Trader Joe's Test Kitchen Has Terrible Ambiance On Purpose

Trader Joe's is a beloved American grocery brand with a loyal following for many reasons, such as friendly cashiers, local art found throughout the store, and cheap finds like wines under $10. It's hard to believe that Trader Joe's wasn't originally a grocery store. 60 years ago, founder Joe Coulombe was operating Pronto Markets, a convenience store chain (via CNBC Make It). When that particular venture was failing, Coulombe switched gears and launched Trader Joe's. Today, though the Joe behind Trader Joe's has passed on, the company is still standing strong with more than 530 stores across the United States.

The very first location of the grocery store chain was built in California in 1967 and has since expanded to 42 states, per Reader's Digest. The company buys its merchandise directly from producers and suppliers, leading to consistently low prices for customers, but that's not all it does to ensure that shoppers are happy. Trader Joe's also has a test kitchen for its products, which sometimes go through several trials before being allowed to grace the shelves.

No product left untested at Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's products undergo a rigorous approval process at the company's test kitchen. Before any product reaches the aisles of its grocery stores, the item must receive at least a 70% approval rating from a panel of crew members who represent various demographics (via Winsight Grocery Business). How it works is that panelists participate in a tasting and give thorough feedback based on everything from packaging to price to nutrition. Products may even go through as many as five panels before a decision is made, per EatingWell. But this is not the only interesting thing to note about the Trader Joe's test kitchen.

On episode two of the podcast series "Inside Trader Joe's", hosts Tara Miller and Matt Sloan discuss a rather unique aspect of the company's test kitchen: its ambiance. What's so different about it? The environment is far from comfortable — with harsh fluorescent lighting, glaringly white countertops, and a space that's so sterile and sparse that Sloan compares it to a "cold war interrogation booth." But there is a method behind the madness. Trader Joe's throws potential products into these kinds of surroundings on purpose to ensure that they can stand up to intense scrutiny. If you want the best of the best, they need to be able to hold their own in even the most unflattering environments.