16 Fearless-Flyer Facts About Trader Joe’s

In a supermarket industry that thrives on selling you the same brands of chips, cereal, candy and soda wherever you shop, Trader Joe’s is the wacky outlier. It’s the only place where you can buy a jar of Cookie Butter to go along with your Horseradish Chips and Uncured Bacon Ganache Chocolate Bar—where employees go by maritime titles like “mate” and “captain,” wear Hawaiian shirts and cheerfully ring bells rather than use intercoms. The grocer's quirky, foodie-pleasing ways have garnered legions of fans, even in cities that don’t have a TJ’s. But it’s worth looking past the company’s carefree attitude to see just what makes this ship float.

1. The founder envisioned a market for “overeducated, underpaid” shoppers.

Joe Raedle// Getty

No, Trader Joe is not an eccentric world traveler in a safari hat. He’s Joe Coulombe, a Stanford business school grad who made some savvy decisions back in the company’s early days. In an interview with Entrepreneur, Coulombe says he noticed a significant trend in the early ‘60s: salaries for college grads were falling. So he slashed prices on products throughout his stores, then known as Pronto Markets, and loaded up on something else his well-educated customer base could appreciate: booze. “We essentially married the health food store to the liquor store,” he said in the interview. Smart man, that Joe Coulombe.

2. Trader Joe's is now owned by a reclusive, mega-rich German family.

Coulombe renamed his stores “Trader Joe’s” in 1967, then sold the company to German billionaire Theo Albrecht in 1979. Albrecht, who died in 2010, owned (along with his brother, Karl) the discount chain Aldi, which is currently one of the fastest-growing supermarkets in the U.S. Both brothers were intensely private, which is understandable, really, considering that in 1971 Theo was kidnapped and held for ransom for 17 days (the family negotiated the release, and the kidnapper, a small-time crook, was nabbed shortly after). Trader Joe’s is currently owned by the Albrecht family trust.

3. Granola was their first store-brand product.

About 80 percent of Trader Joe’s products are its own kitschy brands, from Trader Jose salsa to Pilgrim Joe clam chowder. And it all started with granola, back in 1972.

4. National brands make their products.

It’s the secret Trader Joe’s would rather you not know: Well-known manufacturers make its products, then sell them under the company’s sub brands at a significant discount. Why? Because they want to be in Trader Joe’s, and they’re willing to play along to do so. TJ’s doesn’t publicize its vendor relationships, and manufacturers are sworn to secrecy, so enterprising food journalists have run taste tests to connect the dots. That white cheddar mac and cheese you love? It’s probably made by Annie's Homegrown.

5. They’re ruthlessly efficient.

Joe Raedle // Getty

In addition to secretly contracting brand-name suppliers, Trader Joe’s does a few other things most supermarkets don’t. They don’t accept slotting fees, which manufacturers pay retailers in return for shelf real estate (ever wonder why Pepsi and Coke have the soda aisle locked down?), and which increase prices. They also cut out distributors, often receiving products directly from suppliers. And as you’ve likely noticed if you shop there, they don’t offer coupons or special discounts. Because everything’s already dirt-cheap.

6. They really do send buyers all over the world.

The company employs a small, elite band of senior buyers to scour the globe for new products. They’re like the SEAL Team 6 of specialty grocery. As one former buyer told Fortune magazine, going to industry trade shows is “for rookies.”

7. They’re not like Whole Foods—well, mostly.

Although Trader Joe’s doesn’t position itself as a health food store, it still adheres to guidelines that include no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives in any of its products, and no GMOs. Kind of like a certain higher-priced competitor, no?

8. You can try pretty much any product before you buy.

If you’re not sure about those chocolate-covered potato chips (though why wouldn’t you be?), ask a store employee for a sample. You can try pretty much anything before you buy, with the exception of foods that need to be prepared (pasta, cake mix, frozen meals), and liquor. Wine sampling, meanwhile, varies from state to state.

9. People in cities without a store absolutely PINE for one.

There aren’t many grocery stores that inspire mass campaigns to bring them to town. Residents of Memphis, Green Bay, Lancaster, Penn., and other cities have set up dedicated Facebook pages displaying their loyalty to the company and begging them to drop anchor. Commenters often recount the days, months and even years since they last stepped foot in a store.

10. They have a Canadian bootlegger.

Trader Joe’s doesn’t operate in Canada, but that doesn’t stop the good people of Vancouver from buying Trader Joe’s products. How’s that possible? A store called Pirate Joe’s, which isn’t affiliated with Trader Joe’s in any way, sells TJ’s goods that have been trucked up (read: bootlegged) from stores in Washington state. Owner Mike Hallatt, who holds the illustrious distinction of having been thrown out of multiple Trader Joe’s, employs a team of shoppers who buy products in bulk, then load them into a big white van headed north. It all sounds highly illegal, but when Trader Joe’s sued Hallatt, they lost.

