Folsom, California, USA - October 19, 2011: Storefront view of a Trader Joe's grocery store with parked cars and shoppers going in and out.  Trader Joe's is a privately held chain of specialty grocery stores .The first Trader Joe's store opened in Pasadena, California in 1967 and today there are over 360 stores in 29 states.
The 'Tasting Panel' All Trader Joe's Products Must Pass Before Hitting Shelves
By Elias Nash
Trader Joe's image hinges on unique store-branded products like cookie butter and pumpkin cream cheese, making them a destination grocery store. Since they offer a narrower selection than other stores, Trader Joe's won't slap its name onto a product until it passes through Trader Joe's secretive tasting panel.
The tasting panel is made up of a cross-section of employees, and little is known about the selection process besides that its members are chosen by higher-ups. Testing is performed in an interrogation-like environment, the idea behind this being that a positive environment could make you overlook a product's flaws.
This panel evaluates every aspect of the food, beyond just how it tastes — their input often focuses on price points, labels, and packaging. Since the grocer wants surefire hits on its shelves, items must receive at least 70% approval from panel members before advancing to the retail stage.
At most grocery stores, manufacturers must pay a “slotting fee” for shelf space, which tends to favor big food and beverage companies. Trader Joe's has no slotting fees and instead uses their tasting panel to make quality-based decisions, which works well considering they only offer about 4,000 products (versus the 50,000 products of other retailers).