The chain — which was introduced to this writer by her grandmother in northern California years ago, after she was offered the brand’s incredible Milk Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies during a visit — has an almost cult-like following, which seems almost weird for a grocery store. You don’t see anyone making a “keto-friendly options at Walmart” fan account.
But some shoppers have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of eyes watching their Instagram accounts for updates and reviews on the latest new pumpkin-themed snack or Cookie Butter Beer at Trader Joe’s.
There are now dozens of accounts dedicated to the aisles of the beloved grocery store. Some cater to specific dietary needs, like @traderjoesglutenfree, while others are recipe-focused, à la @traderjoeskitchen.
I need to go to Trader Joe’s. Idk what for, but I’ll figure it out when I get there.
— Trader Joe's List (@TraderJoesList) October 22, 2020
Trader Joe’s doesn’t participate in traditional advertising and never holds sales. The chain also has product shortages all the time — according to a Washington Post article, while most chain grocery stores hold around 50,000 units of product, Trader Joe’s only has around 4,000 units.
Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell anything outside of its own generic branding — even some of its products are made at the same manufacturers as big-name brands — which adds an element of a local, small-town feel to its stores, even if you’re waiting in line at the always-packed location in New York City’s Union Square.
Natasha Fischer, the woman behind arguably the most popular Trader Joe’s account, @traderjoeslist, said she started posting long before Trader Joe’s started its own Instagram account in 2017. At first, people thought she was the official social media spokesperson for the brand.
“I started the account in 2008 or 2009 when I was working as an accountant and I was just not happy,” Fischer told In The Know. “I lived with some girls in a duplex and we’d all go grocery shopping together, except they would go to, you know, Vons and Albertsons and I would go to Trader Joe’s. But throughout the week, they’d eat all my snacks and I’d be like, ‘Guys, I can’t support all of our snacking!'”
According to Fischer, her friends had no idea what Trader Joe’s was at the time and were intimidated by the store’s lack of familiar, go-to brands. Fischer had another friend who ran a shoe blog, which inspired her to start her own blog — but for Trader Joe’s snacks. She synced the blog with her Twitter and Facebook page, not thinking much of it.
“In my downtime, off and on, I’d write about stuff in a gimmicky way and send it to my roommates,” Fischer explained. “Then in 2008, the world basically fell apart because of the financial crisis and I got laid off and was unemployed for six months.”
Fischer stopped posting updates to her Trader Joe’s blog in the meantime until she logged back into her Twitter account months later and saw she had 6,000 followers.
“Trader Joe’s didn’t have any social media — the founder wanted everything word-of-mouth. People were actually using my handle to talk about Trader Joe’s on Twitter,” she said.
Over a decade later, Fischer still doesn’t have any affiliation with Trader Joe’s. At the time, she never thought for a second she could make money off of grocery store purchases and in 2010, lawyers for Trader Joe’s reached out to her to ask she make it clear the company wasn’t funding her account. Other than that interaction, she rarely hears from the chain, although she’s been told by some people that the company allegedly does check in on her Instagram.
“They’re very, very behind-the-scenes. Like, very cloak-and-dagger almost, they don’t want you to know how to get ahold of them,” she said.
After hitting 400,000 to 5000,000 followers on Instagram, Fischer started getting offers for partnership posts. Because @traderjoeslist wasn’t her full-time job at the time, she got to be more selective about what brands she agreed to work with.
“I started integrating myself more into it and more brands started reaching out,” she explained. “Working with these cool companies was one of my favorite things to do — I wanted to share these awesome products with people and I got to chat with founders who were around my age too.”
When the pandemic hit, Fisher found herself at another crossroads with her career and her Trader Joe’s account. In March, she was laid off from a job she loved: location scouting for a pizza chain.
“It was the right thing to do for me,” she said about losing the job. “I wasn’t putting my heart and soul into what I loved. It pushed me out of the nest and I’ve been doing this on my own since.”
With her brand now at more than 1.4 million followers, Fischer knows how to run what started as a fan account like it’s a proper business. She told In The Know her screen time app estimated she spends an hour and 16 minutes per day on Instagram, but the rest of her day is filled with planning, scriptwriting, research and promotion for her new product, Pat the Spatula — a perfect companion for making Trader Joe’s recipes.
“I know what performs well and what people want to see, and I want to make it as interactive as possible,” Fischer explained. “There’s no real formula to it, but I do instinctually know what will do well with followers. Mint bonbons for example, or anything with truffle oil. Seasonal items always perform really well. My goal is you look at my page before you go [to Trader Joe’s].”
Of course, we couldn’t resist asking Fischer what her favorite Trader Joe’s products are, even though it was like asking a parent to pick their favorite child.
“I’m actually going to Trader Joe’s right after this call,” she said. “I get this question a lot. At this point, I think it’s the Brazilian cheese bread, which you can find in the frozen food section and it’s gluten-free. They are just out of this world. The pre-made gluten-free pumpkin bread is also great.”
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