Secrets Of Trader Joe’s Employees

If you’re lucky enough to have a Trader Joe’s in your community, you know they are a bit different than other grocery stores, and that starts with their employees. Even if it’s been years since they last put on a Hawaiian shirt and stocked the shelves, current and former employees of Trader Joe’s are eager to share their experience working for the American grocery chain. While they don’t always give their names, we dug up a few of the secrets of Trader Joe’s, shared by its crew members. Their wages aren’t what you’d expect, and there are some other intriguing benefits of working there too.

One former employee said she was, “probably in the best shape of my life when I worked for Trader Joe’s.”

The Founder Loves the Hawaiian Theme, But That Doesn’t Mean the Employees Do

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There is a ‘Joe’ behind Trader Joe’s after all. The grocery store chain’s founder Joe Coulombe opened the first Trader Joe’s location in Pasadena, California in 1967. Coulombe is a big fan of Hawaiian shirts and laid back beach living, so he decided to make that the theme of the store.

As we know, it’s since been carried across all Trader Joe’s locations. Employees of the chain wear Hawaiian Aloha shrits and sometimes leis, and the decor around the store is all Tiki and nautical. Many employees admit they often feel like they’re working on a ship.

This Item Is Cheaper Than Anywhere Else

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While the first affordably-priced item you might think of as your go-to purchase at Trader Joe’s is the infamous “Two Buck Chuck” wine (and you’re right) the second most sought-after item should be the coffee.

Trader Joe’s sells coffee both in whole bean and ground form, and they have an in-store grinder too. The coffee is priced very affordably compared to other grocery stores, and should be on your shopping list when you come into the store.

The Best Time To Get Samples

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We love that Trader Joe’s dishes out samples to shoppers on a daily basis. So when is the best time to get some serious food and drink samples? An employee of Trader Joe’s told Thrillist, “If you’re there at the end of the night, and we’re just trying to clean everything out of there, you can probably stand there for 10 minutes and eat.”

That’s not a bad deal, especially considering it’ll be around late dinner time and the store will be emptier for easier shopping, too.

The Employees Are Genuinely Nice

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People working in the service industry know that you should provide ‘service with a smile’ even if they’re not in the best mood. But Trader Joe’s doesn’t seem to have a problem with their workers faking a smile. That’s because they only hire happy people in the first place.

The same employee told Thrillist, “Everyone’s friendly. They’re genuine people too. It’s not people who’ve been told they have to act nice. It’s people who genuinely care about how the customer’s feeling. And I don’t feel like that’s fake with anyone in the store.”

What’s With The Bells?

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Customers don’t need to know a thing about the bells that Trader Joe’s employees ring at the check-out counters, but of course, they’re curious. The bells act as a code to the workers, acting as a non-verbal intercom to make the service quicker.

An employee said, “Instead of asking for so and so to come to the front, one bell calls for one of us to come up and help the register. And it’s cool because one of the things TJ’s is known for is no wait times, or low as possible wait times.”

Don’t Compare Them To Others

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Yes, there are plenty of other grocery stores to compare them to, but should you compare Trader Joe’s to their ‘competition’? One worker doesn’t think so. He told Thrillist, “I think Whole Foods is cool. I think they do something that’s completely different than what we do.”

He admitted, “I get frustrated when people try to compare us to Whole Foods. I think we’re a little different and we do our own thing. We can all coexist.”

TJ’s Doesn’t Care About Packaging

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Food brands spend enormous amounts of money and time perfecting their branding and packaging so that it will catch the eye of the consumer as they walk down the grocery store aisle. But not Trader Joe’s.

Matt Klaver, a former employee said on Quora, “A core foundation of Trader Joe’s is to spend more money on the product than the packaging. They don’t care about small color differences or cans that don’t stack right.” We can get on board with that.

The R&D Team Is A Desirable Position

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Research and development doesn’t sound like the most exciting department to work in, unless of course, we’re talking about food. Yep, Trader Joe’s has a R&D team that gets to travel the world, tasting food and drinking beverages in order to find the best stuff to put in their stores.

An employee told Thrillist, “They will not accept a provider if it’s not 100% with them.” He also said that their food is made from all over the place.

The Hardest Part Of The Job

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Okay, everyone is happy, friendly, and enjoying the people they’re working around. But there’s got to be a downside of the job. So what is it? Trader Joe’s employees admit that the hardest part of the job is the food that’s constantly surrounding them.

“This is going to sound cheesy,” an employee confessed, “but the worst part is having to work around all that food and just wanting to eat it all the time.” We believe them.

They Get A Discount On Their Groceries

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No matter where you work, there’s got to be some kind of perk, right? At least that’s one thing that people are quick to ask you once you tell them where you work. “Do you get a free…. do you get a discount… can you get me a discount?” We’ve all heard this.

