Monday, November 19, 2012

Say it ain't so, Joe: SF Chronicle blasts Trader Joe's turkeys

Last Thanksgiving, when I worked at Trader Joe's in Kansas City while researching Build a Brand Like Trader Joe's, the arrival of the turkeys was a big deal. Trader Joe's only stocks turkeys for a short time leading up to Thanksgiving -- the chain doesn't even bring them back for Christmas. They're pre-brined, and sell for $1.99 a pound.

Trader Joe's price point -- less than half the price of pre-brined Diestel turkeys from Whole Foods, and more than 1/3 off even Costco's price for comparable birds -- is attention grabbing. But when the San Francisco Chronicle roasted a variety of pre-brined turkeys for a comparison test, they rated Trader Joe's lowest of the five they tried.

Trader Joe's All Natural Brined Young Turkey ($1.99 per pound at Trader Joe's)If the frozen Target turkey exceeded our low expectations, then the Trader Joe's turkey left us almost universally disappointed.This turkey, enhanced with an 8 percent salt solution, was by far our least favorite - or, as one staffer put it, "bleh.""No flavor," "bland" and "cheap tasting," this turkey "needs big-time gravy," said other judges.Yet even gravy wouldn't help its texture, which was alternately described as "dry," "tough," "sinewy," "spongy," "waxy" and "rubbery."
To be fair, none of the Chronicle's birds got particularly high marks, but it's certainly possible that in an effort to bring the price in so far below even Costco's benchmark, quality's been sacrificed.

Even Whole Foods' bird was damned with faint praise. Comparisons between such widely different price points are perhaps unfair, but while scanning the news the other day, I came across this Wall Street Journal report of an effort by Whole Foods to sharpen some of it's prices (and perhaps blunt the chain's critics, who've long dubbed it, 'Whole Paycheck'.)

Meanwhile, while Trader Joe's of course never releases financials, Whole Foods has been on a tear this year, opening stores, increasing same store sales, and posting profits 50% higher than last year. That might be hard to believe, after the election year we've just come through, in which we've been constantly reminded of high unemployment and the weak recovery from the recession, but the truth is that while the country as a whole is faring no better than the turkeys in the Chronicle's test kitchen, the people who are doing well enough to shop at Whole Foods are doing very well indeed.


  1. People shop at Trader Joes because the store is a happy experience in a dismal economy. Shopping there makes us feel like we are getting something unique and a good value for that uniqueness. When we can't afford to have a house, or buy a new car, or take a vacation, we still can feel good about buying something to eat and even wine and flowers for the table. Food is the opiate of the people.

  2. Food is the opiate of the people. We may not be able to afford a house, a new car, a vacation...but at Trader Joes, we can have the happy experience of buying unique items at a relatively low price. And even add wine and flowers to the table. BTW, the flyer that TJ's sends out is a wonderful marketing tool, especially during the holidays.

  3. A significant part of Trader Joe's appeal is due to how respectfully and warmly most of the stores staffs treat their customers. There are usually no questions asked if you express dissatisfaction with a product. The staff may not remember your name, but almost always recall your face and have something pleasant to say to you. Also, staff is very responsive to do everything possible to fill your request. There is also no snobbery, which makes one's shopping experience very pleasant indeed.