How Openness Is a Hallmark of Trader Joe’s' Business

Company sticks to the personal approach as execs debunk rumors of self-checkout coming to its stores
Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
a woman smiling for the camera
TJ mate
Trader Joe's CEO and vice CEO confirmed that the retailer is eschewing self-checkout and maintaining in-person checkout.

While it may be known for private label products, Trader Joe’s has also built its business on openness. The commitment to honesty and authenticity extends from employee engagement to its executives’ vision to product sourcing and even recalls.

In the latest episode of the monthly "Inside Trader Joe's" podcast, CEO Bryan Palbaum emphasized the importance of openness, in terms of staying present with shoppers and being helpful. “I think one of the most important things to know when you start working at Trader Joe's, be genuine and be yourself. And if you're comfortable with that, then just enjoy the ride,” he said, adding, “And that really is our focus, and I think people feel most comfortable asking questions when they're comfortable in being genuine and being themselves, we're not trying to change anybody.”

The sentiment was echoed by Jon Basalone, president and vice CEO. “The last thing we're going to do is provide scripts for people, 'Here, say these things when customers walk up.' It works so much better when you just get to be yourself. Then you have a mix of 60, 70, 100 crew members all being themselves, and it creates a really great environment,” he said.

[Read more: “Trader Joe’s Eyes End of ’23 for New Florida Location”]

The openness extends to the relationships between the leadership team and store associates, known as “mates,” added Palbaum, who took over as CEO in July. “For me, I want to meet the crew. I want to talk to them. What feedback can they give me so that when we are in the office having to make decisions or make investments on whether it's technology or how product is shipped to stores, what can we do better? That's our job. Our job is to support them. Plus, it's just the most fun I can have in my job is walking into a store, talking to the crew, hearing what they're excited about, hearing what they did last weekend or what have you. It just is so inspiring,” he declared.

The commitment to realness is one reason why this retailer sticks with conventional checkout and operations in lieu of automation and robotics. On that note, Basalone debunked the rumor that self-checkout is coming to Trader Joe’s stores: “That’s as false as false can be because we believe in people and we're not trying to get rid of our crew members for efficiency sake or whatever the, I don't know what the reasons are people put self-checkout in.”

On another note, Trader Joe’s has been upfront about food safety, posting several recall announcements over the past month based on notifications from various suppliers. On Aug. 17, the retailer shared that Trader Joe’s Multigrain Crackers with Sunflower and Flax Seeds with a used-by date of March 1-5, 2024, have been recalled because they may contain metal. No injuries have been reported to date and potentially affected product has been removed from shelves.

The cracker announcement follows other recent recalls, including a July 28 notice for Trader Joe’s Fully Cooked Falafel for possible contamination with rocks, a July 27 alert about possible insects in Trader Joe’s Unexpected Broccoli Cheddar Soup and a July 25 announcement about Trader Joe’s Almond Windmill Cookies and Dark Chocolate Chunk and Almond Cookies that may also contain rocks.

With more than 500 stores in 40-plus states, Trader Joe’s is No. 27 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. PG also named the company as one of its Retailers of the Century.

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