The Clever Way Trader Joe's Is Tricking You Into Buying More Frozen Food

by Isami McCowan
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We all love Trader Joe's. Every time I step inside the store to replenish my sea salt brownies, mandarin orange chicken, or cookie butter, I just feel at home. The bright red carts, delicious samples, and beachy atmosphere makes the grocery shopping experience a hundred times better. Your local Trader Joe's even has some features that you probably don't take note of on your weekly food run — and one of them, as NPR notes, is located in the (always crowded because wow the food is delicious) frozen food aisle of Trader Joe's. Instead of using the typical rows and rows of freezer doors that just about every other grocery chain uses, TJ's uses coffin cases to store frozen goods. Yeah, OK, the name sounds a little dark, but the result is anything but.

If you think back to the last time you went shopping at Trader Joe's, chances are you will remember one difference: in the frozen aisles, the food and beverages aren't towering over you and behind frosty freezer doors. Instead, you get to browse the options face-to-face, thanks to the store's eye-level, doorless open-top cases. It makes everything easier — no standing in the icy tundra with your back propping the door open as you decide on an ice cream flavor or waiting for the glass to de-fog so the products actually become visible again. You see what you want and you get it, just like that. Though this may seem like a super subtle difference to most supermarkets, Trader Joe's coffin cases are doing the store and its customers a whole lot of good. The grocery chain's public relations director, Kenya Friend-Daniel, confirmed it to NPR: "Sales of our frozen products are doing great."

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NPR reports that although frozen food market brings in a massive $53 billion a year, it only makes up 6 percent of total grocery store sales. Why? Frozen food sales continue to drop every year as more and more people lean toward buying fresh. Competition with other sections in supermarkets (like the super popular in-store hot bars, which are rising in demand), along with the nature of the standard frozen food aisle, has led to the slight decline of cold-packaged products. Analyst Phil Lempert of food and health site SupermarketGuru told NPR about the deterrents that typical frozen food aisle setups present: "You are physically cold," he said, and commented that the glass door that separates customers from the products "really creates a fence."

Trader Joe's coffin cases completely turn frozen food shopping around: "It's fun to go through that case to see what you're going to find," explained Lempert to NPR. He's right — it makes the experience feel less distant and more like you're browsing at a relaxing farmer's market rather than a frigid grocery store aisle. Frozen food shopping at Trader Joe's is a win-win. You can freely poke around in the open cases without a door getting in the way, and, of course, the variety of delicious meals, snacks, and desserts in the aisle is endless. So, why aren't more grocery stores getting on the coffin case train?

According to the American Frozen Food Institute, it's because freezer cases like the ones in Trader Joe's can get a little bit pricy. It makes sense that Trader Joe's can foot the bill since the coffin cases are loved by customers and are doing so well for business. Hopefully, other supermarket chains will try out the innovation in the future, since the grocery shopping industry is constantly evolving. (Robot shopping carts, anyone?) Frozen food sales might be plummeting at some places — especially during the hot summer months where enjoying fresh eats is ideal — but Trader Joe's seems to be doing just fine.