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Trader Joe’s Just Announced 7 Brand-New Products—And We Can Hardly Wait

Trader Joe’s Just Announced 7 Brand-New Products—And We Can Hardly Wait

The popular food retailer leaked the information on their podcast yesterday.

Inside Trader Joe’s—the podcast from the often-secretive food retailer—just released their April episode yesterday, and it is full of exciting announcements. From trendy beverages to mouthwatering sweet treats, we can’t wait for these seven products to hit the shelves over the next few months.

Full disclosure: Nutrition information isn’t yet available on the Trader Joe’s website, but for the more indulgent options on this list—like ice cream or chips—you should treat them as a “sometimes” food. We believe that there’s a place for treats in a healthy diet, but stick to smaller portions to keep nutrition in check.

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Neapolitan Joe-Joe’s Ice Cream

The first product announced had us drooling. An even more indulgent spin on the popular Neapolitan Joe-Joe’s cookies, this new product consists of vanilla and strawberry ice cream, chocolate fudge pieces, dark chocolate swirls, and crumbled Neapolitan Joe-Joe’s pieces. Stick to a small scoop to keep sugar in check, and be on the lookout for this seasonal item in late spring or early summer.

Mochi Cake Mix

If you haven’t tried Trader Joe’s ice cream-filled mochi yet, you’re seriously missing out! And now, these doughy balls of goodness are making their way into a baked goody. This cake mix is made with the same ingredients of mochi with the rich buttery, vanilla flavor of your favorite yellow cake. And, it’s gluten-free! Again, just make sure to look at portion sizes.

Protein Pancake Mix

We are really excited about this one. This simple pancake mix packs 10g protein per serving, and all you need to do is add water before cooking up on the griddle. Tara Miller, marketing director for Trader Joe’s, said this mix has been a hit with her whole family, and we can’t wait to try it with ours.

Turmeric-Ginger-Coconut Beverage

Think of this as TJ’s spin on the trendy golden milk drink you may be seeing on Instagram. TJ’s VP of Marketing Product Matt Sloan said this drink was inspired by many consumers requesting for more turmeric products. This beverage is made with coconut milk for a creamy dairy-free treat.

Bloody Mary Salsa

No, this is not a new boozy condiment, but rather a spin on a traditional salsa recipe. Celery and Bloody Mary spices give tomatoes a delicious kick. Sloan said although he isn’t a big Bloody Mary drinker, he could eat a whole lot of this salsa.

Looking for more Trader Joe’s news?

Patio Potato Chips

This is not your ordinary bag of potato chips. This is a treasure trove of all of our favorite chip flavors—barbecue, sea salt and vinegar, homestyle ketchup, and delicious dill—all in one package! Make sure you grab these while you can, because Miller noted these chips won’t last on shelves past summertime.

Organic Ethiopian Peaberry Hambela Estate Small Lot Coffee

Miller and Sloan were really jazzed about this new coffee. This particular type of coffee has never been offered outside Ethiopia, and Trader Joe’s is making it not only available but more affordable—as peaberry coffee can often be expensive.


Should America Be Run by … Trader Joe’s? (Ep. 359)

The quirky little grocery chain with California roots and German ownership has a lot to teach all of us about choice architecture, efficiency, frugality, collaboration, and team spirit.

Listen and subscribe to our podcast at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or elsewhere. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

Michael ROBERTO: Let’s play Shark Tank today. You’re the investors.

Shark Tank, if you don’t know, is the TV show where people pitch business ideas to famous investors.

And that is Michael Roberto. He’s a business professor at Bryant University, formerly of the Harvard Business School. There’s one lecture he likes to start by giving his students this fictional Shark Tank pitch.

ROBERTO: “I’d like to open a new kind of grocery store. We’re not going to have any branded items. It’s all going to be private label. We’re going to have no television advertising and no social media whatsoever. We’re never going to have anything on sale. We’re not going to accept coupons. We’ll have no loyalty card. We won’t have a circular that appears in the Sunday newspaper. We’ll have no self-checkout. We won’t have wide aisles or big parking lots. Would you invest in my company?”

And of course you’re supposed to think, “There is no way I’d invest in that company. That sounds like the stupidest company ever.”

ROBERTO: And, of course, you get a lot of consternation.

That’s when Roberto reveals that not only does such a grocery store already exist, but they’re crushing the competition.

ROBERTO: They’re at the top by a wide, wide margin. The sales-per-square-footage estimates are unbelievable. I mean, three and four times better than some of the leading players in the industry.

So it sounds like customers love this place. But you might think a store like this would be brutal to work for. And yet: it’s ranked among the 100 best American companies to work for. So what’s it called?

There is a good chance you’ve never shopped at a Trader Joe’s, maybe never even heard of it. It’s got fewer than 500 stores. The big chains like Kroger and Albertson’s have well over 2,000 Walmart sells groceries in more than 4,000 of its stores. And, as Michael Roberto told us, Trader Joe’s doesn’t advertise — or do a lot of things the typical grocery store does.

ROBERTO: A typical grocery store has a SKU count — SKU stands for stock-keeping units, so it’s the number of different items carried in a store — well, typically a grocery store, or a supermarket, might have 35,000 SKUs, right? A tremendous selection and variety. And you go to Trader Joe’s they only have, say, 3,000 stock-keeping units in the typical Trader Joe’s.

The grocery business is famous for low profit margins, lots of competition — and, lately, an even bigger problem: for the first time in history, American consumers are spending more money in restaurants and bars than in grocery stores. Trader Joe’s seems to be bucking this downward trend. It doesn’t just have customers it has fans:

Kirk DesERMIA: The first thing I do when I know I’m going somewhere is get on the internet and find where the closest Trader Joe’s is.

It’s never been easy to run a grocery chain. But Trader Joe’s makes it look easy — and, weirdly, fun.

IYENGAR: I don’t walk into Trader Joe’s with a strong to-do list. It’s not a chore. When I walk into Trader Joe’s, it’s a variety-seeking exercise.

So how do they do it? That’s the question we’ll try to answer today — a question made more difficult by the fact that Trader Joe’s is a fairly secretive company.

ROBERTO: I think that some of the secrecy is probably due to who owns them.

So we put on our Freakonomics goggles in an attempt to reverse-engineer the secrets of Trader Joe’s. Which, it turns out, are incredibly Freakonomical: things like choice architecture and decision theory. Things like nudging and an embrace of experimentation. In fact, if Freakonomics were a grocery store, it might be a Trader Joe’s, or at least try to be. It’s like a real-life case study of behavioral economics at work. So, here’s the big question: if Trader Joe’s is really so good, should their philosophy be applied elsewhere? Should Trader Joe’s — I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but … should Trader Joe’s be running America?

I first got interested in Trader Joe’s about 10 years ago. I’d never been to one of their stores, but I had a general impression: cheap and cheerful relatively laid-back and sort-of groovy, for a grocery store, apparently a reflection of its surfy California roots also: not aggressively health-conscious, but leaning in that direction.

And then I read a Wall Street Journal article about a German grocery chain called Aldi that was ramping up its U.S. expansion. Aldi is a super-cheap, super generic grocery store: 95 percent of its products were house brands, and it was beating even Walmart on price. The article said the Aldi chain had two branches back in Germany, separately owned by two wealthy brothers named Albrecht. And that one of those branches also owned Trader Joe’s. I found this fact surprising, only because when I think of German business practices, I don’t think of a groovy, earthy-crunchy, California surfy vibe. But there it was. I also learned that Trader Joe’s stores were much smaller than typical supermarkets, that they had their own way of doing things, and that places without Trader Joe’s often started petitions to bring one to their town. It was the sort of loony devotion usually reserved for sports teams or your favorite band. What kind of grocery store has a following like that?

And then when I learned that Trader Joe’s outsells all other grocery stores per square foot, I really started paying attention. Then: one opened up near my office, here in New York. I started shopping there — and, for the most part, loving it. I realize it’s not for everyone in fact, part of their strategy is trying not to be for everyone. But I did want to know the secrets to their success. We reached out to the Trader Joe’s headquarters, in Monrovia, Calif., and were politely told to get lost. As we mentioned earlier, the company is known for its secrecy.

ROBERTO: The two brothers who founded Aldi North and Aldi South in Germany have a record of that.

ROBERTO: That was kind of the family heritage, of really being pretty secretive about their business operations. You couldn’t even find photos of them on the Internet for years. They were very secretive.

It’s a strange combination: a firm that prides itself on user-friendliness while also keeping its distance. Which means that a lot of what’s known about it comes from industry analysts and other secondary sources. But let’s start here: in the very beginning, there really was a Joe behind Trader Joe’s — Joe Coulombe. He opened the first store in 1967, in Pasadena, Calif. He went with a South Seas theme: beachy tchotchkes, Hawaiian shirts, calling employees “captains” and “crew members.”

In 1979, Coulombe sold the chain to one of the secretive Albrecht brothers, Theo. Theo Albrecht was a recluse — perhaps, it was said, because he’d once been kidnapped and held for ransom, for 17 days in Germany. Albrecht died in 2010, but Trader Joe’s remains notoriously press-shy. It’s also a privately held company, so: no earnings calls with investment analysts no public proclamations of any sort, really, about how it does business. And so: to figure out how it works, we’ll rely on a few people who’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Trader Joe’s. Including: the business-school professor Michael Roberto, whom you’ve already met:

Also, the Columbia Business School professor Sheena Iyengar, whose research specialty is particularly relevant here:

IYENGAR: So I’ve been studying choice — why do we want choice, what are the things that affect how and what we choose, and what are some things we can do to improve our choice-making abilities.

We’ll also talk to a Trader Joe’s super-fan:

Seward, by the way, doesn’t have a Trader Joe’s. Nor does the state of Alaska. The closest store from DesErmia’s house is 2,295 miles away by car, in Bellingham, Wash. DesErmia is the guy who we earlier heard say this:

DesERMIA: The first thing I do when I know I’m going somewhere is get on the internet and find where the closest Trader Joe’s is.

And we’ll hear from a spy in the house of Trader Joe’s, a former advertising executive named Mark Gardiner who became obsessed with the chain.

Mark GARDINER: And I just had this thought, “What if I just went and worked there? What would I learn about this company?”

What Gardiner learned about the company is that just about everything Trader Joe’s does, outside of exchanging food for money, is unorthodox for a modern grocery store. There’s a lot to talk about: the products, of course the economics of their business model their very home-made, do-it-yourself esthetic, including the hand-painted murals that reflect the neighborhood of every store. But let’s start with one of the first things I noticed when I started shopping there: the employees. Yes, they are friendly, and helpful, and enthusiastic.

ROBERTO: At Trader Joe’s, what they want is employees in the aisles who have sampled the product, who know the product. Who can say, “Have you tried this wine or that cheese?”

But what really caught my eye was the sheer number of employees. There are so many of them! If you go in during a slow time, you can easily be outnumbered by employees, in their TJ’s t-shirts and Hawaiian prints. One reason is that rather than stocking shelves overnight, like most grocery stores, Trader Joe’s stocks them during business hours. Why? As Mark Gardiner learned when he went to work there, the priority is to maximize customer interaction.

GARDINER: So, they would tell us, “You’re going to be looking for customers who seem like they can’t find something that they want or just seem curious about something. You are going to initiate conversations with these people, and we want you to be friendly, we want you to be chatty, we want you to be empathetic. And more than anything else, we want you to do what it takes to make customers feel appreciated and wanted.”

So that explains why there are so many employees in the aisles. But there are also a ton of employees staffing the checkout. On one level, this makes sense: it makes the long checkout line move fast, and the checkout, after all, is where a store takes the customers’ money. Lesson number one in sales: don’t make it hard for people to give you their money!

But Trader Joe’s also has employees directing traffic at the checkout line: one telling you which register to go to, one pulling you out of the big queue and into the final queue and one or two holding up handmade signs marking the middle of the queue and the beginning. That’s three or four employees to do the job that most stores use zero employees to do, or maybe they use some software.

But Trader Joe’s seems to be aggressively low-tech. No self-checkout aisles. No online ordering and pickup. No customer-loyalty programs — and, apparently, Trader Joe’s gathers no significant data on customers at all. In the modern business world, this is heresy. If you shop at Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, you can be sure the company has an algorithmic target on your back. Trader Joe’s, meanwhile?

GARDINER: It really didn’t matter if it was a little old lady that was looking for one $5 bottle of wine, and if the wine shipment had just come in the back, I would go and look through 100 different cases and see if I could find the one that she wanted, and get her that one bottle of wine. If I spent 15 minutes doing that, and that made that customer really happy, then the managers were happy, and the store was happy.

So this is a riddle. Here’s a company that doesn’t harness big data and doesn’t generally seem to embrace a lot of technology. It employs a lot of real, live people — and pays them above the industry standard: as of 2013, full-time Trader Joe’s “crew members” made about $50,000 a year while “captains” made more than $100,000, also with better-than-average benefits.

But this is also a company that sells its products at very low prices. According to one of those investigations comparing a basket of items at a bunch of different grocery stores — this one was done in 2016 by the MarketWatch website in the San Francisco Bay Area — Trader Joe’s was easily the cheapest compared to Safeway, Target, and Whole Foods. It was 32 percent cheaper than Whole Foods.

