One does not simply walk into Trader Joe’s on a Sunday afternoon. At least not without a stiff cup of coffee first. During high-traffic hours, the crowds can overwhelm the senses to a Disney-like degree, with lines so long and serpentine that multiple employees need to stand around holding explanatory signage showing where to jump in. No matter where you are in the store, it can feel like you’re in somebody’s way, and no amount of free Falafel Waffle samples can fix that.
But then, after you brave the grocery gauntlet, the checkout experience is a delightful digestif. The cashiers have clearly been encouraged to chat up guests—about their purchases, perhaps, and which ones might taste best together—melting away any lingering tension. It’s a reminder, on the way out, exactly why shopping at Trader Joe’s is so popular that most weekends tend to have a Black Friday feel. If the brand is guilty of anything, it’s being too inviting, accessible, affordable, and delicious.
Nowhere are these positive qualities more vividly on display than on the Trader Joe’s YouTube channel. It’s an effervescent encapsulation of everything that makes its stores worth visiting—without the experience of actually having to go in person.
Quietly launched this past April, the channel offers a hodgepodge of glossy videos that highlight the products Trader Joe’s sells, savvy ways to prepare them, and miscellaneous culinary quirkiness. A video that reveals the industrial origin of Scandinavian Swimmers, the Trader Joe’s equivalent of Swedish Fish, lives alongside a charcuterie tutorial hosted by a Sesame Street–inspired felt-skinned mascot, The Fearless Flyer.
Although wackiness levels vary from video to video, the run times are all wisely kept brief. The only things that run longer than the time it takes to decide between regular avocados and organic ones are the cooking tutorials. Everything else—including charm-infused shorts like Christmas in Germany, produced by Condé Nast Traveler, which mixes traditional animation with stop-motion footage of Pfeffernüsse cookies and other German delicacies—runs at around the one-minute mark, making for a thoroughly undemanding watch.
The channel also features a podcast, Inside Trader Joe’s (available as an audio-only video). Each episode offers a peek behind the curtain at a different aspect of how the business is run, from the wine and cheese to the plants and flowers to the playfully titled range of international cuisines. (Now you’ll know why some products are labeled “Trader Jose” or “Trader Giuseppe.”) One even takes viewers inside a training session at Trader Joe’s University to reveal why, among other things, those cashiers are so dang friendly. It’s a seamless integration of the overall Trader Joe’s aesthetic, which is underscored by a “We do things a little different around here” vibe that’s laid-back enough to avoid being annoying.
The videos on the YouTube channel operate on exactly the same frequency: They’re charming and low-key, kooky but well-made—and ultimately appetizing.
So far, most of these videos have drummed up audiences not much larger than those that show up to any random store looking for Speculoos cookie butter on a Saturday morning. It’s a shame, because as far as branded content goes, this channel is a soothing oasis that knows its audience better than most. Keeping a company’s online presence true to the essence of its value proposition seems like a no-brainer, but these days it’s not. In a post–Tim & Eric Super Bowl commercial world, irony-poisoned marketing reigns. Contrast the pleasantly narcotizing effect of watching Trader Joe’s Swedish Swimmers splash off the assembly line with, say, Moon Pie’s Twitter account trying to talk Sunny D’s depressed counterpart off the ledge.
An antidote to edginess, the relaxing Trader Joe’s YouTube channel is like if the friendly checkout conversation continued, without overstaying its welcome, and the Fearless Flyer parachuted in—because why not?
[Photos: denizya (whisk and bowl), PicturePartners (Manchego cheese), R_Tee (spoon), Sonia Dubois (waffle maker), karandaev (mixing bowls)/iStock; screenshot courtesy of Trader Joe’s]
This story is part of Fast Company’s special coverage of “The New Business of Food,” in which we explore how changes in culture, technology, and the environment are altering the food industry’s entire metabolism. Click here to read the whole series.