11. Their New York City stores are madness, simply madness.

Michael Nagle // Getty

Go to the Union Square, Chelsea or Upper West Side locations during rush hour and you’ll likely find a line snaking through the entire store. There are sign-toting employees at the middle and end of the line, offering a semblance of order amidst the chaos. Experienced shoppers know how to save time by shopping while they’re in line, which is so New York.

12. Every store has a plastic lobster hiding in it.

Or so the company claims. See if you can find it—and try not to knock over any garlic pita chip displays in the process.

13. They’ve sold more than 800 million bottles of Two-Buck Chuck.

It’s more like Three-Buck Chuck these days, but that hasn’t slowed sales, which have gone gangbusters since Charles Shaw wine first arrived en-masse to Trader Joe’s shelves in 2002. The Bronco Wine Company, which makes the stuff and is owned by the Franzia family (sound familiar?), employs clever cost-saving measures much like Trader Joe’s. It grows grapes on inexpensive land in California’s San Joaquin Valley, ages the wine with oak chips instead of in barrels, and uses ultra-lightweight bottles and boxes for shipping. All in the name of getting Americans the cheap booze they crave.

14. They stopped selling pantyhose in 1978.

TJ’s clearly saw the writing on the wall decades ahead of time, considering sales of pantyhose have plummeted over the past 15 years. Or, as Trader Joe’s puts it: “The unencumbered freedom is glorious.”

15. Each store has its own artist.

To give its stores a neighborhood market feel, Trader Joe’s posts chalkboard signs drawn by an in-house artist (a “crew member,” officially). The results are eye-catching and often quite clever.

16. They inspired a really catchy tribute song.

Apologies in advance for getting this stuck in your head.

The ChopBox Smart Cutting Board Has a Food Scale, Timer, and Knife Sharper Built Right Into It

ChopBox
ChopBox

When it comes to furnishing your kitchen with all of the appliances necessary to cook night in and night out, you’ll probably find yourself running out of counter space in a hurry. The ChopBox, which is available on Indiegogo and dubs itself “The World’s First Smart Cutting Board,” looks to fix that by cramming a bunch of kitchen necessities right into one cutting board.

In addition to giving you a knife-resistant bamboo surface to slice and dice on, the ChopBox features a built-in digital scale that weighs up to 6.6 pounds of food, a nine-hour kitchen timer, and two knife sharpeners. It also sports a groove on its surface to catch any liquid runoff that may be produced by the food and has a second pull-out cutting board that doubles as a serving tray.

There’s a 254nm UVC light featured on the board, which the company says “is guaranteed to kill 99.99% of germs and bacteria" after a minute of exposure. If you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to cleanliness, the ChopBox is completely waterproof (but not dishwasher-safe) so you can wash and scrub to your heart’s content without worry. 

According to the company, a single one-hour charge will give you 30 days of battery life, and can be recharged through a Micro USB port.

The ChopBox reached its $10,000 crowdfunding goal just 10 minutes after launching its campaign, but you can still contribute at different tiers. Once it’s officially released, the ChopBox will retail for $200, but you can get one for $100 if you pledge now. You can purchase the ChopBox on Indiegogo here.

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11 Fascinating Facts About Tamagotchi

Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Chesnot/Getty Images News

They blooped and beeped and ate, played, and pooped, and, for ‘90s kids, the egg-shaped Tamagotchi toys were magic. They taught the responsibility of tending to a “pet,” even though their shrill sounds were annoying to parents and teachers and school administrators. Nearly-real funerals were held for expired Tamagotchi, and they’ve even been immortalized in a museum (of sorts). Here are 11 things you should know about the keychain toy that was once stashed in every kid’s backpack.

1. The idea for the Tamagotchi came from a female office worker at Bandai.

Aki Maita was a 30-year-old “office lady” at the Japanese toy company Bandai when inspiration struck. She wanted to create a pet for kids—one that wouldn't bark or meow, make a mess in the house, or lead to large vet bills, according to Culture Trip. Maita took her idea to Akihiro Yokoi, a toy designer at another company, and the duo came up with a name and backstory for their toy: Tamagotchis were aliens, and their egg served as protection from the Earth’s atmosphere. They gave prototype Tamagotchis to high school girls in Shibuya, and tweaked and honed the design of the toy based on their feedback.

2. The name Tamagotchi is a blend of two Japanese words.

The name Tamagotchi is a mashup between the Japanese words tamago and tomodachi, or egg and friend, according to Culture Trip. (Other sources have the name meaning "cute little egg" or "loveable egg.")

3. Tamagotchis were released in Japan in 1996.

A picture of a tamagotchi toy.
Tamagotchis came from a faraway planet called "Planet Tamagotchi."
Museum Rotterdam, Wikimedia Commons//CC BY-SA 3.0

Bandai released the Tamagotchi in Japan in November 1996. The tiny plastic keychain egg was equipped with a monochrome LCD screen that contained a “digital pet,” which hatched from an egg and grew quickly from there—one day for a Tamagotchi was equivalent to one year for a human. Their owners used three buttons to feed, discipline, play with, give medicine to, and clean up after their digital pet. It would make its demands known at all hours of the day through bloops and bleeps, and owners would have to feed it or bathe it or entertain it.

