My Love-Hate Relationship with Trader Joe’s

Resident curmudgeon Corey Levitan takes aim at Trader Joe's stocking policies in the May/June issue's Contrarian View.

A collection of products.

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A collection of products.

The phenomenally successful chain’s corporate policy, of which it’s proud, is to only stock the most popular 3,000-3,500 items in your particular region. “If an item doesn’t pull its weight in our stores, it goes away to gangway for something else,” reads the company’s website.

It sounds great the way they put it. Until you realize that every item you have come to rely upon as a staple for your family is in constant danger of being discontinued and replaced with something you don’t need.

Trader Joe’s is Top 40 grocery radio. Don’t you like these songs we play? Well, you should because everyone else does.

My 3-year-old daughter loved Trader Joe’s Organic Silver Dollar Pancakes. She wanted-to-marry-them loved them. They were whole wheat and bite sized, so she could specify how many for me to pop into the microwave to satiate her variable toddler hunger.

Three months ago, my Trader Joe’s sold out of them. Or so we thought. Two shopping trips later, I realized that my daughter would probably never see her favorite food again. And they weren’t replaced by anything similar.

“Try our Handmade Pork & Red Sauce Tamales,” the sample lady suggested as she handed out little plates of them with the vacant smile of a Portlandia character. (A lot of things about Trader Joe’s strike me as vaguely cultish. For instance, asking how something tastes will inevitably cause the Trader Joe’s team member to reply with some variation on “I tried it for the first time last night and it was awesome.” I’m not exaggerating about this. Test it yourself. I suspect it’s part of their training.)

My 3-year-old daughter loved Trader Joe's Organic Silver Dollar Pancakes. She wanted-to-marry-them loved them.

Every time I see a new item at Trader Joe’s, instead of celebrating it like the employees all want me to, my first reaction is to wonder what other important item on my grocery list I now have to buy elsewhere.
I discovered Trader Joe’s policy by accident when a new location opened closer to me and with 750 extra square feet. Wow! Not only would we have to drive less, but my daughter would get her Organic Silver Dollar Pancakes back!

(Buzzer sound.) There were the waffles she doesn’t like and the same exact everything else, but nothing additional — just 750 square feet more room to display it and more space between the aisles.
When I complained, I was referred, politely, to customer service. Here, I filled out a photocopied form asking what discontinued item I wanted brought back. I’m told it got forwarded to the regional buying group and that was that. A company executive, who would only speak anonymously, told me that these requests are usually not acted upon because Trader Joe’s is “not looking to be a one-stop shopping experience, to carry diapers and kitty litter.”

I will still shop at Trader Joe’s, because the prices are so much lower than, say, Whole Foods for similar high-quality items. And it will continue irking me. The experience reminds me a lot of Sara, a slightly abusive former girlfriend of mine. She was beautiful and smart and I was in love with her, so I kept coming back, but she never treated me right. And, as soon as something better came along, I bailed and never looked back.

Oh, wait. Just as this was going to press, Trader Joe’s brought back Organic Silver Dollar Pancakes. That would be terrific news for my daughter if they didn’t simultaneously stop stocking the prepackaged Mediterranean Feast with the falafel balls that she loves even more.

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  1. Perhaps Trader Joe could attach sign to product, “last chance” to test if more people might show interest. Loss is a big motivator.
    Writing an article does not make one a moron!

  2. Easy fix. Get the stock number and ask them to order it for you. Takes a couple of days before they call you saying its here, BUT it works.

  3. I am a bonifide Trader Joe’s Kool Aid drinking, sample eating, tiny cups of coffee tasting, devoted cult minion. If this store ever goes away, or changes its attention-deficit style of store stocking, grocery shopping in Los Angeles will come to a painfully mundane halt. Your kid will do ok without the falafel balls. Try the pretzel bread!

  4. *Microwave* pancakes!? Why not try making them on a griddle with fresh batter. 5 minutes, tops.


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