Trader Joe’s ‘License to Hunt’

SKU-driven strategy leads to new products and satisfied customers
trader joe's
Photograph courtesy of Trader Joe's

The holidays are fast-approaching, but Trader Joe’s sights are set past New Year’s Eve and squarely on early January, when the retailer’s real celebrations begin. “We’re looking at this business on a SKU basis,” Matt Sloan, VP of marketing for the Monrovia, Calif.-based retailer, said in the grocer’s newest podcast.

“Trader Joe’s kicks off the New Year by analyzing every product and asking, ‘How did it do? How much do customers like [it]?’"said Sloan, who added that the retailer played with about 472 seasonal, holiday-related products this year, and of that batch, 400 earned the ability to return.

“Seventy-two out of 472 didn’t make the return cut. So that creates sort of the license to hunt, if you will, for new things to bring to the stores to see what customers would like,” he said.

The Trader Joe’s vetting process is to examine the initial “haul” and make a first cut with a small group, who are looking at the costing and pricing and eliminating duplications of existing products. These efforts are complemented by a Trader Joe’s tasting panel.

Last January, Trader Joe’s tasting panel looked at 95 different products, and about 56 of them made it into the store, said Sloan. A new holiday shopping list was then created, and the folks in charge of product development went back out to find more new products. In mid-March, Trader Joe’s reconvenes for another holiday tasting.

For the 2019 holiday season, Trader Joe’s landed on 84 new products, bringing its total holiday products this year to 484. Candy Cane Joe Joe's Ice Cream, Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti, Blue Cheese Roasted Pecan Dip and Jingle Jangle Ice Cream all made a comeback this year.

New seasonal items included a slew of savory truffle items, such as a truffle butter spread, black truffle and Italian mushroom sauce, a dry truffle powder seasoning, oven-baked cheese bites with black summer truffles and truffle zest.

Trader Joe’s newest podcast further highlights other holiday hit makers such as Cinnamon Bun Spread and hot chocolate with a new “melting snowman” decorated confection that melts in the cup and becomes bobbing marshmallows.

New holiday cheer—for the tree or the stomach—comes in the form of a cookie kit, featuring cookies shaped like Christmas tree ornaments that can be decorated and hung or eaten. Also new for the home: Trader Joe’s Cedar Balsam Pinecone.

On the adult beverage front, Trader Joe’s is offering a Hot Chocolate Hot Cocoa Cream Liqueur as a partner to its Egg Nog Liqueur in its stores that can sell spirits.

As the frozen food aisle continues to deliver on hot items, Trader Joe’s is bringing the heat with holiday treats in the form of Chocolate Lava Gnocchi, Cornbread Bites, Bacon Wrapped Dates and more.

Hundreds of additional seasonal items, including confections and desserts that have made it through the candy cane forest taste test, are now available at Trader Joe’s for holiday 2019.


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