Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dear T.J....

Our love affair is teetering, the romance has cooled in spite of your seductive charm. Friendly faces. Colorful shirts with their tropical motif, a service philosophy that is generally very good. How many  such boutique groceries exist these days? TJ's is the quintessential urban foodie lure, except.....except...
Maybe it's because I have begun to worry you think more about packaging than content, that the corporate mojo is winning out over customer needs.
I have tried for a long time - ever since anyone stopped wondering about the origins of your name - to embrace the full range of your products, many of which could have no other  home.  I am a faithful responder to the tasty temptations employees dish up for passing shoppers. I appreciate the gesture, but somehow the goods never taste the same when I am trying them out at home. And I wonder: Is it some secret cinnamon scent waffling throughout the interior that goads me to buy? Some subconscious come-on? Or do I just like tiny portions and am too hungry to have any perspective when I sho?
A few big and little quibbles: That the chicken pot pie - ostensibly  a bargain since who could afford to make the dish at that price at home - has little chicken bits, not enough carrots and no taste of home. Offered for three, it is barely enough for two hungry people.  The chicken chunks are not flavorful. What is the problem with not employing more flavor - some herbs, red pepper?
When I asked for bulgur wheat over a long period, I was told it wasn't available. Then one day I found 'instant bulgur - surely an abomination. There is abundant quinoa but none of the old-fashioned tabouli ingredient I so love.
And cinnamon sticks: I was told at one store that it wasn't around until 'the season' = presumably when bakers make cakes. But that is any season, not just Christmas. Should I persevere?
The take-home salads in their square plastic box, so tempting but then so sad to find the promised cabbage in the 'low fat' chicken, etc., salad barely exists and the dressing is sugary. Really, the promise fails the reasonable price. I'm left wanting..
Taste matters. Really. I fear your reluctance to err on the side of boldness. Or on the side of the customer who wants his/her cantaloupe to taste like more than orange gelatin. Are these and many other fruits picked too early to ripen fully - doubtless a  product of the distribution system - and offer up the distinctive aroma and flavor.
And must you package parsley in tiny plastic envelopes that are an affront to the eye? Especially when most of the contents are stems.. Some vegetables have slightly brown edges when I get them home.
PS Note on Friday, Nov. 4/16 today's New York Times business section, front page. How some of those  TJ employes' happy-go-lucky smiles have turned to frowns in at least one Manhattan store. The rules on how hired hands should behave at all times indicates a  bit of a Dickensian  mode.  Enforced cheer and low morale. Complaints about such practices, along with some safety issues, are now being aired publicly by at least one former longtime member of the TJ 'crew' who was fired.  The article cites both sides - of course - but weighs in mainly on gripes from others, some of whom requested anonymity. There now more than 400 stores, mainly on the East and West coasts, since the chain began in 1967  in Pasadena, CA. Let the criticism fly. Helps the consumer in the end.
UPDATE Nov. 22/2017 -
Can a written complaint from a consumer about a certain product to the high and mighty TJ authorities carry any weight? I deplored in public (online to TF) a product labeled Panang vegetable curry with jasmine rice, a colorful little package for one person that can be microwaved in a jiffy. But so few vegetables and so tasteless overall. An insult...
UPDATE Dec. 4. Back comes a 'Hello Ann' email to me from 'Hazel, Trader Joe's Customer Relations' (see most recent post on blog re 'custom service'), in which I am thanked, am guided to the company's 'Product Guarantee' whereby I may return any product, even an empty package, even just a receipt, to any 'neighborhood' store - and get a 'full refund.'  This would help TJ 'complete a Product Incident Report' - and I would thereby be exchanging favors. Lots of 'want to assure you that we truly believe that quality and integrity are both essential to good value, and that's what we are all about!'  The word apology appears in the second sentence thanking me, in the first sentence for my 'valuable feedback.'
How any of this matters is beyond my knowledge.  I can only tell others within vocal range: beware.