Owners that successfully raised their Tamagotchi to adulthood would get one of seven characters, depending on how they'd raised it; owners that were less attentive faced a sadder scenario. “Leave one unattended for a few hours and you'll return to find that it has pooped on the floor or, worse, died,” Wired wrote. The digital pets would eventually die of old age at around the 28-day mark, and owners could start fresh with a new Tamagotchi.

4. Tamagotchis were an immediate hit.

The toys were a huge success—4 million units were reportedly sold in Japan during their first four months on shelves. By 1997, Tamagotchis had made their way to the United States. They sold for $17.99, or around $29 in today's dollars. One (adult) reviewer noted that while he was "drawn in by [the Tamagotchi's] cleverness," after several days with the toy, "the thrill faded quickly. I'm betting the Tamagotchi will be the Pet Rock of the 1990s—overwhelmingly popular for a few months, and then abandoned in the fickle rush to some even cuter toy."

The toy was, in fact, overwhelmingly popular: By June 1997, 10 million of the toys had been shipped around the world. And according to a 2017 NME article, a whopping 82 million Tamagotchi had been sold since their release into the market in 1997.

5. Aki Maita and Akihiro Yokoi won an award for inventing the Tamagotchi.

In 1997, the duo won an Ig Nobel Prize in economics, a satiric prize that’s nonetheless presented by Nobel laureates at Harvard, for "diverting millions of person-hours of work into the husbandry of virtual pets" by creating the Tamagotchi.

6. Tamagotchis weren't popular with teachers.

Some who grew up with Tamagotchi remember sneaking the toys into school in their book bags. The toys were eventually banned in some schools because they were too distracting and, in some cases, upsetting for students. In a 1997 Baltimore Sun article titled “The Tamagotchi Generation,” Andrew Ratner wrote that the principal at his son’s elementary school sent out a memo forbidding the toys “because some pupils got so despondent after their Tamagotchis died that they needed consoling, even care from the school nurse.”

7. One pet cemetery served as a burial ground for expired Tamagotchi.

Terry Squires set aside a small portion of his pet cemetery in southern England for dead Tamagotchi. He told CNN in 1998 that he had performed burials for Tamagotchi owners from Germany, Switzerland, France, the United States, and Canada, all of whom ostensibly shipped their dead by postal mail. CNN noted that "After the Tamagotchis are placed in their coffins, they are buried as mourners look on, their final resting places topped with flowers."

8. There were many copycat Tamagotchi.

The success of the Tamagotchi resulted in both spin-offs and copycat toys, leading PC Mag to dub the late ’90s “The Golden Age of Virtual Pets.” There was the Digimon, a Tamagotchi spin-off by Bandai that featured monsters and was marketed to boys. (There were also Tamagotchi video games.) And in 1997, Tiger Electronics launched Giga Pets, which featured real animals (and, later, dinosaurs and fictional pets from TV shows). According to PC Mag, Giga Pets were very popular in the United States but “never held the same mystique as the original Tamagotchi units.” Toymaker Playmates's Nano Pets were also a huge success, though PC Mag noted they were “some of the least satisfying to take care of."

9. Rare Tamagotchis can be worth a lot of money.

According to Business Insider, most vintage Tamagotchis won't fetch big bucks on the secondary market. (On eBay, most are priced at around $50.) The exception are rare editions like “Yasashii Blue” and “Tamagotchi Ocean,” which go for $300 to $450 on eBay. As Complex notes, "There were over 40 versions (lines) of Tamagotchi released, and each line featured a variety of colors and variations ... yours would have to be one of the rarest models to be worth the effort of resale."

10. A new generation of Tamagotchis were released in 2017 for the toy's 20th anniversary.

The 2017 re-release of the Tamagotchi in its packaging.
Bandai came to the aid of nostalgic '90s kids when it re-released a version of the original Tamagotchis for the toy's 20th anniversary.
Chesnot/Getty Images

In November 2017, Bandai released a 20th anniversary Tamagotchi that, according to a press release [PDF], was "a first-of-its-kind-anywhere exact replica of the original Tamagotchi handheld digital pet launched ... in 1996." However, as The Verge reported, the toys weren't an exact replica: "They're about half the size, the LCD display is square rather than rectangle, and those helpful icons on the top and bottom of the screen seem to be gone now." In 2019, new Tamagotchis were released; they were larger than the originals, featured full-color displays, and retailed for $60.

11. The original Tamagotchi’s sound has been immortalized in a virtual museum.

The Museum of Endangered Sounds is a website that seeks to immortalize the digital sounds that become extinct as we hurtle through the evolution of technology. “The crackle of a dial-up modem. The metallic clack of a 3.5-inch floppy slotting into a Macintosh disk drive. The squeal of the newborn Tamagotchi. They are vintage sounds that no oldies station is ever going to touch,” The Washington Post wrote in a 2012 profile of the museum. So, yes, the sound of that little Tamagotchi is forever preserved, should it someday, very sadly, cease to exist completely.