So how on earth can Trader Joe’s, as Michael Roberto told us, take in the most revenue per square foot in the industry?

ROBERTO: They’re at the top by a wide, wide margin.

A 2012 analysis estimated that Trader Joe’s sells just over $2,000 of groceries per square foot. Whole Foods? About $1,200. Walmart? $600. How is this happening? We should probably start with the products that Trader Joe’s sells. Here, let me read off some of what they says are their most popular items. Spatchcocked lemon-rosemary chicken and carne asada autentica. Kohlrabi salad blend and cold-pressed matcha green tea lemonade. Sea-salt-and-turbinado sugar-chocolate almonds and gochujang almonds peanut butter-filled pretzels and five-seed almond bars. From the freezer section: chicken tikka masala and gluten-free cheese pizza with a cauliflower crust.

These are the sort of foods that light up Instagram accounts and Facebook pages that inspire fanatical devotion even among people who don’t have a Trader Joe’s within 2,300 miles — like Kirk DesErmia, who works as a facilities manager for the National Park Service in Alaska.

DesERMIA: Whenever I leave the state, I usually buy a couple of hundred dollars worth of goods, and I have an extra suitcase or a duffel bag with me in my luggage.

DesErmia and his duffel bag have been all over.

DesERMIA: I’ve been, I know, to some in Portland, Oregon Reno, Nevada. all over Southern California, there’s a number of them. My wife is from Kentucky, they have one in Louisville now, as well as Indianapolis. I go to D.C. about once a year for work, and love to go to the Trader Joe’s in Georgetown.

What is it about Trader Joe’s foods that creates such a lust? Let’s put aside for a moment the question of how good their food is, especially since taste is subjective, at least to some degree. But there are a few things to say about how Trader Joe’s is at least different from a typical grocery store. First, there is a sense of globe-trotting adventure — the tikka masala, the carne asada, the gochujang almonds. That’s why Sheena Iyengar thinks of shopping there as a variety-seeking exercise.

IYENGAR: “Oh, let’s see what kind of candy bars they have. They usually have cool candy bars. Let’s see what kind of deals they might have on wines or cheeses, or their prepared-foods section is kind of cool. What might they have that could add some more variety to the house?”

They also offer a rather unsubtle blend of healthy, or at least healthy-seeming, and hedonistic. Yes, you can buy kohlrabi salad and cauliflower-crust pizza. But you’ve also got your peanut-butter-filled pretzels and sea-salt-and-turbinado-sugar chocolate almonds. Speaking of which: turbinado sugar — also known as natural brown sugar. But still: sugar. Why add the “turbinado”? I have a few guesses. One: to say you’re just adding “sugar” to your already chocolate-covered almonds doesn’t sound very healthy. But “turbinado sugar”? Hmm … intriguing! Possibly even … sophisticated! Additionally: Trader Joe’s seems to understand what everyone in sales understands, especially real-estate agents: adjectives are inexpensive and often useful, especially when the actual virtues are limited. A “charming” house is often, in fact, a small house.

Trader Joe’s reportedly puts a great deal of effort into scouting, sourcing, and producing food that their customers truly love but they also pay a lot of attention to package design and descriptive salesmanship. Their marketing director is called “Director of Words & Phrases & Clauses.” They publish an old-fashioned newsprint bulletin, The Fearless Flyer, with in-depth descriptions of new products. When you walk into a Trader Joe’s, there’s a playful vibe, as if to say, “Hey, you’re just buying food food is delicious, so enjoy yourself.” There’s also an artsy vibe, a writerly vibe — more so, oddly enough, than in a typical bookstore.

These details, as casual as they might seem, would also appear to be strategic. In a 2011 interview with the L.A. Times, Joe Coulombe said when he started Trader Joe’s in the 1960’s, he was inspired by an article he read in Scientific American about the huge spike in Americans attending college. “I felt this newly educated … class of people would want something different,” he recalled, “and that was the genesis of Trader Joe’s.” Why’d he choose Pasadena as the first store location? “Because,” he said, “Pasadena is the epitome of a well-educated town. …Trader Joe’s is for overeducated and underpaid people, for all the classical musicians, museum curators” and, um, “journalists,” he said. This suggests that from the very beginning, Trader Joe’s understood cream-skimming — targeting a certain kind of customer and letting the rest slide by.

As for the “underpaid” part of Coulombe’s equation? That would appear to be outdated: an analysis by the research firm AggData found that Trader Joe’s stores today are located in counties with higher household median income than any other grocery chain, including Whole Foods, and about $10,000 higher than the U.S. median income. But — and this seems to be another key component of Trader Joe’s success — they also value frugality. As Michael Roberto found, they usually set up shop in the cheaper parts of the expensive areas.

ROBERTO: Frankly in many cases, they’re in sort of old strip malls, so they’ve saved money on the real estate.

The real-estate firm Zillow found that homes near Trader Joe’s stores “appreciate more quickly than homes in the city as a whole,” concluding that either Trader Joe’s is really good at picking areas that are on the rise or that they are in part causing the rise. So how about a new store in Seward, Alaska? That is Kirk DesErmia’s dream.

DesERMIA: I thought, “Man, these guys, maybe they just don’t know what they’re missing yet. And if I can create this Facebook page and I can get people around the state to start liking it and sending Trader Joe’s an email to say, “Hey, we would really love to see your store here,” then maybe Trader Joe’s will actually listen to us.

So after one of his out-of-town Trader Joe’s shopping binges …

DesERMIA: When I come home with a suitcase full, I like to throw it on the kitchen table and take a picture of it and put it out there, hopefully to motivate people to send that email to Trader Joe’s and let them know we’re out here.

His Facebook page got some traction: about 1,200 likes.

DesERMIA: I would say most of my friends in Seward are aware that this is something that I would like to see happen.

And, lest you think DesErmia is one of those guys who makes a Facebook page for everything:

DesERMIA: No. Some of my friends might say I’m fairly politically active, but I honestly I can’t think of any other store that I might think to start a page to bring up here.

Seward, Alaska, does have a relatively high median household income. But the population is a problem: fewer than 3,000 people. DesErmia concedes that Anchorage, a few hours away, would be a more sensible site for the first Trader Joe’s in Alaska. And he’d happily make the drive. He just really wants a Trader Joe’s.

DesERMIA: Every time I go to a Trader Joe’s in the lower 48, they always look sideways at me when I’m getting two to three hundred dollars’ worth of goods. But I tell them, “It’s because we live in Alaska and we can’t get you guys to come up here.” Since I started this page in 2012, and they’ve never responded to a single email, it seems a little unlikely. But hopefully, they’re going to listen to this interview and then my percentage will go up.

Of all the mysteries concerning the success of Trader Joe’s, here’s what strikes me as the most interesting one. Their stores, as we’ve learned, are generally quite small, roughly a third the size of a typical supermarket. Michael Roberto again:

ROBERTO: We’re all acclimated to every other supermarket looks the same. It has 35,000 items. It has 7 million varieties of toothpaste and tomato sauce. Every other player has all those things.

ROBERTO: They only have, say, 3,000 stock-keeping units in the typical Trader Joe’s. Or 4,000 at most in one of their larger stores.

Moreover, as we’ve learned, Trader Joe’s prices are relatively low. And yet: they also take in much higher revenues than stores that have more variety and more expensive items. So … how? Remember: Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell a lot of brand-name groceries. Roughly 80 percent of their products are private-label items, also known as store brands.

ROBERTO: What that means is Trader Joe’s has mitigated the power that suppliers might have over them. So while they’re not nearly as big as Kroger’s they can get great purchasing power because they’re condensing all they’re buying in tomato sauce to one vendor for a very limited number of items.

And when you’re selling something that you also manufacture, or at least source directly, you obviously stand to make more money than if you’re buying from a middleman. That said, even store-branded products need to taste good. Judging from the chain’s success, they do. In fact, some Trader Joe’s-branded items may taste identical to brand-name foods. Why?

Because, it appears, they are identical. An investigation by the food website Eater, using Freedom of Information Act requests, found that many Trader Joe’s items are, in fact, manufactured by the same companies that make the brand-name versions of products you can buy in many other grocery stores, usually for significantly more money. For instance: those Trader Joe’s Pita Chips with Sea Salt? They appear to be exactly the same as Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita Chips. Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies, according to the investigation, are, quote “nearly identical in taste, packaging, and ingredients to Tate’s Bake Shop cookies.”

There’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s hardly unusual for brand-name manufacturers to run a side business selling to private labels. But most places that sell a lot of house brands are seen as down-market discounters, not up-market superstars, like Trader Joe’s. So why are they different? Some of the credit must go to the clever packaging and the artful product descriptions. But to get to the real secret of Trader Joe’s, what I think might be the single-biggest reason for its success, you have to go back to Sheena Iyengar.

IYENGAR: I have been at the Columbia Business School since 1998 and I started to study choice way back in 1990.

Iyengar’s Ph.D. is in social psychology as an undergrad, she double-majored in psychology and economics. She was born in Toronto to parents who’d immigrated from India. Her background, she believes, gave her a different perspective on decision-making when she started working in the field.

IYENGAR: And I got very interested in the kinds of questions that we wouldn’t have ordinarily asked “Well, do all cultures see choice in the same way?” We had assumed that it was innate we had assumed that everybody saw it the same way, that it was somehow universal. And I think because I was an Asian-American, I didn’t see it as that obvious.

She wanted to explore this question with kids from different backgrounds. Her theory was that Asian-American kids and white American kids might think differently about choice. Before comparing the two groups, she wanted to establish a baseline, to confirm that for the white kids, choice indeed had a positive effect. This baseline experiment turned out to be pretty interesting on its own. Here’s how it worked: she brought a bunch of 3-year-olds, one by one, into a room full of toys. Half of them were allowed to choose any toy, and they could switch as they pleased. The other half would be given just one toy with no option to switch.

IYENGAR: I started by looking at white American kids because I had to first show that I’m capable of actually replicating what prior scientists would say.

What prior scientists would say — and had been saying for decades — is that choice is motivating. That having choice, or even the illusion of choice, is associated with increased satisfaction and feeling more control over your life. Therefore: the kids who could choose their toy should be happier for having the options and more likely to play longer. These ideas about choice were prominent not just in psychology they were baked into the foundation of economic thinking at the time — that more choice is almost always better than less choice. But when Iyengar started her study and brought in the kids who could choose from an entire roomful of toys…

IYENGAR: The white kids would come in and they would look at all these toys and stare outside the window. And then when I would just give them Legos, they were really happy and they were playing and I was like, “Wait, this goes totally against what I’m supposed to find, there’s something wrong here.”

So Iyengar went back and examined some of those earlier studies about choice and decision-making. She realized that when those researchers described giving people “lots of choice,” in reality that meant something like two-to-six options. Not a roomful, like she had tried. So Iyengar ran a different study — this time limiting the number of choices, and now she confirmed what her predecessors had found. But she kept thinking about what happened in that first study, with the roomful of toys.

IYENGAR: Why were they staring out the window? I don’t get it. I gave them really, really cool toys. I gave them all the most modern toys. At the same time, I was going to this upscale grocery store.

The store is called Draeger’s Market it’s a northern California institution. Iyengar was at Stanford at the time.

IYENGAR: So they had like 250 different kinds of mustards and vinegars and mayonnaises, and 500 different kinds of fruits and vegetables, and 100 different kinds of olive oils and, oh my god, it was amazing. And I would go to all these little tasting sessions and try out like 10 different kinds of vinegar. And I also then thought to myself, Well, how come you never buy any of those things you taste? And I then went to the store manager and I asked him whether his model of offering people all this choice was working. Now, he said it did — and he pointed to the traffic, and this store did have a lot of traffic. But it was still an empirical question. Was it helping or was it not?

So Iyengar designed an experiment, at Draeger’s, to answer the question. She set up a tasting booth for jams. And she alternated the choice set: sometimes the booth would feature six different jams and sometimes 24.

IYENGAR: And we looked at two things. First we looked at in which case did more people stop to sample some jam. And we found that more people stopped when there were 24 on display. So 60 percent stopped when there were 24 on display versus when there were six on display, only 40 percent of the people stopped. And then when people stopped, we gave everybody a coupon giving them $1 off if they bought a jar of jam. And on the back of the coupon was a code that told us if they saw six versus 24. Now what we found was that of the people who stopped when there were 24 on display — only 3 percent of those coupons were redeemed. Whereas of the people who stopped when there were six on display — 30 percent of the coupons were redeemed.

Interesting: a larger choice set generates more interest the smaller choice set generates more action. Sheena Iyengar’s jam study — very simple, but very powerful — would go on to become one of the most famous studies in decision science, because it illustrates what a lot of us feel when we enter, for instance, a gigantic supermarket.

IYENGAR: What the finding illustrated was that we want more choice presumably because of all the opportunities it provides us. But when it comes down to making a choice, we don’t want that choice to be too hard or too conflict-ridden or too burdensome.

Iyengar followed up her jam study with a look at employee participation in retirement-savings plans.

