How Trader Joe's Knew Its Mandarin Orange Chicken Would Be A Hit

Most grocery stores don't seem to get the same kind of love that Trader Joe's gets. And that's probably because the chain offers unique products that are high-quality, affordable, and taste great. Matt Sloan, TJ's VP of marketing products, insists that all food, drinks, and even dog treats, go through a rigorous tasting panel (the panel brings their dogs for the dog treats), according to CNBC.

While it might sound like the tasting panel is glamorous, it's actually quite the opposite. Fluorescent lights, white counters, and an overall sense of dullness envelop the tasting rooms, which means that any TJ products that enter have to be good in order to make it to store shelves. If the rooms were more inviting, then this might sway the decisions of the panelists. By stripping everything away, the focus can shift solely to the product in question, as Sloan further continues.

One product that seemed to pass with flying colors was TJ's mandarin orange chicken. As Tara Miller, who is TJ's marketing director, explains in a TJ's podcast, this beloved item has taken the top spot for nine consecutive Customer Choice Awards surveys. Here's how the company knew it would be a hit from the start.

It passed the panel with flying colors

Not every product wins the approval of the panel. For instance, the Joe-Joe's cookies flavored with cinnamon toast didn't go over well with panelists because of the huge punch of cinnamon, via CNBC. But there didn't seem to be any criticism toward the mandarin orange chicken.

In a 2018 TJ's podcast, Tara Miller explained that 16 years prior, the mandarin orange chicken won the hearts of every panelist. The flavors seemed to be on point, and it's all thanks to an anonymous chef who pitched his recipe to Trader Joe's. Two years later, in 2004, the frozen bags became available in stores via the official Trader Joe's website. As TJ's explains, the chicken is moist, crispy, and enhanced by the house-made sauce. There's umami and saltiness from soy sauce, brightness from California orange peels, as well as garlic, ginger, and green onions.

A person by the name of Ray on the podcast sums up why the mandarin orange chicken is so popular, implying that its flavors and ease of use make it perfect as a weeknight meal. Perhaps a future TJ's product will dethrone the orange chicken, that is, if it can ace the tasting panel's scores.