Trader Joe’s is taking college and university towns by storm, getting the newest generation of shoppers hooked on everything from its Mandarin Orange Chicken to its wide variety of plant-based options to its freezer case full of meals-in-minutes options to its friendly and engaging service.
The grocer’s newest store is well located at 744 S. Meadow St. in Ithaca, N.Y.—just minutes from both Cornell University and Ithaca College.
Trader Joe’s opened a location on the University of Southern California Campus in 2017 and has more recently opened a slew of locations near other colleges and universities. In addition to its Ithaca store, its newly opened Fort Myers, Fla., location is about a mile from Florida Southwestern State College, while its Richmond, Va., and Fort Wayne, Ind., locations, which opened late last year, are also situated close to college campuses, including the University of Richmond and University of St. Francis.
Is targeting education centers part of Trader Joe’s location-scouting strategy? While the Monrovia, Calif.-based retailer did not respond to WGB's request for comment, recent history suggests that Trader Joe’s has its eye on the soon-to-be college-educated set.
“You don’t even have to know how to cook and you can make food that tastes great if you shop at Trader Joe’s,” said a University of Colorado sophomore standing in line outside a Trader Joe’s in Boulder, Colo., just a mile from the UC Boulder campus.
“At Trader Joe’s, we see ourselves as your neighborhood grocery store,” says the grocer’s website. “Step inside and you’ll find unconventional and interesting products in the Trader Joe’s label like Mandarin Orange Chicken and Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate, as well as everyday basics like milk, eggs and fresh produce. … Most importantly, we offer all of our delicious, quality products at the very best prices.”
Affordability, friendly service and Trader Joe’s abundant selection of what it calls “fail-safe” frozen foods help novice cooks make flavorful meals in minutes. It’s a formula that cultivates college students as shoppers who will likely stay loyal for life.
“I love Trader Joe’s,” enthuses Elizabeth Colwell, a sophomore at CU Boulder. “It’s perfect for college students, because it’s affordable but great quality food. The frozen section is also ideal for college students who don’t really know how to cook.”
In Williamsburg, Va., where the local Trader Joe’s is about 1.5 miles from the College of William & Mary, students can’t get enough of the retailer’s trademark store brands and budget-friendly prices.
“I really love having Trader Joe’s as part of my college experience because I didn’t grow up around one and being able to come to the store for the first time, having a lot of recommendations from friends that loved it, made it a very easy transition,” said Kiera Sears, a junior at William & Mary. “Also in college I’ve been experimenting with vegetarianism and veganism, and Trader Joe’s has a lot of really easy options that gave me the pathways to explore that without it being a very challenging thing.”
“I love Trader Joe’s,” exclaimed William & Mary student Lauren White. “I’ve always been skeptical of store brand options, but Trader Joe’s has delicious and unique selections that I love. The staff is also so friendly and cute.”
Her friend, Stephanie Credno is equally enthusiastic: “The avocados are always ripe, they have a ton of delicious vegan options and the prettiest flowers to bring home. And the staff is always willing to answer questions.”
Trader Joe’s recently broadcast its 12th Annual Customer Choice Awards Winners via its podcast, episode 33. The awards featured many return favorites, such as Mandarin Orange Chicken and Unexpected Cheddar, as well as some new products Trader Joe’s shoppers line up to buy.
Each year, the Monrovia, Calif.-based retailer invites customers to pick their top products in a variety of categories, as well as their No. 1 product overall. Shoppers can communicate picks via email or Instagram. For a look at last year’s winners, click here.
For years, customers all-around favorite Trader Joe’s product was the Mandarin Orange Chicken, but last year its throne was usurped by Everything But The Bagel Seasoning. This year, however, the popular frozen chicken entree that Trader Joe’s calls “the sweet and savory sovereign of the freezer case” took back its title.