Admittedly, it would be pretty sweet to get your grocery bill drastically reduced. Trader Joe’s employees confess they don’t get a huge break on their bill but, “it’s enough to offset sales tax here,” an employee told Thrillist. Rumor has it, it’s around 10%.

The Break Room Has Plenty Of Goodies

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They weren’t kidding when they said it’s hard not to nosh on the food all day. Trader Joe’s employees are constantly treated to food in the break room. One employee told Forbes,“When we get new foods in, we try them out.” We eat and drink throughout the day here.”

Sounds like a good deal to us! In that case, you might not ever have to bring lunch to work. Plus you get to be the first to try everything and recommend it to customers, which is pretty sweet.

Employees Help Entertain The Kids

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Another cool thing about Trader Joe’s is that they want to help keep the kids entertained. One of their tactics in doing this is hiding stuffed animals throughout the store. Kids who know the drill run around the store searching for the stuffed animals.

If they locate one of them and let an employee know, they will be gifted with a lollipop or another treat. This gives something for the kids to look forward to when they walk in the store, while the parent has to get the grocery shopping done.

Showing Kindness To Customers

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Imagine you’re having a terribly awful day, but you still need to get your errands done. So you go to the grocery store and are shopping the aisle, holding back your feelings, but you’re noticeably upset. Then something amazing happens: an employee gives you a free bar of chocolate and tells you to have a good day. At Trader Joe’s, that’s allowed.

“If a customer was having an ‘off’ day or I just felt like going above and beyond for an awesome person, I was given the complete freedom to dazzle them how I saw fit,” said former employee Natalie Royal. “I gifted a bouquet of sunflowers to a teary-eyed woman who I later found out had just lost her husband.”

The Starting Wage Is Good


Compared to other grocery store chains, Trader Joe’s forks out a bit more for their employees’ paychecks. The majority of employees earn between $10 and $24 per hour, and managers can make around $100,000 each year.

Once employees stay on for three months they’re eligible for health insurance and a retirement plan. The grocery store chain even matches 10% of an employee’s annual salary to their retirement fund. Trader Joe’s believes in taking care of their employees and they put their money where their mouth is.

Employees Are In Shape

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On their feet, running around the store, bagging products, stocking shelves, chasing down carts… Trader Joe’s crew members are constantly moving around the store and it helps keep them in shape!

Former employee Natalie Royal told Mental Floss, “I was probably in the best shape of my life when I worked at Trader Joe’s. I was shocked to find how sore I was for about the first two-plus weeks of working there. After slinging watermelons and stacking cans day after day, I ended up with guns of steel.”

There is, however, a time when they don’t feel as in shape…

People Go (Far) Out Of Their Way To Shop There

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Not everyone is lucky enough to have a Trader Joe’s in their community, but that doesn’t stop them from getting their grocery shopping done there. One employee said, “People drive two hours or so to come to my store to shop and spend upwards of $500.”

For people who don’t want to drive so far, they can request that a Trader Joe’s be opened in their area on their website’s request form. It doesn’t hurt to try!

Why Items Are Discontinued

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No one likes going to the store and finding that they no longer carry a product you love. But Trader Joe’s has good reason for discontinuing products. A former employee confessed on Reddit, “They’re extremely strict about contracts with suppliers. We won’t buy a product if we have to raise the price too high.”

It turns out that Trader Joe’s cuts products that have a price hike in order to keep all of their products at an affordable rate. Now that’s good business.

They Gain Weight Like Santa During The Holidays

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If you haven’t already figured it out, there’s like, a lot of food sitting around for employees to eat. And the holidays don’t make it any easier on Trader Joe’s employees’ waistlines. First, all the unique holiday treats hit the break room, then the shelves, and then find their way into employees’ home kitchens.

An employee confessed to Mental Floss, “The entire cookies and candy aisle turns into a holy relic of wonderment and me trying to not get fat.”

They’re Grateful When You Help Bag

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Trader Joe’s stores pride themselves on a quick and speedy checkout but rushes happen. Natalie Mullin, a former employee posted on Quora, “In my experience, and the experience of anyone I ever worked with at TJ’s, the customers who bagged were always vastly more appreciated, regardless of skill, than those who stood there, watched their items pile up, spaced out, and passed the time delay on to the other patrons in line.”

It seems that they just want everyone to have the best experience possible, and while clearly it’s not required, they are thankful for customers who are willing to help bag.

When You’re Not There, They’re Rocking Out

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We’ve already established that Trader Joe’s only hires people who seem genuinely happy and friendly, and that kind of crew of people sounds like a lot of fun. When it’s time to close down the store to the customers for the night, employees admit that they have some fun behind locked doors.

Former employee Natalie Royal said, “After closing the store to the public, we would blast music over the loudspeakers.” Sounds like a good way to end the day!