I recently came across these two packages for a new line of chocolate by Trader Joe’s and before I knew it both of them ended up in my basket.

September 1, 2021


Sam Frentzel-Beyme


This is Off The Shelf

The Short of It

  • Visual design is a powerful way to create intrigue and drive impulse.
  • Trader Joe's does double the sales per square foot as Whole Foods.
  • Organizations that do well at telling their brand story usually first have a clear story they want to tell.

I recently came across these two packages for a new line of chocolate by Trader Joe’s and before I knew it both of them ended up in my basket. Yes, I know I’m not supposed to pick up anything in the impulse trap set up right before the cashier, but somehow I just couldn’t help it.

Part of it was how well the packages just leapt of the shelves compared to their European counterparts, which came across as a bit more basic (checkout German Ritter of which I’m also a fan). Another part was how well the packaging fit with the “Trader Joe South Seas” motif that founder Joe Coulombe created while on vacation in the Caribbean back in the late 1960’s. It didn’t feel odd at all to buy chocolate inspired by a location where chocolate probably doesn’t hold up that well.

The interesting thing is that I am probably not alone in my experience of connecting with Trader Joe’s products. As of 2010, Fortune magazine estimated that Trader Joe’s sells $1,750 in merchandise per square foot. Not bad, especially when it’s more than double the sales generated by Whole Foods. I supposed that’s what the Germans saw when Theo Albrecht, part of the family that owns Aldi – the firm that helped show Walmart the door in Germany - decided to buy the company in 1979. In a unique turn of events, Aldi just opened up it's first store in New York before Wal-Mart.

While there are a lot of interesting points that could be covered here, the main one I thought about was differentiation. Often during the course of creating marketing collateral for clients we find that they don’t want to stray too far visually from their competitors.

On one hand, this is understandable since they don’t want to be perceived to be so far outside the wheelhouse that their customers no longer recognize them or think of them in a certain market category. On the other hand, the inability to push outside the boundaries is often caused by a lack of clarity around the essence of the brand – the story.

It’s hard to buy into something outside the box inside when you’re not sure what the box is. And I think this where there is a good lesson. Organizations that want to excel in the “telling” of their story (ie: packaging, advertising, website, collateral, etc.), need to first of all be clear on the “story” they want to tell.

As for me, my story is that I have no idea what happened to the other bar of chocolate.

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