This Was Trader Joe's First Store Brand Product

It would be pretty disorienting to walk into your local Trader Joe's and find the shelves lined with the same name-brand products you see in other stores. Part of the charm is finding unique grocery items you can't find anywhere else.

Joe Coulumbe (Trader Joe himself) founded the first TJ's in 1967. The original store had a nautical theme, thanks to Coulumbe's fascination at the time: "White Shadows in the Seven Seas." It's a book by Frederick O'Brien about his travels in the South Pacific. Coulumbe was reading it while conceptualizing the idea for the first ever Trader Joe's location, per Forbes.

Inspired by the book, and the exotic theme gaining traction during the '70s, Coulumbe named the store after Trader Vic's, a hip California tiki bar, according to CNN. When the first location opened in Pasadena, the employees (called "crew members") wore Hawaiian shirts, and the store was decorated with fish netting and half a rowboat, per the news outlet. Today, the organic grocery giant's logo still remains a hibiscus flower. Many stores (like this one in Illinois) even hand out leis to customers to commemorate new location openings.

But, believe it or not, TJ's didn't always used to be the place for Artichoke Timbales and Everything But the Bagel Seasoning. The organic grocery figurehead didn't introduce its first store-brand product until four years after the first Trader Joe's location opened.

The product that started it all: granola

In 1972, Trader Joe's released its first ever store brand product: granola. This now-staple hit the market during a time when granola was still considered a "hippie" food, reports Forbes, similar to kombucha or quinoa's reputations. In hindsight, this might have been what Trader Joe himself was going for. In 1981, Joe Coulumbe told the Los Angeles Times that his "ideal customer" was "a person who got a Fulbright scholarship, went to Europe for a couple of years, and developed a taste for something other than Velveeta," Folgers coffee, and normal corner-store beer brands. PerĀ The Daily Meal, grocery bags made out of canvas and brown paper bags featuring handles were also TJ's originals. From its conception, the chain has never shied away from being too eco-forward or unconventional.

But, like with kombucha and reusable grocery bags, folks have come around to granola in a big way. In 2020, over 165 million U.S. consumers reported eating granola and fruit, according to data analytics platform Statista. Today, the store has made a total 180, as far as brand products are concerned. Trader Joe's itself will tell you that its locations offer very few branded products that don't bear the TJ's logo. But, if granola seemed like wild territory, what would shoppers of the '70s have to say about TJ's newer experimental products like Ube Spread or Limoncello Gouda cheese?