real estate. Besides poor sales, Trader Joe's says a product might be discontinued if it's seasonal or if the cost of producing it increases significantly.
Trader Joe's Has a Lenient Return Policy
Trader Joe's also has a no-questions-asked return policy. If you purchase something, try it at home and decide you don’t like it, simply bring whatever you haven't eaten back to your local store for a full refund. Amid the pandemic, it’s been reported that even though store locations are still accepting returns and giving refunds, all returned products are being thrown away (including those that are unopened) as a safety precaution.
Social Distancing and Safety Practices at Trader Joe's
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Trader Joe’s was notorious for its long checkout lines -- especially when shopping during peak hours. While doing some comparison shopping at a couple Washington, D.C.-based locations, we’ve experienced wait times of as long as 25 minutes on a Saturday afternoon.
However, since the pandemic hit, the company has implemented social distancing and safety procedures to help eliminate overcrowding in-stores that used to result in packed checkout lines and long wait times. Now, Trader Joe’s limits the number of people allowed in-store at once, marks the distance between customers waiting in lines outside to enter the store and at checkout, keeps every other register open to allow for regular cleanings, and has suspended the use of reusable bags for bagging groceries at registers.
Those long lines at the cash register have been replaced by long lines outside some stores.
A Ringing Bell Means Help Is on the Way
Unlike most supermarkets that use intercoms to summon assistance, Trader Joe's has a bell system. In keeping with its kitschy maritime theme (remember the plastic lobsters?), the grocer uses actual bells located near the checkout area to signal to employees that help is needed.
One ring lets employees know that another cash register needs to be opened. Two rings mean there are additional questions that need to be answered at the checkout area. Three rings signal that a manager is needed for further assistance. While this system may be a bit odd, shoppers seem to like the chain's eccentricities. Trader Joe's was among three retailers to rank first in customer satisfaction among supermarket shoppers, according to the 2019-2020 American Customer Satisfaction Index Retail and Consumer Shipping Report.
Trader Joe's Stores Donate Unsold Food to Local Charities
While offering customers quality products is a top priority for Trader Joe's, so is giving back to the community. The grocer says that it donates 100% of products that go unsold, but remain safe for consumption. Each store has a donation coordinator who is responsible for working with local food banks and soup kitchens to arrange daily donations. The company even donates non-food items such as fresh flowers and health and beauty products still in good condition.
Last year, the grocery chain says it donated $384 million worth of products to charities across the country.
All Trader Joe's Products Go Through a Tasting Panel
Trader Joe’s takes product quality seriously. Every product the grocer sells goes through a tasting panel and must receive a 70% vote of approval before it gets the green light to hit store shelves. If the panel doesn’t like it enough, you won’t see it at Trader Joe’s. There’s no “pay to play” for product placement as is the case with most other supermarket chains, as mentioned by Trader Joe’s Sloan in an "Inside Trader Joe’s" podcast episode.
“We don’t collect slotting fees. We don’t have producers of the stuff that we sell pay for the privilege of having space,” he says. Customers who frequent Trader Joe’s can be confident that stores are stocked with products the company stands behind fully.
Snag Flowers and Greeting Cards on the Cheap at Trader Joe's
You may not think of your local grocery store as the go-to spot for deals on fresh flowers and greeting cards, but if you’re on a budget Trader Joe’s should be on your radar, says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. For example, the grocery chain sells small potted orchids for about $15, she notes. By comparison, similar sized potted orchid plants sell for $20 at Whole Foods. If you’re in need of a reasonably priced bouquet in a pinch, Trader Joe’s flower section is usually located near the front of the store. You’ll also find unique greeting cards situated nearby selling for as little as 99 cents, Woroch adds.
Say Goodbye to Plastic and Styrofoam Packaging at Trader Joe's
When it comes to product packaging, Trader Joe’s is making a big push for sustainability. In 2019, the grocer began replacing the plastic and styrofoam containers on items including produce, meats and greeting cards with renewable and plant-based alternatives. For example, Trader Joe’s now uses a compostable tray instead of a styrofoam version for its fruits and vegetables. Their product marketing team has worked to replace the plastic sleeves on their greeting cards with a plant-based starch version to help keep them in pristine condition. The new card sleeve is biodegradable, and shoppers can compost it at home.
Earlier this year, the grocer announced that it had removed about 6 million pounds of plastic from its product packaging. This included getting rid of plastic bags at the checkout register and replacing plastic and foil pouches on their tea packages with compostable film.
Be the First to Find Out About New Trader Joe's Products
One of the many quirks that keeps die-hard Trader Joe’s customers coming back is the unique food selection -- from dark chocolate peanut butter cups to “Everything but the Bagel” sesame seasoning. While the grocer regularly releases new products, many customers only randomly stumble upon them. Luckily, there’s a way to find out about new products that hit store shelves sooner rather than later.
Shoppers can follow the What’s New page on the grocer’s website to learn about the most recent product launches. The page gets updated several times per week. Each post lists a new product’s ingredients, explains how it made its way onto store shelves and where you can find it in-store. A few of the recent posts include walnut pesto, herbed tahini sauce and strawberry non-fat oat frozen dessert. Shoppers can check this page and add desired items to their grocery lists before their routine weekend Trader Joe’s trip, which can help cut down on impulse shopping.
Vegan, Kosher and Gluten-Free Options Abound at Trader Joe's
If you have a food allergy or adhere to a strict diet, shopping at a traditional grocery store can be problematic. Oftentimes you’ll have to make multiple trips to several stores to grab everything on your list, which can be time-consuming. Trader Joe’s aims to make that weekly chore a bit easier for shoppers with special dietary needs by offering a vast selection of kosher, vegan and gluten-free items. All are clearly labeled. Special dietary offerings include organic brown rice and quinoa spaghetti, Miyoko’s vegan butter and gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread.
Shoppers can find a robust list of kosher, vegan and gluten-free products available at Trader Joe’s on the website, as well as related recipe ideas.
No Trader Joe's Near You? Ask for One
If you're now curious about visiting a Trader Joe's only to find out that there isn't a store near you, you have some recourse. Shoppers interested in bringing a store to their area should visit the Request a TJ's in My City page on Trader Joe's website and fill out the short questionnaire.