A close reading of Trader Joe’s latest “Fearless Flyer”
Sure as the sun rises and sets, Trader Joe’s sends out a new flyer every so often. It’s actually not clear what the print schedule is and it’s definitely not what I would call “regular.” Also there are numbering issues. Only two of the last four FFs we reviewed had Volume and Issue numbers, and both of them were identical (Volume 10 or “X”; Issue 1 or I). So that part seems completely made up, disappointingly enough. (Here I was, picturing a library full of bound volumes at HQ in Monrovia, CA). We had an August/September, an October, a Thanksgiving Edition, and now a Holiday Guide. My best guess is TJ’s fell prey to the same budget cuts as all the other glossy monthlies and is now at 10x/year?
This month’s edition is a 24-pager, full color. The trim size is about 8 1/4 by 10 1/2. There are lots of little illustrations by at least three different artists with no cohesive or discernable overall style, though one little martini glass is doing its best impression of a spot illustration in The New Yorker.
There’s an inexplicable cat cartoon that strikes me as a little hostile? The girl cat clearly does not want the boy cat’s attention and he’s like “yeah, but the holidays!” Typical male behavior.
A major theme when it comes to Trader Joe’s is, ahhh, how shall I put this? Well, you know how most of the items (about eighty percent) are sold under its own generic label, the Trader Joe’s brand? They’re much cheaper, yes, and that’s because they’ve cut out the middleman or whatever, but they also required the brands they DO work with to keep their relationship hush-hush. The company is notoriously secretive and vague. It refers to its employees as “crew members” with shippy titles like “Merchants” and “Mates” (store managers are “Captains”). You, Resident, are the recipient of this publication. The same goes for when they refer publicly to their suppliers. In a writeup for their Peppermint Chocolate Bar (no cutesy name, hmm), they refer to “a boutique chocolate maker in the Mid-Atlantic region.” Jingle Jangle Ice Cream (sweet cream ice cream packed with chocolate pretzels, popcorn, and peanut butter cups) was reportedly suggested by “a Crew Member in one of our stores, in an email whose subject line read, ‘Possible big idea for next holiday.’” It’s not clear whether this story is true, but which is worse: anonymizing a fake employee, or never getting named credit for a seasonal Trader Joe’s product that probably sells decently well? I would be surprised if said Crew Member saw a fair share of the proceeds, or got free ice cream for life.
Let’s move on to the real heart of the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer, its dorky-ass voice. This first example I actually saw in person in my local Trader Joe’s store, because contrary to tonal indications I do actually patronize TJs and enjoy its blandly named products. Right now one of the only things in my refridge is a tube of ready-to-bake jumbo cinnamon rolls with vanilla icing—have you ever had them? They’re outrageously good. I tease because I know and love Trader Joe’s, and for some reason I always expect a little better from its merch copy. So when I see a sign that says It’s Sedimentary, My Dear Cookie advertising a jar full of cookie mix, I want to die. First of all, my number one association with “sediment” is “sand” and number two is dirt. Mmm, love to taste the grit of light brown sugar between my teeth! No thanks. Second of all that’s the actual name of the product.
In an entry for Salty Honey Toffee Milk Chocolate Covered Crackers after a brief and self-referential discussion about an ellipsis in a headline (not gonna go into it), the copywriter considers the “very simple, blank canvas type of cracker.” The very next sentence, I swear to God, reads as follows:
Because of its tabula rasa nature, the cracker base makes perfect sense — you get crunch, but not much additional flavor to interfere with the delightful sweetness of the toppings.
Ex-fucking-scuse me? The cracker is a blank slate? And a flavorless one to boot? This is rude to both ancient Romans as well as crackers. The entry continues:
In an inspired finishing touch, a dusting of ground coffee manages to complement and complete the flavor profile.
Manages! So glad the coffee decided to show up.
Many if not most of the items highlighted in this month’s issue of FF are indulgences of one kind or another. I would say the bulk of it, maybe seventy-five percent, is items containing either chocolate or cheese. Like the Chocolate Cherry Danish, which is—unlike most Trader Joe’s products—extremely huge and pretty expensive? It’s $4.99, which seems low until you realize that’s the price for one single Danish. And also that Danish weighs 18 ounces!!!!! Good luck not feeling horrible after eating one.
There’s a cheese spread (haha, get it, oh no, I’m lapsing into TJ’s style) with what we could generously call an…illustration? Or perhaps it’s an infographic. No, there is no precedent. This thing is a big two-dimensional wedge of pale yellow cheese (possibly domestic Swiss, though the holes are also filled in with color, which is problematic), slapped with a caption of sorts in title case font? I won’t read it all for you but I will say that it involves the concept of “slitting” cheese, which is not something I was raised to do.
Repeating a theme we saw at Thanksgiving, TJ’s encourages you to Take A Dip Into Trader Joe’s Fondue. Once again I must insist that I was not raised to do such monstrous things with food.
Also in the realm of the terrifying and possibly repulsive is their Raspberry Chipotle Sauce. I say “their” because technically the product name is prefaced by Trader Joe’s but the text refers to “our supplier, located in Maine.” Said supplier is “expert” at combining flavors “to winning effect” so I assume that is some sly reference to the fact that the supplier may or may not have also won a local chili competition and may or may not in fact be your retired Uncle Vernon who lives in a cabin in Maine and mixes sauces together in his spare time.
Anyway, that’s all we’ve got time for this week, but we’ll leave you with a final parting logic test. Why would you create a handy dandy holiday shopping list for your readers, completely with check boxes, and include the page on which the reader can find said item? To keep them in a perpetual loop of reading your terrible copy? To keep them engaged with your content? Honestly the way this is formatted, it looks like you want me to buy 20 Poinsettias, 11 Bacon Wrapped Porchetta Roasts, and 18 Gingerbread Dog Treats. It’s all just part of the Trader Joe’s mystique!