Trader Joe’s and the Rise of the Lazy, Stupid Consumer

How stupid, lazy, and wasteful have we become?

There’s a Trader Joe’s store walking distance from my Phoenix office. Sometimes, in the middle of the day, when I need a break, I take Charlie Dog for a walk over there, buy a few things, and come back. Yesterday was one of those days.

I have mixed feelings about Trader Joe’s. I think their merchandise falls into three evenly divided categories: great, meh, and horrible. Every time I try something new that I’ve bought there, I can assign one of those categories to it. And despite what many loyal Trader Joe’s customers apparently think, there’s an awful lot in that last category: products to simply avoid because they suck. Still, people rave about the place. I go there because of the things that are great; the fact that it’s the closest place to get milk, eggs, and butter; and because going there is a good excuse to take a walk in the middle of the day.

Yesterday, however, I saw something there that not only floored me, but it reminded me of how stupid and lazy American shoppers have become.

I’m talking about the Guacamole kit.

Guacamole KitAs shown in this unfortunate photo — unfortunate because I snapped it with a man standing behind it, making the sign look as if it has legs and I really should know better (sheesh) — Trader Joe’s sells a “Guacamole Kit” for $4. It also sells 4 avocados for $3. On the same table.

I looked at the Guacamole Kit. It came in a plastic box — you know, the kind you might buy “box-o-lettuce” or some other kind of fresh produce in. It contained the following items:

  • 2 avocados
  • 1 roma tomato
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 lime

Guacamole Kit, Close Up and PersonalI know this because I took a picture of the box, too. The label not only lists the ingredients, but it provides instructions on how to assemble these things into guacamole.

Wow. It’s such a good thing that Trader Joe’s puts these difficult-to-find-and-grasp ingredients in one handy box. I’m sure there are people all over the world denying themselves the joy of fresh guacamole because they simply lack the skills to gather six ingredients — half of which they might already have in their refrigerator — without getting lost in the produce aisle. And those instructions! The absolute key to success! Who knew that the avocado had to be peeled first? But wait! The recipe calls for salt and there was no salt in the box! Oh, no! What do I do?

Sheesh.

I see this as a way for Trader Joe’s — obviously a smart operation, given the way so many shoppers revere them — to cash in on the laziness and stupidity of its shoppers. People who would rather let Trader Joe’s pack whatever ingredients they need into a plastic box than spend an extra 2 minutes picking out the ingredients, making sure everything was unblemished and ripe. (I don’t know about you, but I like to gently squeeze an avocado to test for ripeness, especially if I plan to eat it within the next 24 hours.) People who can’t be bothered to think for themselves.

Which is possible, given the high percentage of Trader Joe’s shoppers who are on their freaking cells phones while they shop.

Maybe that’s the target market. Cell phone shoppers.

If people actually buy these kits, it’s genius on the part of Trader Joe’s marketing wonks. After all, they’ve put produce with a retail value of about $2.50 (if purchased separately) into a plastic box and can get people to pay 60% more. In other words, people are paying $1.50 extra for the plastic box and a label with a recipe.

And how many of those organic-food-loving Trader Joe’s shoppers do you think will actually recycle that box?

It’s stupid and wasteful.

But it’s an indicator of how lazy the people in this country have become. We don’t want to buy anything unless someone, somewhere has done all or part of the work for us. We eat at fast food joints instead of packing a bag lunch. We buy processed foods so we can microwave a meal instead of assembling and cooking a handful of fresh ingredients. We buy pre-packaged “kits” — often with “flavor packets” — to make the few “fresh” food items we eat.

All along the way, we subject our bodies to excessive use of questionable ingredients that have the potential to damage our health: salt, sweeteners, fat, chemical additives, preservatives.

But hey, it’s quick and easy, right?

And that’s all that seems to matter to us today. Taking the easy way out.

And the Trader Joe’s Guacamole Kit is just another indication of how lazy and stupid the American consumer has become.

