Adventure shopping
Jan. 30, 2017
by Ivan Raconteur

I recently returned from another safari to the magical land of Trader Joe’s, and my menus at the bachelor estate this week have reflected this.

One of the company’s core missions is to travel the world looking for unusual and interesting products for its customers.

For me, a trip to TJ’s is an adventure, and although I buy food there, it is an experience quite apart from “regular” grocery shopping.

Each week – sometimes more than once per week – I shop at the local grocery store. It is conveniently located a block from my office, and the proprietor does a good job keeping his store well stocked with a variety of grocery items.

There are times, however, when I yearn for something beyond the scope of what any small-town grocery store is able to stock, and when that happens, I make a pilgrimage to Trader Joe’s, the nearest of which is about 30 miles away, but worth every mile.

This is one of the few places I go with the specific intention of buying things that are not on my list.

There is always fun music playing at TJ’s, and this helps to put me in a festive mood from the moment I enter the place.

I methodically cover the store, aisle by aisle, shelf by shelf, looking for treasure.

The selection is constantly changing, so while some things I have purchased in the past may no longer be available, there are always new items to check out.

TJ’s doesn’t just sell products – it sells stories.

Many of the products feature entertaining tales about their origin and how they compare to other products. Reading the product information is half the fun.

For example, there is the story about the 19th century pioneers who visited the Alta Badia region of northeastern Italy to climb the Dolomite Mountains. There, they discovered the cheese produced from cows who live in a secluded valley eating spicy alpine herbs and grasses, which contribute to the character of the Alta Badia cheese. Reading this gives us a much stronger image of the product than simply seeing a display of cheeses wrapped in plastic.

Reading stories in the Fearless Flyer (TJ’s version of a newsletter or catalog) has convinced me to try some things I might otherwise have missed. The stories behind the products help make the sale.

There are many organic products available at TJ’s, and the stores stock everything from the purest, most basic ingredients to a wide selection of decadent convenience foods.

Fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats, and bakery items are all worth exploring.

One can find a selection of nut butters, even cookie butter, at TJ’s. There are seeds, nuts, dried fruits, and an astonishing array of items covered in chocolate.

The company describes the products it sells as “unconventional and interesting,” and it delivers on that goal.

Most people who shop at Trader Joe’s have their own list of favorite products, but experience has taught us that trying new things is often rewarding.

The atmosphere is important at TJ’s.

From Hawaiian shirts to quirky marketing, the stores go out of their way to make shopping there a relaxing, fun experience.

The people who work there are knowledgeable and friendly, and seem to genuinely enjoy interacting with customers.

The spirit of fun carries over to those who shop at TJ’s, as well. I have often had other customers stop and share their stories about products that I happened to be looking at.

It might be stretching a point to say that some of the items found at Trader Joe’s are life-changing, but listening to un-solicited testimonials from other shoppers makes me wonder.

You won’t hear any of those annoying public address system messages when shopping at TJ’s. They don’t believe in them. Instead, each store is equipped with a ship’s bell.

One ring on the bell signals the crew to open another register. Two bells mean there are questions that need to be answered at checkout. Three bells summon a manager-type person.

It is a simple, effective, and fun system.

The stores can be busy, but they do a good job of moving people through the checking-out process. Avoiding peak shopping times can help to make the experience even more pleasant.

When I get home and unload my kitschy and colorful re-usable TJ’s shopping bags, I can hardly wait to sample the new delicacies I have discovered.

Shopping at Trader Joe’s is an adventure, and so is savoring the bounty of the voyage when I get home.

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