Californians love their Trader Joe’s, especially people who grew up here. I’m not one of those TJ’s lifelong enthusiasts, although for a time I did a lot of my grocery shopping there. And I do have a theory that a trip to Trader Joe’s can offer proof that there is a God (link below).
In my single-parenting days, a nice Joe’s was around the corner in Culver City and they were well-stocked with kid-friendly options, frozen and fresh, heathy and non. Plus, they had a few other things you could count on, the basics (eggs, fruit, butter, nuts, bread, dairy products, organic coffee, pasta, etc.), and things like frozen prawns that were much cheaper than they should be. And a few good wines, like NZ sauvignon blanc, if you pick through the mediocre ones.
(PSA and Health note: did you know that coffee and peanuts retain more pesticides than a lot of other foods? I don’t know why I know that, but it’s true and it makes sense if you think about it. Both the coffee bean and the root peanut concentrate whatever is in the plant including chemicals. So drink organic coffee. It’s not even that much more expensive. Less bitter too, IMHO. Fair Trade is best. Organic is better for peanuts too, but those Bristol Farms peanuts are RIDICULOUSLY CRUNCHY AND DELICIOUS! Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. But first, a picture of Kiki attending a Zoom birthday party, in my hat. She’s cute in a hat but it hides her signature ponytail. This picture is relevant because, let’s face it, she does all the shopping in the family, except in situations of national security when I might be pressed into action.)
A lot of people rave about Joe’s prepared foods. My thoughts? No! Seriously, don’t. The salt and fat content is life-threatening. The canned tuna’s fine. Stay away from the berries, they’ll be mushy and inedible by the next day. Don’t buy the bagged avocados, you’ll throw half away. Pick through the loose ones instead. Bananas, you can’t go wrong.
Today, I get or 2 things there: the greatest salad dressing on earth, and goat-milk yogurt. Actually, Kiki does most of the shopping. If I happen to go in for one of those items, I might buy something else, like chocolate or wine.
During the pandemic, Trader Joe’s were notoriously difficult to get into, and I’m not a big waiting on line person, especially in 114˚ temps (no exaggeration) so for a time I ran out of my Romano Caesar dressing.
This is no ordinary dressing. It has no sugar or additives. Very simple. I eat it every weekday on my lunch salad. It was tough without it, not like quitting smoking or anything but hey, dressing is important. Then one day, driving by I saw there was no line, so I ran in and bought 6 bottles. I will never go without that dressing again.
(Please see my vlog on this very topic https://kleimansays.com/2020/05/28/on-masks-and-miracles/) That was a day at Trader Joe’s that makes one believe there is a God.
Except of course if Trader Joe, out of personal spite towards me, discontinues that dressing.
Because inevitably, TJ’s fails me. Whenever I got comfortably involved with them, like with the jumbo, butterflied, frozen prawns, they pull the rug out from under me. They discontinue the item! First, they started seasoning the shrimp instead of just freezing, which was okay but too much salt, and then they disappeared forever. Okay, perhaps these shrimp came from China or Viet Nam and shouldn’t be consumed by humans anyway, but boy, were they delicious! Sadly, this has happened with many other items as well. As soon as I commit to it, they take it away! Every time!
Still, you can’t but admire Trader Joe’s business model, their branding, packaging, and even re-packaging of products. The most recent and best example is this cheese:
Yes, that’s right, Unexpected Cheddar Cheese. “Tastes like an aged premium cheddar with hints of parmesan.”
Okay wait, is this cheddesan? Parmeddar? There is no such thing as a cheddar/parm hybrid, at least not that I know of. Fact is, this is not an actual cheese that existed, but rather a perfect example of the genius of Trader Joe’s. Someone fucked up the cheese, sold it to Joe on the cheap, and Joe repackaged it as a new thing: vintage aged cheddar that tastes like parmesan!
What a great idea! Usually, when you want something with parmesan flavor, you go for parmesan cheese, right? I know I do! (And what about parmigiana? Another blog post.) But not Joe! It’s easier to find cheddar, so now you have cheddar but it tastes like parmesan, kind of like killing two cheeses with one stone, to a apply a mixed metaphor. So convenient! Only one cheese needed instead of two to achieve the desired cheesy result.
Again, here’s the formula: cheese factory screws up, mixes the parmesan with the cheddar and makes Parmeddar. Cheese factory owner wants to cut his losses, calls Joe. Joe comes over, tastes the cheese, it’s weird but not bad, so he buys it real cheap, takes it back to the store, cuts it into blocks and calls it, let’s see, “The Accidental Cheddar?” No, too… accidental. Has to be on purpose. Oh I know “Unexpected Cheddar.” That’s right, you expect it to taste like cheddar, because it’s cheddar cheese and then you bite it and it tastes just like that bowl of spaghetti you ate last night. Now that’s what you call “Unexpected.”
(PICTURE BREAK: new hobby, bee photography)
Best part of this marketing philosophy (and it really is a philosophy, According to Joe, and not just a “plan”): if people like Parmeddar, you can make it again, on purpose, and sell more of it.
But this begs the question: can they make it again? It was an accident. It’s not easy to recreate an accident perfectly. But if anyone can do it, it’s your good friends on the team at Trader Joe’s
Bottom line: I kind of got over TJ’s after they kept discontinuing products I liked. There were others besides the shrimp, but I must have put them all out of my mind so I didn’t have to carry the disappointment and resentment around for the rest of my life. But I am still tied to them because of my damn salad dressing dependency! You can get goat’s milk yogurt other places (more expensive of course), and their wine prices aren’t as great as you think. But the dressing!
Still, you have to admire how a grocery chain can succeed by getting their employees to wear Hawaiian shirts, do occasionally-offensive branding (Trader Jose, ole ole!), and buying other people’s mistakes for cheap, relabeling so it sounds like you’re getting something special and not just a re-packaged accident, and selling it to you, the consumer, at what seems like a reasonable price. Nothing like the surprise of biting into a cheddar cheese omelet and having it taste like parmesan!
(ONE LAST PICTURE BREAK: colors of nature. Ahhh!)
What an adventure! Especially during the pandemic, what could be more exciting, going to TJ’s, waiting on line, wearing your double mask, buying a few food items and going home to eat something that you don’t even know what it’s going to taste like.
Was that last one a real sentence? Who cares! Maybe it’s just an “Unexpected Sentence!” Who says writers can’t get in on this re-packaging thing?
My next novel: it looks and smells like a murder mystery, but tastes just like historical fiction!
Happy Wednesday everybody and thanks for stopping by to kleimansays.com, the blog that gives you more… cheese that tastes just like cheese.