IYENGAR: And essentially what we found was that the plans that offered their employees more options, you saw real decrease in participation rates. So, if you had a plan that offered people less than five options, the likelihood to participate was roughly around 75 percent. And by the time you got to plans that offered people around 60 options, now participation rates had dropped below 60 percent.

This phenomenon has come to be called “the paradox of choice.” But Iyengar doesn’t think that’s quite right. It’s not that more choice is always worse and that less is always better. She argues that choice is both a limiting and a powerful tool. Every context is different. You can imagine that a huge choice set is particularly welcome in the digital realm, where you can search for exactly what you want with a few keystrokes — assuming, that is what you want. But in the analog world — in the world of a grocery store, for instance — the size of a choice set matters. Not just because of the cost of real estate and transportation and storage and labor to stock the shelves. But because of how we, people, make decisions. Envision a shelf in a typical supermarket:

ROBERTO: It has seven million varieties of toothpaste and tomato sauce.

IYENGAR: It doesn’t overwhelm me. It usually gives me just a few choices per domain.

And having just a few choices per domain is more likely to lead to action. Imagine yourself standing in an aisle in Trader Joe’s when you come across their five-seed almond bars. And your lizard brain says: “Well, there are no four-seed almond bars, or six-seed almond bars — and I don’t even know why I need seeds in my almond bars — but sure, I think I’ll get some of those.” Trader Joe’s understands less-is-more. It understands — to use a word of the moment — curation.

IYENGAR: They don’t overwhelm you with choice, which is why you’re more willing to examine each novel choice.

There is a story, probably not true, about Michelangelo. Someone supposedly asked him how difficult it had been to sculpt his famous David. And he said, “It’s easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.” I’m not saying Trader Joe’s is quite on Michelangelo’s level, but you get the idea: there is great value in clearing away the clutter. Which is one reason Sheena Iyengar personally loves shopping at Trader Joe’s.

IYENGAR: It doesn’t give me the boring stuff, it keeps me excited because I want to see, what do they have? And what do they have that might get me thinking about something I don’t ordinarily think about? So they also maintain the mystery of novelty for me.

Novelty is also a powerful tool in sales, and this too Trader Joe’s understands. It is famous for constantly introducing new products — experimenting with them, really. Which means old products have to go. Maybe they’ll come back, maybe they won’t. This strategy would appear to be risky.

ROBERTO: Normally, in a typical grocery store, if the item that you typically bought isn’t there, you’re really pissed, right? You’re mad. At Trader Joe’s, customers have come to understand that that’s part of the trade-off. You might see your peach mango salsa disappear, but there’ll be something new to try that you can offer at your next cocktail party and wow people with.

Iyengar notes this strategy also gives every trip to Trader Joe’s a sense of a treasure hunt. But that our appetite for novelty is domain-specific.

IYENGAR: I deliberately go into that venue—

“That venue” being Trader Joe’s …

IYENGAR: —because I want to learn about some choices. I’m trying to update my brain on choices. But when I go into my coffee shop in the morning I do not engage in any act of updating. I don’t want to know. I walk into my coffee shop every morning. I don’t even say anything. They just bring me out exactly what they bring me every other day. And it’s made exactly the same and I have no interest in engaging in any kind of variety-seeking.

GARDINER: I discovered Trader Joe’s totally by accident.

Mark Gardiner again, the former advertising executive who wound up working at Trader Joe’s. He was living in California at the time.

GARDINER: I thought it was a local store, it had a kind of a surf theme and I didn’t know any better, because they don’t do any advertising. I only was exposed to it because it happened to be in my neighborhood.

Then Gardiner moved to Kansas City.

GARDINER: Yes, and that’s when I really learned about Trader Joe’s as a company, because there was no Trader Joe’s. But there were these rumors that we’re going to get a Trader Joe’s. And there was so much excitement. There’s a Facebook page called “Bring Trader Joe’s to Kansas City” that has 5,000 friends.

As a former advertising guy, Gardiner was impressed.

GARDINER: I think the number-one thing that struck me about Trader Joe’s is that they almost don’t advertise at all. They don’t market. They have a pretty good website now. But for years they had a rudimentary website. They had almost no social media presence. They had almost no kind of public relations. So they didn’t do a whole bunch of the things that I had spent my entire working life thinking, “Well these are things that you do when you build a brand.” So that was really striking to me. And I just had this thought, What if I went and worked there? What would I learn about this company?

Gardiner learned enough about the company by working there that he wrote a book about it, called Build a Brand Like Trader Joe’s. How did Trader Joe’s respond?

GARDINER: Well, as you know, they’re a very, very secretive company. So they responded exactly the way I expected, which was with utter silence.

What initially impressed Gardiner was how Trader Joe’s had grown so much without spending all the money that most firms spend on marketing, advertising, and so on. But what impressed him once he got inside — working as a crew member for $12 an hour — was the company’s culture. Well before the new Kansas City store had opened, on the first or second day of training, a Trader Joe’s executive came in to meet with the roughly 50 new hires, including Gardiner. The proceedings began with that standard, horrifying request to say your name and tell a story about yourself.

GARDINER: And I am not kidding you, 50 hands went up. All these people were like, “Pick me. I want to be the first, I want to start. I want to tell you my story.” And I looked around at that group of hands going up, and mine was up too, because I love talking about myself. But most people don’t, at least not to a group of strangers. And I thought, Wow, this is not an ordinary group of people. And what I realized pretty quickly is, Oh my God, this is what they hire for — they hire for this kind of extroverted, naturally chatty kind of person.

As the training progressed—

GARDINER: These guys really weren’t too worried about teaching me how to operate a grocery store, right? I mean there was some discussion about keeping the cold things cold, and how important that is, and there was a little bit of discussion about, “This is how our cash register works,” about, “When you’re bagging groceries, this is how you do it.” There was some discussion of process. But actually there was a lot of discussion of Trader Joe’s values. There was a tremendous amount of discussion about how are you going to be with the customers.

And then, once the store opened—

GARDINER: No matter how crazy the store was, no matter how much pressure there was to do something else, if you were doing something for a customer, that trumped everything.

Seeing how Trader Joe’s encouraged its employees to interact with customers — to partner up with them — didn’t just make sense to Gardiner. It inspired him to wonder why this theoretically-obvious approach is, in fact, quite rare. Consider, he says, a standard trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

GARDINER: What happens when you go to the D.M.V.? Well, what happens is, you stand on one side of a counter and then there’s your opponent on the other side of the counter. And it’s as if you’re in sort of a game or a sport where you’re trying to get your license plate or a driver’s license and they’re going to say, “Oh yeah, you don’t have an up-to-date inspection certificate for your car. So get out of here.” Right? It’s like a volleyball game, practically. And it’s you against them.

Now what if you change the rules and and what if you said, “You guys are both on the same side. Your goal is to get them that driver’s license or that license plate that they need.” And so instead of just saying, “You don’t have the right inspection,” what if you told them, “Look, this is what’s wrong with the certificate that you’ve got. It’s either out of date or it’s from the wrong state, or whatever. And this is where you would go to get the inspection that you need. Right? And let me look at all your other things while I’ve got you here — and if there’s anything else you need, I’ll tell you what you need so that the next time you come, it’s going to be a slam dunk for you.” What if it wasn’t adversarial? What if you guys were both on the same side?

“What if you guys were both on the same side?” It’s a good question, don’t you think? Look, I’m not saying Mark Gardiner’s example is necessarily fair to the D.M.V. Nor am I saying that Trader Joe’s should win the Nobel Peace Prize. But, it does strike me that a lot of interactions in the modern world are set up to be more competitive than they need be, and that the benefits of collaboration are often undervalued. I think back to an interview we did with Microsoft C.E.O. Satya Nadella, who has been reversing Microsoft’s longstanding policy of treating tech rivals like Google and Apple as pure rivals. And instead, sometimes partnering with them.

NADELLA: [From “It’s Your Problem Now”] Nothing can be taken for granted and there’s no such thing as a perpetual-motion machine. What you have to do is be good at being able to refresh yourself at the crucial times.

So if you had the choice, would you have Trader Joe’s run the Department of Motor Vehicles? And maybe even — I’m not serious here, except, maybe I am? — would you have them run America? Or at least would you try to export some of their collaborative, frugal, don’t-take-yourself-so-seriously methodologies? Michael Roberto, the business-school professor who has analyzed Trader Joe’s, warns it’s not so easy. That it wouldn’t even be easy for another grocery story to replicate the Trader Joe’s experience:

ROBERTO: To do what they do, you can’t just hire the same people they hire. You have to emulate the private-label strategy. The real-estate strategy. The pricing. The quirky culture. And it’s often the soft things. Not just the kind of people you hire, but the way you train them and the culture you create. I mean, we can build a store that looks like a Trader Joe’s. But when we have people walk in, can they have the same experience? Well, that’s very hard to replicate.

Fair enough. And, again, I don’t mean to heap undue praise on a grocery chain just because they’ve found a way to make their appealing food cheap and treat people pretty well along the way. But I will say this: we spend a lot of time on this show, and in modern society at large, pointing out problems and failures and sundry idiocies. It’s nice, once in a while, to come across an institution — even if it’s just a grocery store — that seems to work well, for several constituencies on several dimensions, and to see what can be learned from it. If you have an idea for a future episode about something else that’s working well, and what we can learn from it — let us know, would you? We’re at [email protected]

And if you’re dying to learn a bit more about how Trader Joe’s works, check out the episode that the podcast Household Name did about two-buck Chuck, the famous cheap wine beloved by Trader Joe’s fans. You can find it wherever you find your podcasts.

Freakonomics Radio is produced by Stitcher and Dubner Productions. This episode was produced by Alvin Melathe. Our staff also includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, Harry Huggins, and Zack Lapinski. Our theme song is “Mr. Fortune,” by the Hitchhikers all the other music was composed by Luis Guerra. You can subscribe to Freakonomics Radio on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Here’s where you can learn more about the people and ideas in this episode:


I broke up with plastic, and you can, too

Josep Curto/adobe stock

Throughout my life, I have purposely avoided engaging in elaborate public breakups. But as I arrive in Brighton one evening in March, I know I have to put an end to things. I’ve had enough.

I am sitting with 25 other souls in Cambridge Naturals, each of us strategizing exactly how we plan to dump our toxic relationships. Gathered in folding chairs alongside the kombucha tap, we take turns enumerating our angst. Some believe they’ve gotten far too complacent. Others admit they’ve been taking things for granted. And there are a few who say they walk through life feeling a tremendous sense of guilt.

I am among that last group.

There’s the immediate regret I feel after using a Keurig pod. The self-loathing I experience every time I toss a fork in the waste bin. The creeping sense of dread each time I empty the diaper pail into the trash.

I know I need to end it, but I have no idea how. Plastic and I are just too codependent.

Our relationship started to deteriorate last summer, during the great straw backlash of 2018. In a few sweeping weeks, it seemed the world suddenly awoke to the fact that single-use plastics were killing the planet (and that hundreds of millions of straws being used every day across the United States was excessive, to say the least). Many companies took the anti-straw campaign as a moral imperative to change their ways. Starbucks, IKEA, and Marriott all announced they would purge themselves of the devil tubes.

I felt heartened, as I typically do when the zeitgeist zeroes in on environmental action and forces cultural change. I got that same hopeful feeling when Boston enacted its bag ban this past fall — Massachusetts now has plastic bag limits in 94 cities and towns, and there’s a bill in the works to ban them statewide.

So I picked up a metal straw and started bringing a cloth tote bag with me at all times. But I also increasingly felt a sense of gnawing guilt. These bans were, in some ways, a straw man of sorts — a symbolic measure, but hardly a fix for the devastation that plastic is wreaking on our environment.

The root of the current plastics backlash dates to January 2018, when China refused to accept any more recyclables from Western countries because they were larded with food and gunk, far too contaminated to process. Since then, municipal recycling services in Massachusetts and across the country have been forced to reckon with a new reality. Without a viable secondary market for used plastic and paper, waste management companies have been charging municipalities more to collect their waste. That’s forced hundreds of cities and towns to crunch the numbers and begin scaling back what they’re accepting from curbside programs, or in some cases suspending them altogether. For many municipalities across the country, it’s more cost effective simply to incinerate the waste instead.

Last August, Massachusetts changed its recycling guidelines statewide, rejecting items that were once considered recyclable, such as paper-based dairy and juice cartons, and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection has also begun telling citizens to avoid bagging their items, as plastic garbage bags tend to jam up the machines. In most cases, anything in a plastic bag will be treated as trash, according to the new standards. Some communities, such as Plymouth, have suspended curbside recycling programs, while Newton and others began rejecting the recycling from serial abusers whose refuse is routinely contaminated.

The Sierra Club’s Clint Richmond sees the new recycling reality as a moment to reassess our values. “This is not a recycling crisis, it’s a consumption and materials crisis,” says Richmond, a solid waste expert on the executive committee of the club’s Massachusetts chapter. Calling himself a “radical recycler,” Richmond believes we should stop producing and recycling plastics altogether due to the toxic chemicals that end up leaching into our bodies, water, and food supply. “Recycling is a fig leaf on the plastics problem. It’s justifying a lifestyle that’s based on permanent overconsumption,” he says.

