A Close Reading of Trader Joe's "Fearless Flyer"

Each entry is like an email from your mom.

Anyone who lives in a big metropolitan area in a state that is not Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia, or Wyoming has a Trader Joe’s somewhere within driving distance of them and has probably even been to it. Somehow, Trader Joe’s knows many of their addresses and sends out thousands and thousands of these three-color (blue, red, black) sixteen-page glue-bound pamphlets called “Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer,” a bimonthly text-and-cartoon-only publication.

Vol X, Issue I arrived last week, per TJ’s explicit instructions, “Postmaster: Please deliver Tuesday August 16-Thursday August 18. The front cover (if we can call it that; is the same paper stock as the body pages) claims this is the TENTH Annual end-of-summer edition, which seems unbelievable, but there you have it. I know for a fact that none of you has ever had the pleasure of reading one of these things from cover to cover, and that is what I have just done. Mostly, it reminds me of radio commercials where they talk at great length about how juicy the grapes and steaks are. Herewith, a selection of highlights:

Bollywood Popcorn, $1.99 per 5 oz. bag

Right off the bat we have an unusual construction:

Following on the following for our Popcorn in a Pickle, we figured there was an appetite for popcorn flavors beyond simple cheese and caramel.

If you look carefully you can see they missed two, somehow.

This could have been edited I suppose, but I’m slightly concerned the “following” rep was left on purpose, because ‘it’s punny’ (it’s not). No thank you, by the way, to dill pickle popcorn, but that’s just me. And personally I would have said “or” caramel, lest someone eat cheese AND caramel together, but given the ubiquity of those three-section gift tins, I’m going to wager it has happened before. But thank you for clarifying that there is no chicken in the popcorn (??).

Chicken Spring Rolls

How many times can you boldface the phrase Spring Rolls? The answer, at left, may surprise you.

Organic Blueberries

Trader Joe’s is making a pretty big assumption about my childhood and cultural upbringing by namechecking Violet Beauregarde, but I will allow it, because it’s correct; I just resent being so accurately nailed. TJ’s writes:

While her experience with the excesses of blueberries came from an inappropriate infatuation with chewing gum, Trader Joe’s delivers the big, bold, flavors of these azure orbs in their true form, from our freezers, in the form of Trader Joe’s Organic Blueberries.

I am not sure whether to call this “specious causality” or “a dangling modifier,” or just “two largely unrelated clauses,” but I know for sure the blueberry’s true form is not frozen. Also the form from the freezers in the form of is a lot of forms and froms. Azure orbs. Azure orbs.

It’s a lot to take in.

Fancy Shredded Mexican Cheese Blend

One of the most curious things about the Fearless Flyer is that it’s not as though it’s specifically highlighting seasonal products. Sure, it will give White Peaches (59 cents each) a summertime nod, but it will also feature things like baked beans, chia bars, and yes, shredded cheese. I’m conflicted about the listing for the Mexican Cheese Blend, because on the one hand it begins with a “quote” attributed to “Elizabeth Barrett Joe-ning” (👀), but it ends with an informative asterisk that tells the reader that the term “Fancy” is “a cheese industry term that refers to the thin size of the shred.” O-kaaaaaay but the rest of this entire pamphlet is you being cheeky, right?

Green is the New Black (this is an entry about green tea)

Okay SERIOUS question for tea people: is green tea pan-fried or pan-fired?

Vanilla Meringue Cookies

I love this entry because it lets you in on the behind-the-scenes Trader Joe’s vendor drama. The first hint of this is the subhead, which is just in regular body type: “Alternate headline for this article… They’re Baaaaack!” Why the ellipsis, you might ask? Why not, really.

To paraphrase: TJ’s had been selling the same meringues for like twenty years, until they “mysteriously disappeared.”

Well, it wasn’t actually so mysterious. Our vendor, the folks who’d been making them for us since the beginning, suddely decided to stop making these types of cookies. (If we could reveal their name, you’d really understand the irony of this decision.)


Look, I’m not pointing any of this out because I think it’s embarrassing or bad necessarily, it’s more that I’m impressed that anyone would write two to three paragraphs about forty-eight featured items, ranging from Wasabi Mayonnaise to Unsweetened Almond Beverages to Chicken Breast in Water. And that makes me think, Oh God, someone was compelled to write up a lot of light, breezy, “accessibly voicey” copy about vanilla wafers. And the copy sounds a lot like emails my mom would write—for comparison (subject line: “Really tasty fire roasted tomatoes”):

I found these at Frontera tomatoes at Whole Foods. Browned 1 lb cut up chicken thighs, added chopped onion, the Frontera tomatoes, 1 bunch chopped fresh tuscan kale and some chicken broth. Let simmer 30–40 minutes. You can top with avocado for a nice, filling, home-cooked chipotle chicken dish.

P.S. Trader Joe’s, if you need a freelance copy editor, @ me, and let’s also maybe talk about your bindery.

Hand your mom a package of dark chocolate almonds and give her a keyboard and this is exactly what you’d end up with!! You can find some of this stuff online if you dig around hard enough, but I think it’s best enjoyed in its purest, recycled paper and soy-based ink form. You can also subscribe to an e-newsletter, but you know that’s just going to go directly to your promotions folder, and it’s just not the same tactile experience, you know?

And then suddenly I realize that the people who write the TJ’s brochures are not so different from those of us who slave away in the content mines (please like and share this post!). They gotta make content too! So pick up the flyer next time and give it a nice once-over. Maybe take it with you on the subway, and flaunt it like last week’s New Yorker. Just don’t tell anyone you read the cartoons first.