Millennials Love Trader Joe’s

Discussion
Aug 30, 2012
Tom Ryan

According to research from Onesixtyfourth LLC, Trader Joe’s has cultivated an eclectic, cult-like following among Millennials, particularly those identified as trendsetters and early adopters. The grocer’s brand strength is said to be on par with big-name brands like Apple, Ford, Nike and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

CultureQ, Onesixtyfourth’s research initiative designed to monitor the sentiment and cultural shifts among Millennials in the U.S. and the U.K., found many Millennials are drawn to the humor and casualness of the brand: the Hawaiian staff shirts, the quirky product names, and "the easy-going yet efficient way staff relate to customers." They also love the brand’s natural and organic offerings.

Trader Joe’s has also retained its quirky vibe and "neighborhood feel despite being a chain," as one CultureQ participant reflects. Indeed, rather than devalue the brand, the fact that it is a national chain brings Millennials "a sense of security." The first Trader Joe’s opened in 1967, and has expanded into a small grocery store empire of over 350 stores in some 31 states.

"Trader Joe’s feels like it’s theirs," said Anne Bahr Thompson, founding partner of Onesixtyfourth, of Millennials in a statement. "Its food offerings are inexpensive, interesting, and delicious, and most importantly, the brand is hip and cool in that elusive offbeat and alternative way."

In 2010, Outlaw Consulting ranked Trader Joe’s among the top-15 trusted brands by Millennials. Like jetBlue and In-N-Out Burger, Outlaw’s Trendsetter Panel linked the grocer’s Millennial appeal to being "downright dorky" and not fitting the conventions of being hip. Wrote Outlaw Consulting, "They wear these tacky Hawaiian shirts and publish that ridiculous newsletter. But it’s their own style. And it’s so much more inviting than the normal rigid grocery store."

What makes Trader Joe’s “hip and cool” to Millennials? How much of its appeal relates to its quirkiness versus products, prices and the basic shopping experience? Can other grocers strive to replicate its more “dorky” features?

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18 Comments on "Millennials Love Trader Joe’s"


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David Livingston
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Some things are hard to duplicate, like remaining privately held, debt free, and not being overly greedy. Slow, deliberate, controlled growth is something many successful retailers cannot contain.

I can’t really add beyond the article what makes Trader Joe’s “hip and cool.” I am extremely offended by “They wear these tacky Hawaiian shirts,” as I have a wardrobe of those shirts. They are extremely well made and last for years. I’ve gotten more compliments wearing those shirts than anything else. Wear a Trader Joe’s shirt on an airplane and someone always comes up and wants to start a conversation about Trader Joe’s.

Liz Crawford
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Millennials needed a grocery brand to call their own…it seems like Whole Foods is a bit pricey, and maybe a little too “Boomer-ish.” Enter Trader Joe’s! They are filling a marketplace need among that cohort in a very savvy, proprietary way. Good for them.

Joe Nassour
Guest
Joe Nassour
6 years 11 months ago

I think the appeal goes way beyond Millennials. The appeal is universal. I love Trader Joe’s just like I love Costco. It is not one segment of the population, it is all segments.

Where do I start? Assortment, services, sampling, price…and on and on.

Ian Percy
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

The article says it all. Employees actually like working there and it shows. I have yet to run into an employee who doesn’t know the answer to a question. To relate back to the CRM piece in today’s RW, there is no customer analysis going on, no card swiping, no memberships. When employees AND customers want to be in one place, you have a winner!

Cathy Hotka
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Trader Joe’s figured out a long time ago that single people shop at grocery stores. They stock individual portions of fish and meat, sophisticated frozen entrees for one, and unique flavors for the adventurous. And there’s always someone around to help customers. No wonder they’re so wildly popular.

Warren Thayer
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

I think the appeal is pretty universal. Staying away from Wall Street has been powerful. Other grocers shouldn’t try to replicate anything; they should just learn to lighten up and have some fun. But IMHO, publicly-held grocers are heavy-up on Wall Street-type upper managers with no music in their souls. They look at the cool things that TJ does and say “Eeeew! We should NEVER do THAT!” And they make darn sure it doesn’t happen in their stores. Their loss (and ours).