All of this is very unsettling for those of us accustomed to mindlessly tossing our goods in single-stream recycling bins. For the first time in generations, we’re coming to terms with the fact that the things we think we’re recycling are actually being thrown away. If you can even call it that — “away” doesn’t really exist anymore, if it ever did. Only 9 percent of the plastic created on earth has been successfully recycled, according to a 2017 analysis from scholars at the University of California, Santa Barbara the University of Georgia and the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole.

A mountain of plastic at E.L. Harvey and Sons, a recycling facility in Westborough. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

So I’ve come to the evening’s event at a Brighton natural-goods store to start anew. In the front of the room, our instructor Sarah Atkinson explains why she’s trying so hard to reduce the amount of trash she creates each day.

“I’m in a committed relationship with my waste,” she says.

A few weeks before the class, I’d called Atkinson for advice on my quest to quit plastic. An idealistic recent University of California, Berkeley grad (is there any other kind?), she recently settled in Cambridge and works at a local green construction company.

One of the most important things to consider when beginning a plastics detox is your intentions, she explains. I should think about why I want to reduce my waste and sort out what small steps I can take toward cutting back. “Starting off is definitely the hardest part,” she says. I tell her I’m feeling pretty guilty about plastic silverware and other items I use without thinking when I’m out and about, so I’ve been looking to pick up one of those bamboo utensil sets. She says this is a great start.

“But you don’t need to buy the bamboo or these more expensive products to be a zero-waster,” she cautions. This is a relief to hear, as I’ve been realizing that part of the problem with cutting back on plastic is figuring out what you’ll use in place of it. I worry about losing my actual silverware if I bring it to the office. Then I remember I have a set of reusable plastic utensils from IKEA that one of my kids uses for all his meals. Perfect, Atkinson says.

“It’s about finding the things that work for you and not necessarily having to go and buy all new items,” Atkinson says. Before she leaves the house, she typically packs a utensil set, two hankies (one to avoid tissues, another to use as a napkin), a mug and water bottle, and a glass or plastic to-go container so she can take whatever food she wants to bring home without creating more waste. Seems reasonable.

She recommends that I audit my own waste to see exactly where I have the largest plastic problems. I should determine the most troublesome parts of the house — the kitchen? the bathroom? — and start there.

I hang up feeling hopeful. Over the ensuing week, I begin to tally the damage: Milk jugs, kefir and juice bottles, bags that housed mozzarella cheese and celery, yogurt cups, so many applesauce pouches, blueberry bins, and a tiny cup stuffed with guacamole from Chipotle.

Once I begin thinking about plastic, I see it everywhere. And I begin to question all of my choices: Why is my shower crowded with 16 bottles of shampoo and body wash? How can I keep my mouth clean without a plastic tube of toothpaste? Is it humanly possible to feed a toddler without a plastic bag of frozen chicken nuggets on hand?

By the time I arrive at the evening’s session — officially called “Waste Not, Want Not: Shifting Toward a Zero-Waste Lifestyle” — I am back to feeling overwhelmed. I quickly realize that most people in the room are far ahead of me in reducing waste. I meet Janet England, who picks up trash on the streets, buys her food at farmers markets and at the local-focused Wildflower Pantry in Brighton, and does most of her cooking at home. Vidya Sivan is focused on cutting back both her trash and the infrastructure that helps create it — she has reduced her waste to the point that she only needs to take out her garbage every six to eight weeks. Sabrina Auclair has her own low-waste Instagram account, UnpackedLiving, and is hoping to open an online store entirely free of plastic packaging.

Speaking of Instagram, I’ve discovered the zero-waste hashtag community and begun clicking around among its influencers on the site: the ones who bake their own bread, make their own yogurt, and prepare their own zero-waste beauty products. It’s all very inspiring, until I remember that I have two kids, a dog, and a full-time job. So it’s hard not to feel hopeless as Atkinson pelts us with facts and figures: Americans typically make about 4 pounds of waste each day, which collectively creates more than 1,600 pounds of waste per person each year. There are currently 150 million metric tons of plastic in our oceans, and we’re adding about 8 million metric tons annually. All told, we’ve created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic on our planet, and 6.3 billion of that has become plastic waste.

Purging ourselves of all plastic at once isn’t the goal, she tells the room. We should use up all the products we own that are encased in plastic, then start to make decisions about how to cut back further. Maybe it’s buying items from the bulk bins at the grocery store. Using a shampoo bar instead of a bottle of liquid soap. Or choosing cleaning products that come in refillable or biodegradable packages.

After the session, I tell her I’m still feeling overpowered, particularly as I watch the zero-waste influencers on Instagram toting around their year’s worth of waste in a Mason jar like a talisman.

Environmental advocate Sarah Atkinson displays her set of reusable jars. Emily McKeen

“You have to find your own process and path,” she says. “We shouldn’t be trying to make it a competition.” She admits she actually doesn’t even like the term “zero waste” because it feels so unattainable. Instead, she describes her lifestyle as low waste, which feels more accessible.

“One thing that I’m having issues with is that I mostly eat vegetarian at home,” she says. “I love tofu and tempeh but I cannot find zero-waste options for them. So I’ve been thinking: I can find zero-waste meat if buy it at the counter and get it wrapped in paper (which will biodegrade or can be composted). But which one of those is the bigger issue — eating more meat or producing plastic waste?”

I have no idea. Making existential decisions for every single purchase is exhausting. As consumers, we can’t solve our plastic crisis in a vacuum. How did we get here?

There is a classic moment in the iconic 1967 film The Graduate when Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin Braddock, is pulled aside at his graduation party by a friend of his father’s. The older man wraps his arm around Benjamin in the dim light of the pool deck.

“I just want to say one word to you son, one word,” he says. “Plastics.”

Hoffman looks dumbfounded. “There’s a great future in plastics,” the older man reiterates. “Think about it.”

In that moment, the plastics industry symbolizes a dreary post-college reality, one that helps set off Benjamin’s existential crisis. But truth be told, anyone who followed that advice would be rich today — based on the sheer amount of plastics in my house alone.

In the 1970s and ’80s, our distribution channels for commodities essentially exploded, explains Alexis Bateman, a research scientist at MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics and director of MIT Sustainable Supply Chains. As products were outsourced globally, companies relied more on non-reusable materials to help transport them, many of which were lightweight, cheap, and fast to produce, she says. Plastic packaging allowed consumers to buy things in bulk, and the rise of car use meant people could easily transport goods home. At the time, she says, “There wasn’t an understanding of the environmental impact.”

America did start to wise up to the fact that plastics were landing in the landfill in the late ’70s, when early curbside recycling cropped up (I can still remember learning about no. 1 and no. 2 PET plastics when I was in elementary school in the ’80s). But recycling — particularly single-stream recycling, which began in the 1990s — assuaged our conscience. The things we tossed in those blue bins weren’t being sent off to a hellish eternity in a dump, but instead were being reborn. That plan, of course, didn’t work out as well as we thought.

“Everyone thinks they’re being virtuous, but they don’t realize how little single-stream recycling is actually being treated,” says Bateman. It would be far better to get consumers to reduce plastic use than to delude ourselves into thinking we can just recycle things away, she says.

Therein lies the challenge. Plastic isn’t just ubiquitous — it has imprinted a set of values on us, she says. Consider, for instance, laundry detergent. Detergent makers have had far more powerful formulas on hand for years, ones that would provide as much as eight times the cleaning power in a far smaller container. “But the consumer is not ready to deal with that,” Bateman says. “When they see the big bottle, they see big value.” And there’s little incentive for the detergent makers to change things on their own because if the product is smaller, they get less space on the shelf.

In these cases, the onus has actually fallen on retailers to drive the change toward waste reduction, which is also more cost-effective, Bateman explains. It wasn’t until Walmart demanded in 2007 that detergent makers offer more powerful formulas for its stores that the consumer goods companies stepped up. A year later, Walmart boasted it had achieved its goal of offering only concentrated laundry detergent to consumers. Amazon has had a similar impact: Last year, its engineers worked with Procter & Gamble to create more sustainable packaging for Tide. The new design features a more concentrated formula that ships in a cardboard box that doubles as its container. It uses 60 percent less plastic and 30 percent less water (and it kind of resembles a box of wine).

Some retailers have gotten wise to the recent surge in environmental concerns and have decided to take on the plastics problem. In February, Walmart announced it wants its private brands to all have 100 percent recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging by 2025. And Trader Joe’s recently announced plans to reduce the amount of plastic packaging in its stores, particularly the plastic-wrapped produce, flowers, and greeting cards.

Bateman acknowledges that these decisions aren’t simple for manufacturers. “It’s easy for a consumer to say, ‘I no longer want my fruits and vegetables packaged in plastic,’ and while I advocate for that, I also know it’s hard to move blueberries” along a supply chain, she said. “The repercussions for any change will have a big ripple effect” she says, from completely reconfiguring processing and packaging plants to assessing how to ship and store goods safely without destroying products in the process.

It’s important for consumers to demand that companies take those next steps, says Richmond. “You can’t do it at the personal level alone. It’s great to buy your pickles or ketchup in a glass jar, but you really need to tell manufacturers that they can’t make them out of these unsustainable materials anymore.”

Adobe stock

A movement is underway pushing manufacturers to take more ownership over their products’ packaging, says Gretchen Carey, the recycling and organics coordinator at Republic Services, the recycling and solid waste collection provider that handles the residential waste in many Massachusetts towns and at several big Boston universities and lots of large businesses in the city. Carey is also the president of MassRecycle, a nonprofit that works to limit waste and increase recycling statewide. One of the organization’s current missions is to promote a concept popular in Europe called “extended producer responsibility,” which requires manufacturers to oversee the treatment and disposal of their own products. That means a detergent maker would be responsible for stepping in to collect its big bottles once we’re done using them, for instance.

“We’re all at the whim of these manufacturers,” Carey says. “They can make whatever they want, and we have to figure out what to do with it.”

There have been some promising steps toward building what the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has dubbed the “circular economy.” The nonprofit’s “New Plastics Economy Global Commitment” effort is pushing governments, manufacturers, global companies, and financial institutions to commit to eliminating the plastic items we don’t need, and innovating so that all plastics we do need are designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted. The goal is to have all plastics “circulating” in the economy instead of dumping them in the environment by 2025. The foundation’s most recent report, released in March, was heartening: It has secured such commitments from six of the 10 largest consumer packaged goods makers in the world five of the top 15 global retailers and four of the top 10 plastic packing producers.

In January, the recycling company TerraCycle also announced that it had partnered with huge global brands such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and PepsiCo to create Loop, a shopping service that sends products like Häagen-Dazs and Crest mouthwash to customers in durable, reusable packaging that can be sent back to the producer. (Realizing this could mean I can feel less guilty about my ice cream habit, I’ve already signed up for their wait list when it launches.)

And then there’s Loop Industries, a different Quebec-based company that’s created a chemical way to break down and reconstitute the PET plastics used in bottles for things such as soft drinks, shampoo, peanut butter, and hand soap. Unlike mechanical recycling, which leaves plastic in a less-desirable condition after it’s been broken down, Loop’s recycled plastic is as good as the original product, says Nelson Switzer, the company’s chief growth officer. Switzer, a former Nestle executive, notes the water bottle has become “an iconic symbol for single-use plastic and plastic waste.” He jumped over to the startup in part because of the impact it can have globally if Loop plastic hits the mainstream.

“We’re taking the petrol out of the petrochemicals, and we’re using waste material,” he says. So far, companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Danone have all signed on as partners.

Carey is hopeful these types of changes will help the United States become a leader in rethinking our waste. “I think there’s a lot of negativity about the recycling system right now, but I think it’s going to create a better, stronger system,” she says. Living a life dependent on plastics, she continues, “wasn’t always the norm. This has become the norm, but it doesn’t have to be the norm. We can operate in daily life with a reduced reliance on plastics.”

My own consumption habits have already begun to change in the few weeks since starting my plastic breakup. I’ve begun bringing my IKEA silverware to work, have avoided the dreaded Keurig, and had milk delivered in glass bottles from my local dairy. I’ve stopped using plastic sandwich bags and cling wrap. I’ve picked up cloth vegetable bags for my produce shopping, purchased baby food in glass jars, and begun using reusable cleaning cloths to cut back on my use of paper towels (and the plastic they’re wrapped in). I even snagged compostable dog poop bags when I realized that Boston’s bag ban meant I no longer had a stash on hand.

I acknowledge there’s a degree of privilege that comes with making these changes, particularly when I choose to spend a bit more money to buy plastic-free products. And I’m reminded of this with each purchase, as I’ve also been targeted with ads from a host of new companies and products seeking out zero-waste consumers, such as Who Gives a Crap (sustainable toilet paper), Dropps (zero-waste cleaning supplies), and Bite (little tablets that foam up in your mouth like toothpaste). Most want to offer you a subscription to keep you buying, but I haven’t signed up for any yet. Instead, I’m working through my existing plastic items, trying to use up what I have and do my research before I take the next step.

