Trader Joe's Just Brought Back A Beloved Pre-Pandemic Tradition

Free in-store food samples: love them or hate them, they're coming back. At least at the hundreds of fan-favorite Trader Joe's grocery stores, per the company podcast aired on October 3, 2022. In the pre-pandemic era, picking up your favorite TJs brand products was only part of the shopping experience, enhanced by surprise nibbles of prepared foods, cooking demonstrations, and freshly brewed coffee. Doled out by knowledgeable, storytelling crew members at dedicated sample stations, the sample bites were free and came with recipe ideas or suggested pairings.

Alas, like many of life's small pleasures, in-store food sampling, also known as "demos," fell victim to the COVID pandemic by way of health concerns. Though sorely missed by TJ devotees, shoppers nonetheless appear to have strongly supported Trader Joe's diligence with pandemic-era safety precautions. An Ipsos Group survey in 2020 revealed that 62% of retail customers would avoid outlets that shunned or minimized the importance of health and safety measures such as face coverings, social distance markers, surface sanitizing, and plexiglass barriers, according to TODAY. In the grocery segment, Trader Joe's landed within the top three chains, along with Whole Foods and Costco, that gained solid customer confidence for continued in-store shopping.

Now, the beloved sample stations at Trader Joe's have sprung back to life – albeit with a few changes.

The shared experience

Reopened sample stations once again punctuate the air with buzzing energy, lauded in numerous October social media posts and TikTok videos. Just in time for Trader Joe's annual autumn food releases, the in-store demos have returned with a new focus, according to Tara Miller, who holds the TJs-esque company title of "director of words and phrases and clauses."

In the podcast statement, fellow "marketing guy" Matt Sloan reveals the focus to be new products. Rather than primarily featuring recipes and ideas for ongoing tried-and-true TJ favorites, the "new approach" lets shoppers discover the latest offerings in a hands- and lips-on way. As Sloan explains, it's simply a way to introduce food not already on your shopping list but ones the company wants you to try. With a constant parade of new and seasonal product lines, it's a crucial component for a chain like Trader Joe's.

The samples/demo return isn't exclusively about the actual tasting, notes several Team Captains who weighed in at the 2022 Trader Joe's Captain's Meeting. More importantly, it marks the return of customer and crew conversations, and the sharing of ideas and new foods while smelling and tasting them together. As one Team Captain put it, the demo is a "shared experience with food. And like in our culture, food is everything."

Of note, per CNN, the full version of food demos may not return nationwide, with some locations offering simpler snack samples and treats. Hot coffee may also be eliminated.