It’s all about the tasting panel.
Have you ever wondered how a new product winds up on the shelves of Trader Joe’s? The retailer, known for selling beloved food items such as Mandarin Orange Chicken and Everything But the Bagel Seasoning, actually goes through a pretty rigorous process when deciding which items will (and won’t) get the green light to be sold in stores nationwide. The linchpin in this process is something called the tasting panel, which, as the name suggests, is when numerous Trader Joe’s employees taste prospective products in an effort to determine if they’re ready to be sold to consumers.
Related: 15 Best Trader Joe’s Items Under $5
Trader Joe’s employees Matt Sloan, vice president of marketing at TJ’s, and Tara Miller, marketing director at the grocery store chain, explained the tasting panel and everything that goes into it on the latest episode of the Insider Trader Joe’s podcast. “The tasting panel is the thing that every single product we sell in our stores has in common. To put it bluntly, we don't sell anything unless it passes the tasting panel,” Sloan explained. And yes, this includes foods like Unexpected Cheddar Cheese, as well as non-food items such as the Pumpkin Body Scrub and the Grain-Free Dog Treats, which are tested by pups.
So how does an item pass the tasting panel, you ask? “Passing the tasting panel means that a supermajority—70 percent or more—of the Trader Joe's tasting panel panelists have voted in favor for us, Trader Joe's, to offer you, our customers, the product in question,” Sloan noted. Miller called the tasting panel “eating with intention,” and explained that tasters analyze flavor notes, texture, and more, in an effort to figure out what will appeal to consumers.
Unlike other grocery store chains, which tend to stock certain items based on how much money they can make from a given product via cooperative advertising, slotting fees, and product placement programs, Trader Joe’s sells products that have value, both in how they taste and what consumers pay for them.
This brings us to the next step. Once an item passes the taste test, Trader Joe’s employees decide on a price. As Sloan noted, this part of the process is a bit trickier than it sounds. “It's not just price on its own, the lowest being the best. It's price relative to what you get for it. The value coming from the price is what you pay and what you get for that price,” he explained. To determine price, the Trader Joe’s team looks at similar products in the marketplace, as well as how much it costs to produce a given item.
As Sloan put it, the tasting panel process is what really set Trader Joe’s apart from other grocers. “It’s not just about something on the shelf, it’s something worth its spot on the shelf,” he explained. “And this is where we are decidedly different [from other grocery stores] on purpose. It’s a deliberate move to taste things, to eat things, because we would like you to do the same, and we want you to enjoy it.”
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