I’m not sure I’m ever going to get to an entirely plastic-free life. But I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to make more thoughtful, impactful purchases. I plan to do more buying in bulk and am looking forward to farmers market season, so I can pick up local fruits and vegetables free of plastic packaging. I’m curious about trying a shampoo bar once I finally work my way through the bottles cluttering my shower. And I’m eager to see the face of the deli guy in my grocery store when I ask him if he can put all of my meat and cheese in reusable containers.

When I ran out of my usual deodorant last week, I took it on as a challenge. Atkinson told me that many of her friends make their own, but a quick look online for “recipes” had me cringing at the idea of my body going through a three-week detox to get used to the all-natural stuff (sample comment: “I’m detoxing now and while it’s not pleasant all I can smell is victory.”)

Instead, I found a brand that packages its deodorant in a cardboard tube. I had to search a bit to find a place to actually buy it, but it’s mine now. A small step. The scent is eucalyptus and lemon, but to me, it smells a tiny bit like success.


Lake Michigan Revitalize Retreat

I recently had an amazing opportunity to spend a few days on Lake Michigan with some of the most fantastic food bloggers and brands. We relaxed, learned, cooked, connected, and created so many wonderful memories together. Oh and, of course, we ate a lot of great food and drank some fabulous drinks!

The retreat took place at a home rental on beautiful Lake Michigan! And when I say beautiful, I don&rsquot even think that comes close to describing how truly gorgeous Lake Michigan is. Everything about it was so wonderful! The lake was calm like glass in the mornings and throughout the day it would start slowing moving with waves hitting the shore as the sun would set each night. The summer temperatures were cooler in the morning and at night with warmth throughout the day. It was perfection!

We took full advantage of the location and spent almost all of our time outside by the lake. From yoga in the morning to brainstorming sessions around the fire pit to toes in the sand watching the sun set each night, it was magical!

Spending such quality time with these talented and passionate ladies was truly a blessing. I&rsquom so thankful to have met them all through the wonderful world of food blogging. Let me take a minute to really introduce you to each of them because if you&rsquore not already following them and being inspired by the recipes and content they share, you really should be!

Liz Della Croce of The Lemon Bowl is a boss babe! I admire her passion and energy for everything she does because she truly loves what she does or she doesn&rsquot do it. She has a zest for life that is contagious! A big THANK YOU to Liz for helping organize this entire retreat in her home state of Michigan. Liz shares simple, healthy recipes along with Lebanese favorites from her childhood. I highly recommend you make Liz&rsquos Mexican Layered Hummus Dip! It&rsquos so delicious! Follow Liz on Instagram @thelemonbowl.

Lauren Grier of Climbing Grier Mountain is a true talent and such a fun person to be around! She also helped plan and execute the retreat and I&rsquom so thankful for all that she did to make it such an enjoyable experience for all. Her recipes and photography skills will knock your socks off. Lauren&rsquos cookbook, Modern Comfort Cooking, is a must own! It&rsquos filled with delicious comfort food recipes that have a modern twist. So much tastiness to choose from. I highly recommend making Lauren&rsquos Easy Labneh Scallion Dip. So easy and so yummy! You can follow Lauren on Instagram @griermountain.

Krista Rollins of Joyful Healthy Eats is such an uplifting and inspiring friend! She joyfully shares healthy recipes, great workouts and lifestyle inspiration for living a balanced life. Her recipes are both beautiful and delicious! And the home workouts she shares each week on her Instagram account are so fun and effective. You must try her guacamole recipe. The balance of flavor and texture is spot on. Pass the chips! You can follow Krista on Instagram @joyfulhealthyeats.

Melissa Griffiths of Bless This Mess is one of the sweetest and most thoughtful women you&rsquoll ever know. She shares approachable and wholesome recipes that she feeds her family of 7 really well with. She also shares about life on their beautiful farm in Utah and it&rsquos just so fun to watch all of the amazing experiences they get to have as a family right out their front door. Melissa has a great collection of cookbooks and meal planners to help make feeding your family stress-free. Check them out! She&rsquos also the sourdough queen and has so many yummy sourdough recipes on her blog that you&rsquove got to make! You can follow Melissa on Instagram @blessthismessblog.

Laura Fuentes of MOMables is a rockstar! She&rsquos on a mission to help and inspire others to be and do the best they can! Through MOMables.com, she helps parents transform mealtimes with simple organized meal plans and helpful videos on her awesome YouTube Channel. As a mom, I&rsquom so thankful for all of the great advice and tips she shares. She even has 5 cookbooks and one is titled The Taco Tuesday Cookbook! Need I say more? For the love of tacos, it&rsquos a must have! You can follow Laura on Instagram @momables.

Annalise Sandberg of Completely Delicious is the sweetest of the sweet&hellipboth herself and her recipes! I seriously want to make every recipe that Annalise shares because they all look so delicious and I trust that they will turn out amazing! Annalise will give you the instructions and confidence you need to bake a perfectly flaky pie crust and build a gorgeous layered cake. She&rsquos also got the best recipe for Chocolate Chip-Less Cookies. Yes, I said chip-less! You won&rsquot even miss them in these amazingly delicious cookies! You can follow Annalise on Instagram @completelydelicious.

Yumna Jawad of Feel Good Foodie is one of the nicest and brightest women I&rsquove met. She truly makes you feel good when you&rsquore around her! Her recipes are simple, nourishing and, most of all, delicious! Yumna shares such great tips like how to make oatmeal and how to cook with canned tomatoes as well as Lebanese favorites like Stuffed Grape Leaves and Crispy Falafel. So many yummy recipes and ideas! You can follow Yumna on Instagram @feelgoodfoodie.

All of the images in this post were taken by the extremely talented, Amanda Montgomery, of Arrae Creative. She captured the retreat so beautifully! We are so grateful to have all of these images to share and cherish forever. Amanda is from Grand Rapids, Michigan, but is willing to travel. If you are in need of a top-notch photographer to capture an event or special moment, I would highly recommend reaching out to Amanda. You can follow her on Instagram @arrae.creative.

This retreat would not have been possible without the amazing brands that sponsored it. A huge thank you to Beef. It&rsquos What&rsquos For Dinner. on behalf of the Beef Checkoff, Stonyfield, Harry & David, Irie Kitchen and George Walker III. Over the course of a few days, I learned so much from each of these brands and got to experience their food, their passions and their expertise first hand. What a treat!

The first night, we enjoyed dinner al fresco with Beef. It&rsquos What&rsquos For Dinner. and Chef Adam Hedsted! It was more than the delicious dinner, it was an evening of learning all about beef and tasting several different cuts and cooking methods. Growing up in Oklahoma and living in Texas, we really enjoy eating beef so this was a great experience for me to grow in my knowledge and expand my thinking when it comes to cooking and serving beef. We discussed beef tips like how to grill steaks, determining doneness, sous vide beef basics, and handling beef safely. Such great advice and reminders for enjoying beef at its best!

Bridget Wasser, with Beef. It&rsquos What&rsquos For Dinner. on behalf of the Beef Checkoff, did an excellent presentation for us breaking down each cut of beef and answering all of our questions about how the cattle are raised and the best ways to buy it, store it, cook it, and serve it. I highly recommend you go to www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com to learn more about beef along with a full collection of recipes and inspiration.

Once all of the beef was cut and prepped for cooking, Chef Adam prepared and served us a teppanyaki-style feast that was out of this world delicious! Chef Adam is the owner of Eat Good Group in Washington state and I can hardly wait to travel there to eat at some of his amazing restaurants. After experiencing one of his meals, I can only imagine how incredible his restaurant meals are.

Be sure to follow Beef. It&rsquos What&rsquos For Dinner. on Instagram where they share great tips, facts and recipes for serving beef. The possibilities are endless! Here are some highlights from our dinner with Beef. It&rsquos What&rsquos For Dinner&hellip

Each morning, we were fueled for the day with fabulous breakfast spreads that featured Stonyfield Organic. Stonyfield is such a solid brand when it comes to their yogurts, smoothies and family-friendly snacks. There is so much passion and pride behind their products. You can truly taste the difference! Stonyfield yogurt is so creamy and great for enjoying by itself, making a smoothie with, stirring into waffle batter, baking muffins with and so much more.

The first morning, Liz from The Lemon Bowl, made us her yummy Blueberry Greek Yogurt Waffles that we ate along with lots of fresh fruits and other tasty waffle toppings. So delicious! And then for an afternoon snack, Liz used Stonyfield yogurt to make her Easy Homemade Labneh recipe that we enjoyed with soft pita. Oh my yum!

The next morning, sweet Melissa from Bless This Mess made us her marvelous Lemon Blueberry Muffins with the secret ingredient being&hellipyou guessed it&hellipStonyfield yogurt! They were the perfect addition to the Make-Your-Own Smoothies and Parfait Bar we enjoyed. It was such a great way to start the day! Here are some great smoothie and parfait recipes for inspiration next time you&rsquore craving one:

We are a yogurt loving family so getting to learn more about the Stonyfield way and trying so many of their great products was so inspiring for me. What I love about Stonyfield is that they go beyond their products and truly support communities and family farms all across America. Their biggest initiative to date, the StonyFIELD S #playfree Initiative is incredible. They are working with communities across America and experts in the field to make all fields organic by stopping the use of harmful pesticides on playing fields. Their goal is to help communities across America take the necessary steps to convert to organic field maintenance and empower families everywhere by providing tools and resources to make change locally and in your own backyard. Since 2018 StonyFIELD S has helped 20 cities convert their parks or playing fields to organic, benefitting over a million people. So amazing!

To learn more about Stonyfield Organic along with great recipes and where to buy their products, head to their website: www.stonyfield.com. Here are some highlights from our breakfasts and snack times with Stonyfield during the retreat&hellip

For lunch one day, we got to build our own charcuterie and cheese boards with Harry & David! You can imagine how excited I was about this! It was certainly one of the highlights of the retreat for me. Harry & David sent an amazing assortment of their cheeses, meats and accompaniments along with some great wines, that are crafted in Oregon, to pair with it. We laid out all of the goodies and then gathered around to each build our own small lunch boards. It was so fun to get to try a little of each cheese and meat along with several of their specialty spreads, crackers, fruits and marinated veggies. My kind of lunch! The glass of Pinot Noir Rosé I paired with my board was delightful!

Harry & David has been one of my go-to online destinations for ordering gourmet gifts to be sent to loved ones for years. The selection of gift baskets and goodie boxes is so great. They seriously have something for every occasion and it can be shipped anywhere in the United States.

After getting to try so many of their gourmet charcuterie and cheese options along with their award-winning wines while at the retreat, I already know what I&rsquom going to be sending to friends and family this holiday season. How fun would it be to receive a gift box in the mail filled with fabulous cheeses, meats and accompaniments along with wine to go with it?! A memorable gift to both receive and enjoy!

Stay tuned because soon I&rsquoll be sharing a fabulous harvest charcuterie and cheese board featuring Harry & David products, including their famous Royal Riviera Pears. You&rsquore definitely going to want to recreate it this fall for any small gatherings you have planned.

To browse all of the beautiful gift sets Harry & David has to offer, head over to their website: www.harryanddavid.com. Also, be sure to follow them on Instagram @harryanddavid f0r lots of seasonal inspiration and gift giving ideas! Here are some highlights from our charcuterie and cheese board building lunch at the retreat&hellip

When I say we ate well at this retreat, I wasn&rsquot kidding! Each meal was so delicious and prepared with so much passion and love. We&rsquore food bloggers after all so food and the process of preparing it is our passion. We all appreciated each meal experience so much!

One night for dinner, Liz and Vince of Irie Lemon prepared an amazing meal together for us. Liz and Vince are quite the team in both the kitchen and in business. They have an awesome podcast with empowering conversations to grow both personally and professionally. And they just launched a mastermind group for entrepreneurs and business owners wanting to take their business to the next level. Their passion for growth and good food is contagious&hellip

They know how to cook some darn good food and we were so lucky to get to experience it! It was such a delicious dinner with a fusion of Lebanese and Jamaican flavors. From the irresistible baked hummus to the flavorful chipotle grilled chicken & shrimp to the lovely Michigan blueberry crisp, it was a meal to savor and certainly remember. Thank you, Liz and Vince!

Liz and Vince&rsquos dinner was so good it had me craving more the next day. Thankfully, we got to snack on some of the leftovers AND then Vince treated us to a Caribbean themed feast from his restaurant, Irie Kitchen, that night. I have seen Liz posting about Irie Kitchen for a few years and have been following Vince for a while so when I heard I would actually get to eat some of his restaurant&rsquos amazing food, I got so excited! It was everything I had craved it to be and more! The feast included jerk chicken, curried goat, rice and peas, plantains, greens, festival bread, and coco bread. Everything was amazing! If you are in the Grand Rapids area, you must try Irie Kitchen!

Another huge highlight of the retreat was having George Walker, III, sommelier and owner of Graped Out, plan and present wine pairings for two of the meals! George is determined to change the culture and perspective of wine through Graped Out by &ldquoTaking the boujee out of wine&rdquo one bottle at a time. And that he did! He presented each wine with such passion and knowledge and made it feel so approachable. His pairings were so enjoyable, y&rsquoall! I might have enjoyed myself a little too much. Haha! Seriously though, he paired each wine with each dish so perfectly. I loved how creative and diverse the wines he chose were.

