What’s the real deal with the food at T.J. Maxx?

February 16, 2017

Where does all the food at T.J. Maxx come from? ( AP File Photo)

T. J. Maxxs pantry is chaos. Their edibles section commingles garlic-stuffed olives with organic beetroot powder, Himalayan salt with luxury Tunisian olive oil.

The shelves are either lately plundered or over-stuffed. Its the height of disorganization: Next to a jar of bacon-flavored spice and a bottle of Sriracha ketchup is an unappealingly misplaced bottle of Poopcultures Rosewater Spray Toilet Freshener. There is no order, but theres a scheme behind the mess that attains for a successful, sneaky merchandise model.

Lets chalk up the toilet-perfume as a shelving accident, but lets also examine the T. J. Maxx hodge-podge as intentional. The buyers who acquire merchandise for T. J. Maxx call this a treasure hunt merchandising philosophy, tells Victoria Taylor of Victorias Gourmet bacon spice mentioned above. The buyers want the store to run out of items. They order mixed instances from Victorias Gourmet because they dont want too many of the same item. The lower Manhattan store restocks each morning at eight, according to an employee who indicated I arrive earlier if I want to find anything good.

They do this to create a sense of FOMOthats fear of missing out on your one-time opportunity to buy Sriracha ketchupsays Wharton marketing professor David Bell, and to put pressure on customers. He says that discount retailers like Zara, Trader Joes, and Aldi use a similar conception, quoting another acronym: WIGIG for when its gone its gone. This establishes an urgency to buy the item cheaply but also to come back to the store, Bell says.

Contrary to the assumption that T. J. Maxx sells overstock or discards from fancy foods stores, like Williams-Sonoma or Macys, T. J. Maxx often acquires items that are specially created just for them. Andy Oliver, the president of jam and flavoring company Braswells, tells, They want top quality. I dont suppose people realize its not blowout stuff. Youre manufacturing for them.

Every manufacturer I spoke to said that T. J. Maxx orders a high sum from their sources so they can buy at the lowest price. T. J. Maxx, sadly, guards their sourcing like a trade secret and declined to comment for this story.

Taylor tells We package it for them, and then its gone. Oliver get emails from customers who are upset after they cant discovery products at T. J. Maxx the second time. I really dont understand it, he chuckles. I complain to the buyers[ at T. J. Maxx ]. We could be doing three times the business, very easily! They tell, We just dont do it that way. But gosh, theyre growing like crazy. Its part of the plan to create that excitement.

Contrived scarcity is a gambit as old as economic. But, as the host of the behavioral science podcast Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam, tells, Companies have known for a long time, if you offer people with the sense theres an infinite render of whatever theyre buying, for some products that they are able to drive down the demand: Why do I buy this today, I can buy this tomorrow?

But its hard to realistically create a sense of scarcity. There are many, many products for which you cannot do this, he tells. Its got to be the weird stuff. Its got to be organic beetroot powder and specialty olive oils. Especially if the items are sold at a discount( i.e. constructed less special in the luxury goods sense ), they must be even more obscure and rare.

T.J. Maxx isnt the place you go to stock up on standard mustard; thats everywhere. Its where you go to even learn that there is such a thing as Honey Horseradish Dijon Mustard, for those working that need to have it all, mustard-wise. Its the place you go to hunt the most special food item; one that you dont even know exists yet, so you just search through the chaos and hope that it comes to you. It calls to mind a description Joyce Carol Oates attains in Expensive People: Mess are made by people who want, but dont know what they want, let alone how to get it.

At this point, T.J. Maxx is known for this bold COMPARE AT: stickers, which is their self-reported metric for telling you how much youre saving. Taylor tells for the price stickers, TJM provides those and we apply them. Their jars, which hover around 4 ounces, are largely commonly given a sticker that tells $4.99 compare at $8.00 At other stores, Victoria tells, these spices usually run $7.99 and $8.50.

This particular transparency, however estimated, is certainly not welcome to the other stores that keep these products on the market. Dan Gross, with herb-sellers Dangold, tells, Williams-Sonoma, Macys, some lines dont like to see product in other places.

Theres some hesitation on the part of food manufacturers to sell to a store known for discounts, but T.J. Maxx is dependable, both in a high volume and in their payments. Taylor has sold to TJM for 16 years and says theyre the most important point clients. Braswells has been selling jams and preserves with TJM for 10 years. Oliver says theyve, been growing with them and, frankly, they pay their bills, which is something in this business.

He also admires their curatorial pickings, particularly their foreign products. I live in a small town in the coastal plains of Georgia, and even with a nice grocery store, this is where you can find foreign products you cant find somewhere else. Believe: tuna imported from the Bay of Biscay in Spain, extra bold peppercorns from Capetown, Sri Lankan curry.

Vedantam compares the experience to that of an art dealer. Most of the period you would show up at the art dealer and not find what it is that youre go looking for. You have a sense that youre searching. Over period as I build a relationship with this person, I might stumble onto this masterpiece that I have been searching for 25 years. A masterpiece, such as the very last jar of the palest Himalayan pink salt, concealing behind a misplaced potpourri satchel.

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