10 Unexpected Trader Joe's Facts That Are Almost As Good As The Cookie Butter

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
This story was originally published on May 25, 2017.
Trader Joe's has gone from being a small SoCal grocery chain to a nationwide name, beloved by people from Pasadena to Boston. And while we consider ourselves experts on the food at Trader Joe's (seriously, we can't stop eating the stuff), the actual history the supermarket remains something of a mystery. The discount grocery chain famously doesn't do much in the way of advertising or promotion, meaning a lot of the store's facts and figures are hidden from view.
Undeterred, we scoured Trader Joe's own website and the corners of the internet for ten lesser-known Trader Joe's facts to impress your family and friends. How many surprise you?
Advertisement
1 of 11
Photo: via @Nathanmasters.
Trader Joe's Wasn't The Original Name
When Trader Joe's first got its start in 1958, it was called Pronto Markets. Then, in 1967, history was made when the name was changed to Trader Joe's, for the opening the first one in Pasadena, CA. The original store is still open today. The first Hawaiian shirts were first worn two years later, in 1969.
2 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Trader Joe's.
The First Generic Product Was Granola
Today, about 80% of Trader Joe's products are private-label, but, once upon a time, there was only one — granola. It was launched in 1972, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Advertisement
3 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Trader Joe's.
Mandarin Chicken Is Its Most Popular Product
At least according to the 2016 Customer Choice Awards, where fans can vote on their favorite items. Second place went to Cookie Butter, the previous year's winner.
4 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Trader Joe's Used To Sell Panty Hose
In the 1970's, Trader Joe's was still trying to "find itself," according to its website. That means things you wouldn't find in a Trader Joe's today, from from nuts in a barrel, magazines, a butcher shop, and, yes, panty house. The last pair was sold in 1978.
5 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Trader Joe's.
The Canned Corn Label Has Never Changed
Trader Joe's whole kernel corn was introduced in 1982, and the bright yellow label has stayed the same for 35 years — that means it's always been preservative-free with no sugar added, too.
6 of 11
There's A Plastic Lobster In Every Trader Joe's
While decor varies store by store (and includes references to each store's location), there's one thing you will find in every store: a plastic lobster. If you have a hard time finding it, don't worry, you can usually find lobster ravioli in the frozen section.
7 of 11
Photo: via @paulinajayne15.
There's A Real Charles Shaw – But He's Not Involved With The Brand
Charles Shaw, forever associated with "two buck Chuck," the ultra-cheap Trader Joe's wine, is a real guy who started making wine under his name in the 1970s. But, after going bankrupt in the early '90s, he sold the trademark to his name and art to Fred Franzia (yes, the same guy as Franzia boxed wine) in the early 90's. Trader Joe's first started selling Charles Shaw in 2002, but was not responsible for the famous nickname. According to a Thrillist oral history of Two Buck Chuck, a local wine writer, now unknown to the annals of history, came up with it.
Advertisement
8 of 11
Photo: Via @euniceschung.
It’s Not Just Generics That Keep Prices Low
Yes, Trader Joe’s famous private label is a huge part of why the prices are so low, but they’ve got other price-cutting tricks up their sleeves. Not only do they stock significantly fewer products (4,000 products per store, versus 50,000 at a regular store, according to Fortune), they also buy directly from the distributors, too. Trader Joe’s also pays up front and in cash.
9 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Trader Joe's.
You Can Try Anything In The Store — & Return Anything, Too
Samples are the best part of shopping at Trader Joe’s — but you don’t have to sidle up to the beloved sample counter to indulge. If you ask to try something, a Trader Joe’s employee will open it up for you.

This obviously is impossible with some products, like frozen foods, so if you do get it home without trying it and aren't pleased, you can bring it back for a full refund, no questions ask.
10 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Trader Joe's.
The Pumpkin Love Is Real
Trader Joe, just like the rest of us, is crazy for pumpkin. Last year, 86 limited-edition pumpkin products were introduced — while there's no telling what 2017 will bring, we predict more pumpkin-spiced goodness for all.
11 of 11
Advertisement

More from Food & Drinks

Watch

R29 Original Series