George&rsquos passion and excitement for good wines and life in general is inspiring! I&rsquom so excited to follow his journey because I know he will continue to go great places and impact people all over the world with his knowledge and enthusiasm for living life to its fullest. I can&rsquot wait to experience another George Walker, III, wine pairing dinner again soon. Thank You, George!

Be sure to follow George&rsquos wine journey and life adventures on Instagram @georgewalks3. Here are a few highlights from the retreat with George in action&hellip

One of the many wonderful things that Liz and Lauren did to make this retreat so special was asking each of us to prepare some of our favorite recipes to share with the group throughout the retreat. I was asked to build a few boards. It was such an honor to get to share my passion, in person, with my dear peers. It was also so fun to get to build these boards with them. They were all so sweet and eager to help me.

Two of the nights, we built a S&rsquomores Tray to enjoy around the fire pit by Lake Michigan. So much fun and yummy yum!

And then for the Irie Kitchen Caribbean night, we set-up a Mix-Your-Own Margarita spread. I was in my element and loving it!

I could go on and on about how amazing this retreat was! The people, the brands, the food, the location, all so amazing! When leaving the retreat, I felt so refreshed and inspired. And the energy is still flowing with ideas I&rsquom excited to share and actionable items I&rsquom eager to implement that will make myself and The BakerMama brand all the better!

Thank you again to Liz and Lauren for planning such an incredibly organized and enjoyable retreat. Thank you again to Beef. It&rsquos What&rsquos For Dinner., Stonyfield, Harry & David, Chef Adam Hegsted, Vince Mcintosh, the team at Irie Kitchen, George Walker III, and Arrae Photography for making the retreat so memorable and delicious.

If you ever have the chance to travel to Lake Michigan, it&rsquos a must! I can&rsquot wait to go back!


Friendly employees score customer satisfaction points

To understand how Trader Joe's turns shoppers into superfans, advertising and marketing executive Mark Gardiner took a $12-an-hour job at a Kansas City, Missouri store in 2011.

One significant thing he found was the kind of employee Trader Joe's hires. At his orientation, 45 of 50 trainees raised their hands to be the first to tell the room about themselves. "They have not hired a random collection of people here. They have selected the kind of people who want to go first in this thing that most people would like to go last at," Gardiner tells CNBC Make It.

And Trader Joe's make sure its employees are engaging with customers. For instance, they stock shelves during store hours, Gardiner observed.

"This actually is awkward for shoppers who are often trying to maneuver around [them], but it increases the probability that shoppers and employees will have an interaction," Gardiner says. And when a customer asks a Trader Joe's employee where an item is, they are trained to talk to the customer and walk them to the product, he says.

"There's a lot of other things Trader Joe's does. Some are good. Some are kind of terrible. But if you get this one thing right — [a] great frontline customer service staff — everything else will fall into place," Gardiner says.

A positive customer experience is indeed a "key driver" in "brand loyalties," according to a 2018 global survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Customers will pay up to 16% more for products with good customer service, the survey found.


Yes, We’re All Susceptible to Food Advertising

We in the Primal community often consider ourselves somewhat countercultural. (Okay, some of us maybe more than somewhat…) We eat what conventional wisdom says will kill us. We avoid or minimize our intake of whole food groups (mostly one really). In fact, we generally decline much of what the rest of society eats for its three square meals every day. Speaking of food frequency, we do strange fasting practices with no apparent religious intent. We’re just strange like that. Some of us work out at odd hole in the wall gyms with empty spaces instead of steppers and Nautilus machines. We go barefoot. We sit or sleep on the ground. We climb trees. And then there’s the caveman thing…. It’s enough to make ordinary folk shake their heads in abject consternation. With all of our, em, idiosyncratic choices, over time we can believe we’ve extricated ourselves from the cultural forces that would have us live otherwise. After all, it takes legitimate discipline to resist the expectations, routines and provisions that surround us every day. In the interest of said discipline, I think many of us insulate ourselves (or our kids) from at least some traditional marketing sources. Maybe it’s the sheer annoyance factor that initially motivates us. (Who hasn’t wanted to strangle the Trix rabbit?) Maybe it’s the desire to focus our kids’ early exposure on naturally occurring food that needs no cartoon mascot. Either way, I think we do ourselves a service. While we may be highly conscious consumers, we’re still highly human (and thereby susceptible) observers of marketing’s cunning messages.

Researchers have long noted the dramatic impact of advertising on emotion and behavior. The most cited studies have assessed the influence of food marketing on children, and researchers concur that kids are indeed more vulnerable to the messages they view. (What associations were established in your childhood by commercials and other marketing messages?) One Australian research review suggests children view approximately 5000 food advertisements a year (PDF). Add to this the intuitive finding that commercial viewing significantly impacts food requests, snacking behavior and food consumption. Ring true for any parents out there?

And lest we think that our dietary discipline mutes the effects of food marketing, it’s important to note that research demonstrates the even more pronounced impact of food advertisements on those who are dieting. While it’s safe to argue that a person who’s unnaturally restricting calories is operating from a different vantage point than one who has adequate caloric intake but more strategic macronutrient balance, the idea of restriction can hold sway in us each differently. Even if most of the time you feel fully satisfied eating Primally, something as simple as a bad mood or recent, however brief, temptation can spur the sense of restriction that opens the door for these advertisements’ tactics.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not too into television beyond some no commercial cable series. For the couple I watch that would have me sit through commercial breaks, I buy them or wait until they’re on a service that allows me to watch them commercial free. Mostly, I do this for time. It drives me up the wall to sit through ads. On the few occasions, however, that I find myself in front of regular T.V., I’m astounded by the marketing power that gets unleashed within a 5 minute network window. Sometimes it’s snacks marketed to children. Other times it’s fast food or sit-down restaurant chains. Sometimes it’s boxed “dinners,” frozen meals, sodas and energy drinks, candy, condiments, you name it.

Yes, I know and we all know just how much garbage exists out there in the food industry. Still, there’s a very dramatic difference between walking down the aisles of a regular grocery store where the packages sit inert (despite the sometimes screaming graphics) and viewing these products highlighted in strategic mini-movies, associated with ease, luxury, love, happiness, adventure, sex and family. All the aggrandizing and playing upon human emotion and desire is startling when you’ve taken a break from it. Sure, I admire the skill and artistry that goes into crafting such ads, but I’m simultaneously repelled in many cases. Going back to that grocery store either literally or imaginatively, the aisles and their product displays don’t seem so quiet and objective anymore. Advertising is cumulative and achieves its apex in layers of interaction. Shopping under the influence of advertising raises a cacophony of commercial recall and psychological manipulation.

Whether it’s a highway billboard, a magazine ad or a T.V. commercial, the effect is generally the same. We’re made to feel something in connection with a product. We’re led to associate the brand with an essential experience or empathetic figure or desirable attribute. Advertising doesn’t tell us what we want as much as who we want to be and then convinces us that their product imparts something of that experience – whether it’s the distinction of a “luxury” car or the romantic luxury of Dove chocolate. Whether or not we buy the product, we buy the association much more often than most of us realize or care to admit.

The association of course is the gateway. It creates a feeling and identity around the product all in the name of branding. Whether it’s Mountain Dew hijinks or green-washed “natural” processed food, we are drawn in by the identity. That’s where our perception of a product gets foggy. We can reject a bag of Doritos passed our way, but when given the choice between Doritos and a bag of generic tortilla chips, which is the harder to say no to? That gap is where the marketing magic takes over.

Forget tortilla chips for a minute and imagine you’ve just walked into a Whole Foods or even a large, well-appointed co-op store. Make your way down the aisles. Are you more likely to come away with unplanned purchases than you would’ve at a conventional grocery store? Why is that? Like many of us, I imagine, do you unconsciously associate everything in the store with a higher caliber of food and a healthier selection? That’s the store’s branding at work. Even if it’s a neighborhood co-op, you go in for pastured chicken and leeks and end up with nut butter pretzels in the bag as well. Somehow it’s easier to justify when we imagine that the co-op sells us healthier food.

There are a million examples any one of us could share (and please do feel free on the comment board), but the take home is a simple reflection really. We can eschew traditional food choices and the sources that market them. Yet, our brains still operate the same. We can celebrate the choices Grok made in his day and setting. Put him in ours, and we’d be looking at a very different story. I think we can and should acknowledge the natural inclination to be drawn to what commercials tell us we should like. The Mad Men of this day and age, after all, have even more psychological and demographic firepower at their disposal. While surrounding ourselves with community and reading/viewing material that supports our choices certainly spares us a lot of mental static, I don’t think it’s necessary (or particularly realistic) to remain in hypervigilant mode at all times. Whereas hypervigilance gets old, maybe humor offers a better answer and a more enjoyable defense. What say you?

Thanks for reading, everyone. What advertisements are you exposed to in a day? What reactions do they elicit in you? What do you think is the best defense against their influence? I hope you’ll share your thoughts and stories. Have a great weekend.


Eco Fact of the Week: In 2021, there’re 443 functioning nuclear reactors worldwide.

2021 Compost collected at 96th & Lex (from 4/2/2021): 4/2 – 2 bins, 55 Drop-Offs 615 lbs. 326 lbs. 4/9 – 2 bins, 93 Drop-Offs, 480 lbs. (+47.4%) 4/16 – 3 bins, 136 drop-offs, 621 lbs. (+29.4%) 4/23 – 3 bins, 100 Drop-Offs (-1%) 615 lbs. 4/30 – 135 Drop-Offs, 4 bins, 908 lbs. (+47.6%)
2020 TOTALS (from 1/9/20-3/25/20): 294 bags 12,522 lbs
2019 TOTALS: 43,417 POUNDS (21.7 TONS)
2018 TOTALS: 23,231 POUNDS (11.65 TONS)

Eco Tip of the Week: Black plastic items can’t be recycled. Why? Because recycling facilities sort plastics by bouncing a beam of light off them. Since black plastic absorbs light, it can’t be sorted and goes straight through the system and off to landfill or incineration. (In our/UESide case, to waste-to-energy in far away PA.) So, bottom line, toss!!

Sunday, June 20th: Shred-A-Thon – “So Glad You’re Back” Edition

92nd Street Greenmarket, West Side of First Avenue, between 92nd & 93rd, 10am-2pm

Bring that paper on, UESiders!!

And bring it on wearing that mask and socially distancing!!

And, as always, keep in mind:

NO cardboard or plastic-handled shopping bags.

REMOVE paper clips and spiral bindings.

NO HARDCOVER BOOKS . (But paperbacks are fine.)

Adding to the good news (although we can ask why it’s not a total ban with reversion to ye olde paper straws):

Saturday, April 24th: 82nd Street/St. Stephen’s Greenmarket
82 Street between First & York Avenues, 9am-2pm

At their tables will be American Pride Seafood, Bread Alone, Ballard’s Honey, Sikking Flowers and Haywood’s Fresh, Samascott, Ole Mother Hubbert, Valley Shepherd, Hawthorne Valley and Gajeski Farms!!

Ultima Mega Manager Margaret puts us further in the loop:

“ Dear Greenmarketeers,

This Saturday will be Nolasco’s last of the 2021 season at 82nd Street and, no question, they and their wonderful produce will be missed… And please tell them so!!

Could you be wondering who, come May 22nd, will be occupying that SE corner of our market??

Yes, Lou and the gang will be back… And it could well be that they’ll be returning with 2021 strawberries!!

But back to this Saturday… Think asparagus, rhubarb, spinach and salad greens!!

And, fyi, Tutu will be taking time off with Siobhan expertly filling in…

As ever, do keep those masks on while you shop and respect the chalk and tape marks that help us all keep a safe social distance.

And, as always, keep in mind that parking outside the Saturday market area makes for a safe and efficient early morning market set-up!!

Enjoy the spring shopping,

Two actual, live, UES events this weekend:

Saturday, May 15th, 9:30-11:30am: Esplanade Clean-Up and Gardening Event . Join Green & Blue Eco Care and Esplanade Friends for some spring Esplanade tidying and pollinator-friendly planting!! Tools, gloves, grabbers and seed provided. Just sign up ( [email protected] ) and get your 18 or more year-old self over to the Esplanade at 96th!!

Saturday, May 15th, 10am-12pm: Free Youth Fishing Clinic at the El Barrio Bait Station, The Esplanade at 100th Street . Hosted by Esplanade Friends and made possible by Sea Grant . Two groups of ten lucky kids – one at 10am and another at 11am – learn the basics of the fishing art!! Free and with all fishing gear provided. Girls welcome, too, of course!! FYI, fisher-kids under 14 must attend with a parent who’ll be responsible for that fishing rod. And all participants need to register whether or not they’ll be fishing. To reserve your place …

Followed by some great virtual happenings next week:

Tuesday, May 18th, 6pm: Nature Appreciation in Local Parks on Facebook . Hosted by AM Rebecca Seawright with guest Leslie T. Sharp, author of “The Quarry Fox”, Catskill resident and NYState backyard wildlife devotee and expert. Three ways to register (a must ) or 212-288-4607 or [email protected]!!

