Trader Joe’s is great. The selection is vast, the shirts Hawaiian, and the prices low. Also, you can get Trader Joe’s signature products, which you won’t be able to find anywhere else. Or at least, that’s always been the perception. The grocery brand has long kept the producers of its products a secret, and for good reason.
A new, investigative piece from Eater has uncovered the identities of a number of these producers and, it’s more or less the same stuff you’re buying at Jewel, Ralphs, or Mariano’s. Eater’s clever method of deduction involved logging Freedom Of Information Act requests to obtain FDA and USDA recalls and alerts that mentioned Trader Joe’s. Their discovery? What you think are Trader Joe’s brand products were actually made by dozens of different companies.
Among them are huge manufacturers like Conagra, “the company behind household brands like Hunt’s canned tomatoes and Marie Callender’s microwave dinners.” Trader Joe’s pistachios come from popular brand Wonderful, while their hummus encompasses the same ingredients as that of Tribe.
And there’s more:
The ingredients in Stacy’s Simply Naked pita chips, for example, are exactly the same as Trader’s Joe’s sea-salt pita chips. Stacy’s is actually owned by Frito-Lay Inc, another subsidiary of PepsiCo. Likewise, the Mighty Mango beverage from PepsiCo.’s Naked Juice has the exact same ingredients as Trader Joe’s version, while the Naked Juice Green Machine is nearly the same as Trader Joe’s Very Green juice, with less banana puree and no chlorella or kale.
This isn’t a bad thing, per se. You’re still saving money by shopping at Trader Joe’s, but there is a bit of what Eater calls “brand deception” going on. Mark Gardiner, a former Trader Joe’s employee who wrote a book on the store’s branding tactics, explains that “the store emits the image of a neighborhood grocer specializing in organic, healthy, and unique goods, even though Trader Joe’s rarely, if ever, explicitly affirms these things.”
“People don’t think of this as generic,” he continues. “[They think] ‘it’s Trader Joe’s—that’s the brand,’ and it’s a special brand that you can only get here. The truth is that almost all of this is stuff that you can probably get at another store within a few miles of that Trader Joe’s in a different package with a different name.”
It’s okay if you feel duped. You’re not alone.