Kenneth Leung
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

The article hit it pretty much on the spot. Trader Joe’s managed to be a chain and local at the same time through great execution. They also delivered the organic products category at a slightly lower price point than Whole Foods. Their Two-Buck Chuck helped drive volume in the wine category (great for cooking for me). For other grocers to replicate, I don’t think it is the “dorky” part, but the ability to deliver customer service with local assortment that is the key.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Trader Joe’s is special to many people of all ages, People in South Florida have gone so far as to start a petition asking them to open in this area. Shopping at Trader Joe’s is an experience not found in traditional grocery chains.

Lee Peterson
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Trader Joe’s is one of those brands that transcends generations, like Nike, Levi’s or Victoria’s Secret. They just haven’t been as prolific for as long. So, since loving Trader Joe’s is a ‘duh’ (at least to me), a more interesting question might be, “who DOESN’T like Trader Joe’s?” No one I know.

Robert DiPietro
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

It’s the vibe produced by the shopping experience, associates, and other customers. They offer a good value vs Whole Foods for organic and ‘healthy’ choices. Also, they offer Two-Buck Chuck — which hasn’t been two bucks in MA for a while — so consumers feel like they are getting a good deal and are part of the Two-Buck Chuck club.

Stan Barrett
Guest
Stan Barrett
6 years 11 months ago

I don’t think it is because it is dorky as much as it is genuine. The “team members/sailors/employees” that they employ seem to genuinely care that I am there spending my hard-earned money. From floor staff to managers, they are never too busy to help a customer. Plus, the prices and products are great.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

“Its food offerings are inexpensive, interesting, and delicious, and most importantly, the brand is hip and cool.”

Certainly success lies within these two — or is it five? — traits, but I wonder if we aren’t being a trifle romantic by saying the latter are more important than the former…of course I stopped wearing Hawaiian shirts in jr. high, so maybe it’s just me.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
6 years 11 months ago

Trader Joe’s has some simple yet extremely effective characteristics:
1) Excited, helpful and proud employees
2) Amazing, unique and trusted Private label brands
3) Limited assortment
4) Small format

Until Jet Blue grew up a bit, it had the same characteristics that helped it expand and build loyalty similar to Trader Joe’s:

1)Excited, helpful and proud crew members
2)Fun and unique brand appeal (handing out an assortment of snacks for free during the flight)
3)One airplane type – easy to maintain
4)Small format – limited, but very profitable routes

Try the same exercise with Apple or other fast growing and successful brands. I bet you see the same characteristics. Question now becomes, how do you expand and build your business without losing some or all of those key characteristics that helped you build loyalty?

Mark Burr
Guest
6 years 11 months ago
Cathy Hotka hits the point, as well as do other comments. They are “hip and cool” to 18-35, just as they are “hip and cool” to those in their 70s and 80s. My Dad is 80. He loves the place. He loves it for just the reason Cathy mentions. Portions for one! So many of the things mentioned about Trader Joe’s are all true and no secret. They are also things that we discuss so often yet see so rarely. Isn’t amazing when you do some really basic things and you do them well, it equates to success? The appeal isn’t really so generational specific. It may work for Millennials, but they are the same basic expectations across the generations. Basic is basic. Few do it and few do it well. There really is nothing complicated about what they do. They simply execute it consistently over and over again. When you do that, consumers return over and over again when they have so many other choices. They understand loyalty and what creates it. Can others… Read more »
Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
6 years 11 months ago

Trader Joe’s offers good value, organic products, and great customer service. Their Private Brands taste good, are right sized, and fairly priced. Packaging is quirky, interesting, and usually entertaining. Always new products to try, and it is always fun to shop there, too.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Even though TJ’s is owned by one of the largest corporations in the world, it looks and is run like a Mom and Pop. With value and assortment that rivals the traditional supermarkets, it has the feel of the friendly, neighborhood market that ‘baby-boomers’ grew up with. To Millennials it’s ‘retro’.

Kai Clarke
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

Products, prices, and incredible customer service. These are the key to successful retailing at any level, and TJ’s does it their own way. This makes them unique, appealing and cool. TJ’s is different while promising an experience that is world-class. What is there not to like?

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
6 years 11 months ago

Nothing to add on the “why” element — it is clearly articulated. The interesting next conversation is exploring how this culture can be kept fresh and sustained even as leadership changes occur over the years. That culture we feel when we shop happens bit by bit by a consistent internal culture and communications strategy, ultimately driven by top leadership. As a customer and retail observer, I hope they are as brilliant with succession planning as they are at delivering their unique and sticky customer experience.

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