Wednesday, May 19th, 2-3pm: Native American Code Talkers: A Lasting Legacy via Zoom . Hosted by the Museum of the American Indian. Maybe you’ve seen the 1940’s film, but William C. Meadows of Missouri State University goes deeper on Native American “code talkers” and the key role they played numerous WWII campaigns.

Thursday, May 20th, 2-4pm: AM Seawright’s Weekly Virtual Knitting Social . Such a lovely, down-home NYC couple of hours. Knit… Chat… Share your handiwork… A classic UES community gathering!! All you need to do is join in on zoom !!

Thursday, May 20th, 3:30-4:30pm: “Volunteering Is Ageless” on Zoom . Hosted by the Volunteer Referral Center and Health Advocates for Older People. Of course, responses to other New Yorkers’ needs by folks of every age have been just amazing over Covid days… But there’s always more to do… To register and learn about a ton of great new ways we – of every age – can lend others a hand…

Thursday, May 20th, 6pm: Ruppert Park Scoping Session via Zoom or Facebook . Thanks to $2.4 allocated by CM Kallos, beloved but crumbling Ruppert Park begins what hopefully will result in the brilliantly designed, nurturing city oasis UESiders deserve!! Not entirely sure Parks is up to the challenge, but let the scoping/first step begin!! To attend …

(Of course, we UESiders can cover 2 to 3 events in a single afternoon!!)

Tuesday, May 25th, 4pm: City Council District 5 Candidates Forum on chneighbors.org . Hosted by Carnegie Hill Neighbors, Health Advocates, Civitas, the 86th Street Association, Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and NY1’s Roger Clark. Council candidates weigh on District 5 issues ranging from the economic to just plain quality of UES life. To register and/or submit questions: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ny-city-council-district-5-candidates-forum-tickets-152429082489 !!

Tuesday, May 25th, 6:30pm: Special Meeting of Community Board 8 on Zoom . Community comment on New York Blood Center and Longfellow Partners private application to create a “Life Sciences Hub” on the Blood Cener’s existing site in Community District 8. To join the meeting … To view the previous April 27th meeting on the subject … Add this week’s May 13th meeting … To let CB8 know how you feel … And also express your opinion via CM Kallos’s survey …

In the virtual/in-person combo folder:

Of course, there’s volunteerism in the great outdoors:

Pretty darned diverting diversions:

So impressive how many East Harlem blocks of street trees the great Green and Blue Eco Care volunteers have planted with sunflowers… Check ’em out:

And from the Hudson River Almanac:

4/25 – Manhattan: I was running along the Hudson River Greenway path when I noticed that my tiny morel mushroom patch had borne fruit once again. I discovered this spot by chance two years ago and checked periodically in the spring last year with no luck. This year, after spotting one morel I was able to find and forage eleven in total. I am not a mushroom expert, but luckily morels have only one look-a-like, and with a little attention, they are easily verifiable using online resources. I can’t help but wonder how many other morels go undetected in New York City each spring. – David Maggiotto


Those Morels

[T he exact location of the morel patch is intentionally left vague to protect the fungi from over-harvesting. Foragers would rather give you their car keys than disclose a location where prime mushrooms were appearing. Tom Lake]

[E ating some species of wild mushrooms can cause sickness and even death. Despite widespread beliefs to the contrary, there is no general rule that allows you to distinguish between a poisonous mushroom and one that is safe to eat. Wild mushrooms should only be considered for consumption after being identified by an expert mycologist, and even then, only in moderation with samples of fresh specimens retained and properly stored to aid in identification whenever poisoning is considered a possibility. – Steve Rock

4/27 – Manhattan: Hudson River Park’s River Project staff checked the sampling and collection gear that we deploy off Pier 40 in Hudson River Park. We were excited to see an adult tautog (230 mm) and a northern pipefish (165 mm) that had been collected in one of our crab pots.

A Taurtog

4/30 – Manhattan: Hudson River Park’s River Project staff checked the sampling and collection gear that we deploy off Pier 40 in Hudson River Park. At 65 degrees F and sunny, it was a gorgeous morning to go out and check our gear, and the fish certainly agreed. Our traps yielded two young-of-the-season blue crabs (10-20 mm), a white perch (185 mm), two northern pipefish (120-170 mm), a lined seahorse (65 mm), and a handsome little skilletfish (50 mm). – Siddhartha Hayes, Olivia Radick, Toland Kister


A Skilletfish

[S killetfish are a small benthos-loving fish related to gobies and blennies. Like gobies, they have a pelvic suction disc leading to their other common name, clingfish (Hildebrand and Schroeder 1928). They find oyster reefs ideal habitat for both forage and safety. Their name comes from a dorsally-flattened body with a large, roundish head that altogether looks like a skillet. They are considered a temperate marine stray in the lower, brackish reach of the estuary. Tom Lake]

Then there’s the Fish of the Week:

4/25 – Fish-of-the-Week for Week 118 is the Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), number 28 (of 234), on our Hudson River Watershed List of Fishes.


An Atlantic Herring

T he Atlantic herring is one of nine herrings (Clupeidae) documented for the Hudson River watershed. These include the sub-family Alosinae of Hudson River herrings: American shad, hickory shad, alewife, and blueback herring.

T he Atlantic herring, a marine species, ranges from the edge of the polar ice in Northern Labrador to North Carolina. Traveling in schools of thousands, they are one of the world’s most important commercial species. As plankton-feeders (copepods are a favorite), they can reach 17-inches.

A cross their range, they spawn from summer into late autumn from Massachusetts Bay down along Cape Cod. Farther north, where they are known as sea herring, Bigelow and Schroeder (1957), notes that they spawn from fall into winter from the Gulf of Maine to the Nantucket Shoals. Briggs and Waldman (2002) found them common to abundant in Long Island Sound and they are not uncommonly taken in seines in the East River. They are known in the estuary from occasional catches as far upriver as Indian Point (river mile 42). – Tom Lake

And the Bird of the Week is…


We leave you with this moment of ultra-local, utterly green happiness:

While planting a street tree bed on First and 62nd this past Wednesday, we were totally shocked when a bumble bee buzzed by… Buzzed back… Circled the tree… Then settled – momentarily – on a young lobelia plant…

The first bee we’ve ever seen on First Avenue!!

No, can’t ever be enough green,

Eco Facts of the Week: Cities are essential in the fight against global warming because they’re/we’re responsible for about three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions globally and consume about two-thirds of the world’s energy supplies with just 17% of the 812 cities surveyed are implementing measures across all four of the top priority areas of building, transport, electricity grids and waste management. Fewer that half of all cities have a detailed plan for tackling climate-related hazards like extreme heat and flooding.


December 2017: Back to Traditional Deodorant/Antiperspirant

I started working out regularly and no natural deodorant in my house could keep up. I gave up and went back to Dove. Immediately, I smelled better. When I switched to natural deodorant I felt I was less sweaty and stinky. Well, switching back to traditional deodorant gave me the same experience. I forgot what it felt like to have non-sticky, dry pits and to not have to wash my clothing after every wear. It was awesome, I couldn’t go back I decided I would just try to be more natural in other aspects of my life.

I used Dove and only Dove for a month or two, and then I wasn’t satisfied. To boost it, I added Certain Dri, applying the roll-on every evening. That helped, but after a week Certain Dri started itching and burning a few minutes after application. I switched to only using Certain Dri the night before I had an event.

Once my stick of Dove ran out, I switched to Degree which seemed to work better. However, when that stick ran out I stood in the aisle at Target for a long while wondering what to do next because none of the scents appealed to me and I felt like nothing was really doing what it claimed it would.


Friday Favorites

Happy Friday! Are you guys as excited as I am that the weekend is finally here?

We’re getting ready to head out to Carmel tomorrow morning to celebrate our first wedding anniversary (it’s hard to believe it’s been a year already!) and I can hardly wait. Between being cooped up inside all winter and working as much as humanly possible, my husband and I are in major need of some downtime together. As you might imagine, that means I’ll be spending more time in the moment and less time on the computer but I’m sure I’ll be back before you guys even notice I’m gone. :)

In the meantime, I’ve found lots of goodies from around the web to share with you that I hope you enjoy. Have a wonderful weekend and I’ll see ya soon!

Favorite Guide: A DIY Guide to Green Cleaning. Tis the season for cleaning! I’m always on the lookout for natural alternatives to chemical laden products and this chart lists a ton of great options that you can easily make yourself. I already use the baking soda vinegar combination to clean our shower, toilets and sinks, and making my own laundry detergent is next on the list. Have any of you tried it yet?

Favorite Appetizer: Mango Salsa. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of mango salsa so when I laid eyes on Heidi’s version with strawberries (!) and avocados (!!), I almost keeled over. Somebody pass me a chip!

Favorite Carb: Easy Grilled Spelt Flatbreads. I’m currently working on a tofu kabob recipe to share when summertime approaches and I have a feeling these healthy spelt flatbreads would make a mighty fine addition. Mmm hmmm.

Favorite Bowl of Green: Obsessively Good Avocado and Cucumber Salad. If Deb says it’s obsessively good then you know it is. Plus it just sounds amazing. Must have for all the spring picnics!

Favorite Low Carb Meal: 5 Delicious Low-Carb Recipes Starring Trader Joes Broccoli Slaw. Eating healthy doesn’t get much easier than this and the recipes look scrumptious too!

Favorite Wanderlust: 10 of the best places to hike in the United States. With warm weather just around the corner, I can feel myself getting the itch to start hiking again. I’ve heard Yosemite has some pretty awesome trails and I’m hoping we get a chance to make it there sometime this year.

Favorite Awwwww: 25 Wonderful Parenting Moments in the Animal World That Went Viral. There are no words, my friends. Just lots of warm, fuzzy feelings.

Favorite Purse: Jessie Dark Brown Crossbody Bag from PUT ON LOVE. I always try my best to avoid buying leather and other animal products so I was stoked when I found this super cute and affordable bag. I received it last week and I am so impressed with the quality! Plus the company donates 10% of their profits to helping women and children in need. <3

P.S. If you see something you like on their site, you can get 10% off by signing up for their email newsletter. <this is not sponsored, I just genuinely like the product.

Favorite Jewelry: Turquoise Spike Earrings. I’m ashamed to admit this but I went on a hunt for turquoise spike earrings after spotting Brit from The Bachelor wearing a pair that I really liked. I know, I’m pathetic. I found this pair on Etsy for less than $20 and the designer was kind enough to make the metal silver instead of gold for me. Score!

Favorite Beauty Product: Ciaté Double Lines Eyeliner. I have a new rule that when I run out of a cosmetic or skincare product, I have to replace it with something more natural and my newest addition is this dual-tipped eyeliner. I usually use both liquid and pencil liner for my eyes so I love that this one combines them both in one. It’s formulated without parabens, sulfates, and phthalates and the brand is cruelty-free.

Favorite Book: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I know I’m a little late to the party but I started reading this last week and it is CRAZY good. There are some parts that aren’t exactly fun to read but wow, she is such a talented writer. I can’t wait to finish it and see if the movie does it justice!

Favorite Sandwich: Green Goddess Hummus Sandwich. If you guys aren’t already following this blog, you really need to check it out. Kate never fails to create recipes that are drool-worthy and 100% healthy, plus the pictures of her dog Cookie are incredibly cute. One of her most recent creations was this bad boy made with creamy green hummus and quick pickled veggies. It looks to-die-for!

Favorite Salad: Mango Wheat Berry and Arugula Salad with Creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing. Arugula, or Rocket, hasn’t always been my favorite green but I have to admit it’s growing on me. I think it sounds amazing in this salad and I love the addition of plant-powered protein from the hemp seeds in the creamy dressing!

Favorite Dessert: Chewy Coconut Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. Oh man, what I wouldn’t give for one of these right now. They’re vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar-free and completely crave-worthy. My dream cookie…


Trader Joe’s Just Announced 7 Brand-New Products—And We Can Hardly Wait - Recipes

What makes my favorite business enterprises so extraordinary that I will continue to seek out their products and/or services over the long haul?

As a libertarian and market anarchist, I appreciate the high-spirited entrepreneurs who confront a maze of government impediments in order to start up a business they hope will be profitable in the marketplace. Entrepreneurs take on considerable risk because they have an ambition to provide products or services that are unique or better than the current choices available to consumers.

The reasons why we, as consumers, frequent certain producers, service providers, or retailers can vary, and thus at times it is constructive to reflect on why we are enthusiastic about a particular place of business. With this in mind, I decided to put together a short list that might bring some well-deserved attention to those market enterprises that have made my life easier, healthier, more robust, more productive, or just a lot more fun. I am not writing this on the basis of a company’s political merits or lack thereof, nor am I considering the health of its balance sheet. This is written strictly from a consumer appreciation point-of-view. I have stayed away from local businesses that don’t have a national or large regional impact.

1) It may be fitting that I start off with a company called Enterprise. I’ve always thought that Enterprise Rent-A-Car is unique among its peers. Business Week named Enterprise one of the "top five places to launch a career," and for good reason. I have frequented Enterprise often, and for many years. The reason I go to Enterprise is because the company provides a top-notch service environment. In my experience, the overall quality of the company’s employees is what puts it ahead of its competitors.

