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Trader Joe's produce is about to get cheaper — here's why

Trader Joe's insiders revealed the store's new plans for produce in the future.
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/ Source: TODAY

Trader Joe's fans no longer have to scour the store's aisles to get the latest bite of grocery news. Thanks to the brand's podcast, which is posted on its YouTube channel and on Trader Joe's website, food fans are getting the inside scoop on everything from the store's beloved wine section to its delicious Mandarin Orange Chicken.

In an episode posted Monday, hosts Matt Sloan and Tara Miller interviewed Jack Salamon, category manager for produce at Trader Joe's, about the ins and outs of the store's produce aisle.

Salamon talked about some major innovations coming down the produce pipeline, but he also revealed the store's year-round bestsellers.

Many shoppers love TJ's produce section because it's stocked with plentiful, easy-to-assemble kits for salads and slaws. Plus, who doesn't love a 19-cent banana?

But, it turns out, those aren't even the chain's most popular fresh items. That honor goes to everyone's favorite creamy green fruit: the avocado. The runners up are also fruits, as blueberries and organic strawberries took second and third place, respectively. Salamon disclosed that avocados should really hold the top two spots on the list because they're just that popular.

As for the most highly anticipated produce item come summer time, Salamon told listeners it's figs. He sells them during "peak season," from mid- to late-July, and they're only on shelves for about six weeks, often selling out at many locations.

The biggest change on the horizon? How produce will be presented in stores going forward. Though convenient, Trader Joe's plastic packaging has led to backlash from both consumers and environmentalists in the past. So this year, the store is implementing big changes to how it packages (and displays) a lot of its produce which, Salamon says, will cut costs for customers and cut back on plastic waste.

For years, items like garlic, onions and potatoes came in neat little packages.

But not anymore. According to Salamon, Trader Joe’s is putting fewer items in individual plastic packing materials, especially items that can be stored loose in bins (like garlic, apples and onions) and sold individually.

“The cost of putting those two little heads of garlic in a sleeve added a lot to our costs. But now, you can go to Trader Joe's and get a big clove of garlic for 49 cents," Salamon said.

Comparatively, a plastic package of two organic garlic bulbs from Walmart (online) costs $2.26, $1.13 a head.

For blueberries and other smaller items that can't be stored in larger bins, Salamon said the chain is testing two new eco-friendly package types.

One has a fiber till — a material he compared to cardboard that's biodegradable and compostable — plus a plastic overwrap.

The second package type being tested out is a "thinner plastic" that's easier to recycle than traditional plastic.

These changes are all a part of Trader Joe's initiative to eliminate 1 million pounds of plastic used throughout U.S. stores this year. According to Miller, the chain will surpass that goal and is on its way to eliminating 4 million pounds by the end of 2019. Over 2 million pounds from that total will be coming directly out of the produce section.

Avocado Deviled Eggs

And, of course, it wouldn't be a true Trader Joe's podcast without a new product mention. The grocery store is rolling out a vegan meal kit, called the Southwest Sweet Potato Bowl.

“It’s got some poblano peppers, roasted corn, black beans, pico de gallo," Salamon shared. "If you add a protein, you can really make it a main dish, not a side kit."