6 thoughts on “Trader Joe’s and the Rise of the Lazy, Stupid Consumer

  1. Totally agree with you Maria. I don’t see the great fascination with Trader Joe’s to begin with but I chalk that up to personal opinion. As for laziness I totally agree when I walk into a supermarket I am always floored as to how many items for sale are simple testaments to overall laziness of the purchasing public. Never ceases to amaze me.

  2. I think Trader Joe’s used to be better when it was more “pure.” Now they’re hawking “organics” — and don’t get me started on that — and a lot of processed foods that really have a lot of the same crap in them that everyone else sells.

    Some things I like there: whole roasted unsalted cashews (for my parrot), sugar-free dark chocolate (for when I go on my low-carb binges), and those star cookies they sell at Christmastime. I used to like other things, but now they’re not quite the same. So I limit purchases to things I need and can’t get elsewhere. Or the occasional half-gallon of milk or dozen eggs when we run low.

  3. I don’t see the big deal. If the average shopper walks into Safeway to purchase these items they would use several non-recyclable plastic produce sacks to keep each different item separated for weighing rather than one recyclable plastic clamshell. Also, Trader Joes doesn’t sell jalapeños separately. I know this because I always have a few go bad because I don’t use them all. The kit looks like it includes several items that are not available as singles. Buying them seperately at Trader Joes in their offered quantities would cost more than this kit. And to be honest, I have no clue how to make guacamole. This would be an easy way to add fresh guacamole to my Super Bowl party when I wasn’t planning on making any walking into the store. I don’t see how this is any different than the easy to grab, preassembled “salsa kits” sold at the farmers markets I prefer to shop at.

  4. I think both of you, Maria and Mailie are right.

    So yes, it does pander to laziness to package something that doesn’t need packaging but it’s really about making a perfectly simple dish into something more complicated. Guacamole is basically mashed up avocado which is seasoned with something. I know it’s a pain to have to buy ingredients in greater quantities than can be used but instead of the fresh jalapeno, dried chilli pepper in flakes or powdered works fine. Lemon juice from a bottle also works (although not as good as freshly squeezed) and tomatoes are optional, so are cucumbers, or whatever else you might want to add to mashed up (with a fork in a bowl — no special equipment needed) avocados. The main thing that good guacamole needs is nice, ripe avocados which are probably not what is in the box. To get them to reach the right degree of ripeness, leave in a paper bag (not in the fridge, they are very susceptible to frost damage) with a few bananas to speed up the ripening process. In a day or so, they will be perfectly ripe and soft enough to scoop out the flesh.

    As for packaged foods, I once saw a ready to microwave baked potato with grated cheese in a plastic box (in an upmarket UK supermarket) which I think beats a guacamole kit!

    • In all honesty, you can make a very good guacamole by simply mashing avocado and adding a bit of chopped onion, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. I guess it depends on what you like in your guacamole.

      And yes, I agree! The avocados need to be very ripe, but not starting to get brown and ugly.

  5. I agree that alot of people have gotten lazy, but there’s something else I’d like to touch on. Alot of stores are getting very sneaky! First as you know, they are going against what we were always told. That buying the bigger item is better and will save you money. Well, If you stand there for a minute and do the math, you’ll find that there are at least 30% or more products don’t follow that way of thinking anymore. They know you’re gonna buy the bigger item because you’re programed to think” Hey! I’m saving money” when now in alot of cases, you’re not! The other thing I’ve noticed is there are some Items that are reasonably priced and you can tell that people are buying the Items left and right, but later they discontinue the Item. I think that they do that so you have to buy the more expensive Item.
    When I ask, ” How come you don’t carry that anymore?” the answer I get is, “The supplier can’t keep up with the demand so we have to find another to take it’s place.” OK???? But they never get a replacement. You’re stuck with the next higher priced item. Have you noticed this as well?
    Thanks!! Jody

What do you think?