Enterprise makes a habit of hiring college grads that are still contemplating their career choices and need a place to commence a livelihood. For instance, there are a lot of smart kids that go to college and get degrees that can sometimes be difficult to sell in a competitive market: general business, communications, marketing, etc. A great starting point for learning the needs and nuances of consumers is to deal with them, face-to-face, on a daily basis.

Enterprise, which hires about 7,000 college graduates a year, has a well-developed management training program that teaches employees how to run their own businesses. In fact, nearly 100 percent of Enterprise’s current senior management &mdash including the president and CEO &mdash started as management trainees, learning the ins and outs of the business.

Accordingly, young and inexperienced people can obtain entry-level positions and have every opportunity to acquire business management skills and rise to executive positions. It’s a real-world environment that serves to develop valuable business skills, because dealing with customers is never as easy as one may think. I have always found Enterprise employees to be young, articulate, pleasant, and well-schooled in customer service. Plus, Enterprise offers exceptional services: someone will pick you up or drop you off within limits that are inordinately generous company managers will gladly exchange a car you don’t like with no questions asked and any mishaps on their part will get you a good deal on the rental. Thus the exceptional quality of people and service I have experienced at Enterprise puts them right atop my list.

2) LA Fitness is the next noteworthy enterprise to come to mind. Its motto is "Where fitness is a way of life." As someone who trains 8&mdash15 hours per week, a good club stands at the very top of my list.

I visited LA Fitness clubs in past years when traveling to California and Arizona. In 2007, I visited a newly-opened club in Minnesota while staying with family. I had never seen a gym quite like it. This gym was the standard setup for an LA Fitness center at about 46,000 sq. ft., with glass racquetball courts, spinning room, and yoga room a partial-glass basketball court a glass-enclosed lap pool a huge free-weight area a massive machine section with all the latest high-tech equipment and a beautiful mezzanine overlooking the whole place, loaded with nearly 200 state-of-the-art cardio machines. I noticed immediately that the visuals were splendid, and the environment was lively and contagious. In between workout sets on the machines, you can stand and watch five racquetball courts full of senior men &mdash who are in fabulous shape &mdash putting on a marvelous display of athleticism. I noted that even the locker rooms were profound. They were perfectly designed, with the shower, locker, and toilet areas all partitioned and temperature-controlled to perfection. The attention to minor details in the women’s domain was exceptional. My only question to the club manager was, "Why are there no LA Fitness clubs in Michigan?"

When I came back to Michigan, I received a call from the Minnesota club manager. He told me the company was in the process of opening a new club in Michigan, so he gave me the contact information. It is close to where I live, so I promptly went down to the pre-sale office. A Senior VP of the company happened to be there at the time, and he was the person responsible for opening all of the new LA Fitness clubs in Michigan. Since I explained that I had already been to some clubs out of state, he was eager to discuss the company’s business model and philosophy with me. He explained the attitude behind the infectious fitness environment of its clubs. Essentially, the company wanted to get away from the "gym rat" experience and open up a true sports club for functional athletes. The company wanted to create an ambiance that could appeal to the hardcore types as well as people on the margin. Since the Vice-President was about 50-ish, and an avid and very fit runner, he truly represented the company in good light. I was one of the first 200 Michiganders to sign up, and my club opens in about six weeks. I can hardly wait.

3) Bath & Body Works is next up on the list. This is a Chick Store. This enterprise was one of the first retailers to bring luxury women’s products to the masses at affordable prices. Before Bath & Body, most female luxury items were found at Hudson’s, Saks, Nordstrom’s, and other high-priced retailers. Sales on luxury items were almost non-existent, and the ambience was too upscale for many middle-class shoppers. Bath & Body Works forged a phenomenal business by producing creative luxury items &mdash for hands, face, feet, hair, and body &mdash and sorted them by product lines in terms of quality and price range. This retailer exists to carry out sales, and those sales offer great bargains and few gimmicks. Prices at Bath & Body have consistently come down in the years I have been a customer, and its coupons offer ridiculous deals. Even so, product choice and variability keeps improving. Again, the customer service at this retailer is always outstanding. But mostly, Bath & Body gets on the list because it brings luxury products to the masses at affordable prices via gimmick-free marketing and solid business management.

4) Bed, Bath & Beyond is not just for ladies anymore. The guys love it, too. What’s so special about this place? In a nutshell, selection and service. One unique thing about Bed, Bath & Beyond is this: there is always an employee out on the floor, somewhere near you, who is able to answer your questions of what and where. Good luck finding a human being on the floor at Best Buy or Home Depot. The product selection is massive, and this retailer carries stuff for all areas of the home. It’s a one-stop retailer. Yet the retailer’s prices are middle-of-the-road and affordable. This enterprise also offers some extraneous benefits that customers can truly appreciate. For one thing, returns are never complicated. "The customer is always right" applies here. Another service item that deserves a nod is its coupon policy. Bed, Bath & Beyond frequently sends out 20% off coupons &mdash I have saved about two dozen of them. They never expire, and they save you a lot of money on large-ticket items.

5) REI is Recreational Equipment Incorporated. I’m an avid outdoors woman, and this is my outdoor store. The selection of outdoor/active equipment and clothing at a typical REI store is staggering. Whether you jog with the twins or want to climb Rainier, this is the place to shop. REI offers a $20 lifetime membership with dividends at year-end that are equal to 10% of your total purchases. REI is run as a co-op, which means that you get to vote for the Board of Directors. The return policy here is almost insane: they take back anything you want to bring back, whenever you want to bring it back, even if it’s been worn to shreds. I’ve always wondered how they stay in business with this policy, but perhaps the retailer’s outstanding reputation and quality products makes that policy little-used and therefore manageable. Some people consider REI to be a bit pricey, but its unique clothing and gear for outdoor types hardly comes on the cheap. In fact, another thing I like about REI is that it sells its own brand of clothing and gear, and at lower prices than the competitors’ products.

In addition, REI offers tons of free workshops on various activities from snowshoeing and backpacking to rock-climbing, GPS systems, and bicycle touring. A climbing wall can be found in many of its stores. The company also has an extensive website that is useful for the beginning adventurer. The stores are always well-staffed and people are always courteous beyond expectation. One more notable fact about REI is that it carries a very large selection of women’s clothing. REI was the first outdoor clothing retailer to offer such a large variety, even at a time when it was risky to stock inventory that was much less likely to sell. REI helped make a mainstream market where there once a very small niche market. REI also offers its lady customers almost every clothing item in a small and extra-small, meaning that even I can find clothes without entering a "junior" or youth department.

6) Columbia. Gertrude Boyle’s father, proprietor of Columbia Hat Company, died in 1964, leaving her husband Neal Boyle in charge. Neal died just a few years later, propelling this housewife to the head of Columbia Sportswear Company. Thirty-five years later, Columbia is one of the world’s largest outerwear manufacturers.

Columbia outdoor wear is made of the same high-tech materials and designs as brands such as Marmot or North Face, yet it offers far better bargains than its more uppity competitors. Whereas the others are marketed intensely and thus are perceived as being of better quality, this is not true. In fact, product innovation is Columbia’s specialty. It has grown its family of brands and manufactures high-quality clothing that is offered at conventional sporting goods stores and discount retailers for low prices. It also offers lower-priced sportswear and shoes that are in demand among the non-outdoors types who are attracted to the style and price of the products. Thanks to Columbia, the great looks and quality of outdoor wear has become popular among urban, suburban, and rural customers, and not just outdoor adventurers.

This excellent company was among the first to peddle great Gore-Tex products. Also, Columbia was one of the first manufacturers to make real women’s clothing for real women who engage in something more demanding than aerobic classes. Women? Out-of-doors? Until Columbia, you would think that was impossible. Before that, you borrowed Dad’s hunting jacket and your big brother’s pack boots.

And, oh yeah, I know I promised not to do this, but as a bean counter I could not resist pointing out this very healthy balance sheet from Columbia. This is a sign of a very well-run company.

7) Harley-Davidson deserves a mention on this list because of its unique products and commitment to growing its consumer base via very slick marketing, along with dedication to its product culture and historical past. Clearly, Harley has one of the most identifiable logos on the face of the earth.

Harley-Davidson motorcycles have come a long way: they went from being the choice of street punks and gangs to being a product for which the average buyer is in his or her late 40s and has an income greater than that of the US median. Most interestingly, the technology found on Harley-Davidson motorcycles can be vastly inferior to that of its competitors (Honda, Yamaha, BMW, etc.), but Harley has something that no other manufacturer else has: mystique, retro coolness, and historical grandeur. Harley boasts what is perhaps the sexiest product on the planet. That is why people who don’t own Harleys wear Harley gear and plaster Harley stickers on their vehicles. Most everyone admires Harleys or wants a Harley. One’s "cool factor" is said to rise by virtue of being on a Harley.

In addition, Harley has made a mint by marketing its logo, name, and famous color scheme. One can buy Harley wall clocks, desk calendars, wastebaskets, beach blankets, dog wear, and even golf balls. The Harley clothing line is huge and spectacular. Product styles are rotated constantly, and its selection of women’s clothing is intoxicating.

Harley meticulously grew its consumer base over the years by offering family-friendly biker clubs, organized road trips, women’s chapters, and safety/performance classes. Harley-Davidson, with its ability to market "cool," has been very adept at enticing middle-age non-riders &mdash including women &mdash to buy a Harley and ride. The US motorcycle market has seen massive growth for about the last fifteen years, with much of that growth due to the upsurge in female buyers.

8) Trader Joe’s knows we have to eat and it shows. This great, privately-owned company has branded itself "your neighborhood grocery store." With its casual, laid-back demeanor and friendly staffers, the company that once catered mainly to the granola-conservationist crowd has caught on with middle-class America. Its stores offer everything from good-quality, cheap Spanish wines to a host of organic food items. The company doesn’t spend a lot of money on elaborate interior décor, but that’s how it offers such unique foods at very competitive prices.

9) Whole Foods is perhaps the best food chain in America. It’s an upscale version of Trader Joe’s, only it doesn’t try to be so simplistic or conventional. Whole Foods strives to reach out to the food consumer whose budget is a little bit more flexible when it comes to maintaining a natural, healthy diet. CEO John Mackey has grown this business from a neighborhood market to a $4 billion, Fortune 500 company.

Besides its legion of organic produce, meat, and packaged products, Whole Foods offers the best food bar I have ever witnessed. The food bar is packed with fresh, natural foods, and it titillates the consumer with unique recipes. In addition, the Whole Foods deli counter offers even more avant-garde foods that are sensational. The food is always fresh and it’s the kind of cuisine you typically wouldn’t make at home. For many customers, the opportunity cost of making the stuff at home makes the prepared version a bargain. Finally, the meat counter is stocked with all the usual meats, and then some. They sell a variety of raw meats in the form of marinades, meatballs, pre-seasoned patties, etc. &mdash and all of the items are distinct. It’s a great place to let someone else do the food preparation.

Probably the best draw at Whole Foods is the fact that if you visit on a weekend, you are bound to come across an entire store full of food samples, from marinated vegetables to cooked meats to all of its home-baked desserts. I use this as an opportunity to eat lunch while I’m there, and of course I have been introduced to many new items that I have since purchased often. They hand out recipe cards for the meals they allow you to sample. Over by the cheese section they’ll be warming cheese and handing it out to customers. This is great marketing, and it’s one of the things that keeps me coming back. Lastly, the Whole Foods website is top-notch. The company posts much of its recipes, and the website even offers you a homepage to sort and store your favorite recipes.

10) Waffle House is listed last, but it certainly isn’t a bottom dweller. Some of the best moments can be had in a Waffle House restaurant. Alas, the restaurants are not in all states, so some people know nothing about the chain. Waffle House, however, is always predictably good, as well as cheap. They are all open 365 days, 24 hours per day. As you walk in you are greeted by no less than 2 or 3 "hello" chants, as this is one of the company’s signature practices. Sitting at the counter at a Waffle House is the perfect ideal. Service is immediate and you’ll be called "sir" or "ma’am." You’ll usually find a jukebox right behind your seat and it’s likely to be loaded with Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams, Sr. Also, you can order your scrambled eggs about 6 or 7 different ways, and you can have breakfast anytime. Whether I am on a road trip or just trying to get from here to there fairly quick, I look for that yellow sign.

The business enterprises above are just a small sampling of the wonders I encounter each day of my life. Every day I look to entrepreneurs to provide me with affordable basics and new samplings, whether it is organic food, hiking gear, feminine foot crèmes, or a quick waffle at 2am. By and large, product differentiation is crucial for the aforementioned business enterprises. Whether it is women’s x-small clothing, a Gore-Tex breakthrough, a sexy 2008 motorcycle that runs on 1950s technology, or a college-educated service representative that goes the extra mile, capitalism and the free market offer consumers countless choices to alleviate their uncertainties about tomorrow and beyond. Somewhere there was some heroic entrepreneur who had an idea, and he put a financial stake in that idea and brought it to the market. When the entrepreneur and his ideas profit, we are all better off for it.

Of course, every individual is going to have his or her own preferences. But that’s the glory that is capitalism &mdash there’s something for everyone, and these days, we don’t have to look very far to find it. In fact, we are so fortunate to live in a world where we can just Google it.