Trader Joe’s Explained Why Items Are So Frequently Discontinued

published Jun 8, 2023
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Credit: Diana Liang

It’s always disappointing to fall in love with something from Trader Joe’s, only to find out it’s been discontinued. If you rejoice on the rare occasion that a fan-favorite item is brought back into the fold, you’re not alone, and execs at the company recently opened up about why it happens so often in the first place.

In a September 2022 episode of the Inside Trader Joe’s podcast, hosts Tara Miller, TJs marketing director, and Matt Sloan, vice president of product marketing, explained what the deal is behind discontinued favorites.

Sloan attributes it to “slow sales,” which means “that there weren’t enough customers interested in buying [a specific product] to have it continue to make sense. Because if you don’t have high volume or growing volume, the costs of producing and handling a slow-selling product are such that it doesn’t make business sense for us. And if you think about how small our stores are, and on a relative basis, they’re smaller than most grocery stores.”

“On a comparative basis, we have a lot fewer products than other grocery stores,” he continued. “We just physically don’t have room to carry things that aren’t popular, as disappointing as that is to hear and experience.”

TJ’s differs from larger grocery chains in one major way: slotting fees. As Miller explained, “A lot of retailers work with the companies that make their products, the Consumer Packaged Goods companies (CPG), to put products on shelves using something called slotting fees. So the CPG companies pay the retailer, the grocery store, for shelf space. So even if a product doesn’t sell very well, and even if you see it in the store and it’s covered with dust, it’s not going anywhere until the CPG company decides it doesn’t make sense to produce that product anymore.”

“At Trader Joe’s, the only way we make money is when the customer buys something at the cash register,” said Miller. “We’re not getting paid by the producer of that product to keep it on the shelves. And our business model says ‘let’s develop something new that might sell better and make more customers happy.’”

It’s not all bad news, though, as Miller pointed out. “The great thing about discontinued products is it almost always means there’s something new coming soon. You can always find new things on our shelves. A lot of our stores have a new product section where they’ll highlight a whole bunch of things that have recently shown up in the stores. It’s kind of fun to try something new.”

“We work hard; the product development team, the tasting panel group, they work on things by tasting them,” said Sloan. “They think these things make sense. They think that they’re delicious. They think they’re worth customers’ time and attention. And if that doesn’t pan out in that way, well, we’ve gotta move on.”

So there you have it, TJ’s fans. Stocking up on your favorites when you get the chance is never a bad idea, because you never know when it might be time for the company to move onto something new.