For 15 years, Sara bought her beloved Blue Cheese Roasted Pecan Dip in bulk. It was creamy, with a “fantastic” nutty flavor, and she always put it on charcuterie boards at parties, telling enthusiastic friends, “It’s from Trader Joe’s!” In college, she hoarded the tubs as fuel to get over a breakup, buying three at once when she and her best friend got dumped in the same week. “We sat in bed and devoured all three dips while watching Top Chef reruns,” she recalls.
For half her life, the dip was there for her. And then, suddenly, it was gone.
In February, for the first time since she started shopping at Trader Joe’s in 2004, the Blue Cheese Roasted Pecan Dip was sold out. Sara immediately got a bad feeling. She rushed to the store by her father’s home in nearby Moraga, California — but there, too, she couldn’t find it. She finally confronted an employee, who confirmed Trader Joe’s had discontinued the product. Sara was heartbroken.
“I know it’s crazy, but that dip and I have a lot of memories together,” she tells MEL. “This is only the second time a product I was obsessed with got discontinued — the other being Madewell’s black stretch pants.”
Part of the Trader Joe’s experience — in addition to the tiki and the overly excited cashiers — is the constant fear that your favorite product could disappear overnight. There are entire Instagram pages and Reddit threads keeping track of when products are scheduled to leave. But even knowing ahead of time doesn’t alleviate the pain of getting ghosted by a grocery store.
“A lot of Trader Joe’s fans are pretty die-hard when it comes to their favorite items,” says Cara, a 23-year-old who lives in Pennsylvania. Still reeling from the loss of her Milk-Chocolate-Covered Potato Chips, Cara is all too familiar with “how disappointing it can be when an item is discontinued or only seasonal.”
How Trader Joe’s Keeps Its Shelves Fresh
There are a few reasons products suddenly disappear from TJ’s shelves. “If a product is not selling well, we replace it with another product we think customers might enjoy,” says Trader Joe’s PR director Kenya Friend-Daniel. “We let customers vote with their dollar.”
In March, however, an anonymous Reddit user who works at a Manhattan Trader Joe’s hosted a Reddit AMA and added more detail about the vanishing products.
Some products are intentionally seasonal and limited-supply items, like the much anticipated Ube Ice Cream made of trendy Purple Yams. Trader Joe’s requests a fixed order from its regional warehouse. When that runs out, the product is gone for the season… and possibly forever.
Trader Joe’s knows exclusive items are part of its identity. It’s why the beloved $3 wines are only $3. The secret employee wrote on Reddit, “We don’t do sales (we can’t, our prices are already too low) and we don’t advertise. So seasonal and special items keep people coming back.”
Unlike most grocery stores that rent shelf space to manufacturers and encourage them to pay “slotting fees” for prime placement, Trader Joe’s purchases its products directly from the supplier. The company has to make a return on investment, so, to be safe, it’ll often buy a limited batch. The last thing it wants is unsold products to expire or go to waste.
Learning to Live Without Chicken Chorizo
Still, knowing how Trader Joe’s runs its business doesn’t make up for the grief of losing the Beet and Roasted Garlic Dip. “When they told me it was discontinued, my heart sank and I was pretty devastated because I had never seen a product like that before,” says Sarah, a vegetarian food blogger from Philadelphia.
For her blog, the Cutting Veg, Sarah Chutz created a dupe dip with sesame tahini, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and, of course, pickled beets. “It was pretty spot-on if I do say so myself,” she says.
Chutz now holds a grudge every time she walks into Trader Joe’s. “What also helps is quietly seething at all of the products that I find subpar but have yet to be discontinued. I’m looking at you, [Traditional Tunisian] Harissa.”
Occasionally, heartbroken customers will write to Trader Joe’s in hope that their favorite product will return. For the past seven years, Alice Johnson, a 46-year-old from White Plains, New York, has contacted Trader Joe’s about its Castillian Chicken Chorizo, a sausage with “nice chunks of meat.” Johnson has never gotten past an automated response that her message was received.
So why keep on reaching out? “It’s that good!” Johnson says. And no, she doesn’t fuck with Trader Joe’s popular and in-stock Mexican-Style Soy Chorizo. Instead, she intends to continue her detective work: “I secretly hope that additional contact from TJ’s will lead to me finding out their manufacturer so that I can find that product again.”
Settling for Less — and Praying for More
How do people cope with getting ghosted at their grocery? Not well, I found out when I asked the TJ’s subreddit for advice.
Some are angry: “I NEED the Italian roast to come back!”
Some have accepted their fate: “Quadruple Almond Cookies… used to buy them a couple of times a month. I moved to the Chocolate Meringues but am not consoled in the least!”
And some just keep on waiting, praying and digging through the freezer in case they missed the last remaining Brownie Crisp Coffee Ice Cream Sandwiches box. After all, a grocery store isn’t just a store. A produce department isn’t just a veggie rack. This is where years and years of memories are made.
After all, it took Sarah Chutz two months to finally ask an employee what happened to her bean dip. “My dad was like, ‘Why didn’t you ask someone at the store if they discontinued it?’ Which is a very obvious thing that a normal person would have done. But I think, internally, I wasn’t ready to hear it.”