Meet Natasha, your Trader Joe’s fairy godmother. Long before Trader Joe’s even had its own Instagram account, Natasha Fischer was their greatest superfan. She had them covered. Back in 2008 she started her own fan Instagram account, @TraderJoesList, as a blog/hobby, originally intended to be a shopping guide for her friends who were constantly raiding her pantry for Trader Joe’s snacks.
Since TJ’s didn’t have a social media presence, people started looking to Natasha as their guide to the mysterious and elusive brand that’s long since grown a cult-following for its private-label offerings and low prices. She posts a mix of grocery cart hauls, recipe ideas, and new product reviews. She’s perhaps most known, however, for her *new item* spotting. Her account resonates with TJ’s most passionate fans, poking fun at the fact that once you hit a certain age, it’s possible to become obsessed with a grocery store.
We caught up with Natasha to find out what’s always in her cart, how she’s always the first person to know about TJ’s latest and greatest, and (gasp) if she ever shops anywhere else.
What’s the story behind @TraderJoesList?
The Instagram was something that started as a hobby — it was an accessory to a blog that I started (now defunct). Everyone has a pilot light in them when they’re fresh out of college. I was working a 12- 16-hour-day accounting job and hated everything about it. I felt like all of my creativity was draining.
My coworker mentioned that she started a shoe blog — that was back in 2008 and the first time I heard the word blog — and it made me feel something. So I started to think about it. At the time, I lived in a duplex in Manhattan Beach and my friends would come over and raid all of my food from Trader Joe’s. I’d ask them to buy their own food at TJ’s and they’d say that they were intimidated and didn’t know what to buy there. They thought it was high-end. So then it popped into my head that I could start blogging about the food that I buy at Trader Joe’s and send it to my friends so they would stop eating my food. [Laughs.]
How did you end up with almost 800K (!!!) followers?
The recession was happening and people were getting laid off (including me). I got a nice severance package and put my blog aside and went out, had some fun, and rediscovered some passion in me. When I got a new job, I checked in to see how my blog was going and had over 12K followers on Twitter — without doing anything. At the time, Trader Joe’s didn’t have social media. They wanted everything to be word of mouth. So people were using my handle as the TJ’s handle. I saw an opportunity there.
By the time I started the Instagram, I had over 44K Twitter followers, so I started out with 20K overnight on Instagram back in 2010. From there I’ve just worked on it as a side hobby. For most people, if they’re killing time, they’re scrolling through Instagram or reading a magazine. I use those small moments to repost something cool I’ve found at TJs. I also repost what other people are buying. I get tagged in 100 pictures a day, and get a million DMs, so I can see when something is becoming a trend. There was no overnight blowup to 800K though.
How are you always the first to know about TJ’s new products?
As I mentioned, people tag me in things all the time, so I would say it’s about 70/30. Seventy percent of the time, it’s because someone is tagging me in a new product, but they might only have 40 followers, so I post it. Thirty percent of the time, I’m wandering in the store and see something I think will be big. The other day I saw this golden tower of almond butter cups, and bought all of them (okay, just four boxes) and posted immediately. It’s something I always wanted them to have. And now they’re huge.
You’re very open that you’re not affiliated with the store — but do they know about you?
The only time Trader Joe’s has ever reached out to me, it was from their legal team. When I first started my blog, despite the fact that there was a giant picture of me saying “Hi, this is Natasha, welcome to my blog,” people would leave comments thinking I was Trader Joe’s. Their legal team sent me a lengthy email about how people were confusing me with them. So they asked me to put “not affiliated with Trader Joe’s” on everything. I take every opportunity to make it clear!
What’s your day job?
I’m the Director of Real Estate for Mod Pizza in the Southwest region. It’s the fastest-growing chain in the country right now, so I go to a new market, see how many locations we can open, and then see it through to opening store doors.
How often do you shop at TJ’s?
I live about two miles from one — but that’s in LA miles, so it can take 15 minutes to get there. Depending on my work/travel schedule, sometimes I’m not able to go for a couple of weeks. If that’s the case, when I go I’ll do a huge haul. If I’m in town, I’ll go two to three times per week. Someone has to do all of this R&D!
Do you shop (gasp) anywhere else?
Yes. It’s hard for me to open up about this. [Laughs.] Sometimes I shop at Whole Foods; there are some products that Trader Joe’s just doesn’t have. But these are just accessories to my TJ’s haul. It does feel weird. I’ll go into Whole Foods with my TJ’s bags. It feels like I’m cheating. Shopping elsewhere is a reminder of what makes Trader Joe’s so great, though. They have quality products and there aren’t a million types in the store to choose from.
What are some one your favorite items?
There are staples that I always buy. Cauliflower gnocchi is phenomenal. They have high-protein veggie patties, which I have in my freezer (along with the frozen chocolate-covered strawberries and pistachio gelato). Their new Neopolitan Crunch cereal is really good. I really like the new almond butter cups. I love their ABC bars, although those took me a while to come around to. I buy GoMacro bars pretty religiously. And avocados. I love their olive oil, too — the Tunisian Organic Extra-Virgin Unfiltered one. Those are the staples.
Anything that you think is overrated?
They trade items in and out, so the ones that don’t sell well, they get rid of. They have these little shrimp tacos that are pretty gross and don’t heat up properly. I don’t love their frozen vegetables. The cauliflower crust is really good, but you can’t follow the instructions — you have to burn it to get it crispy. And if you follow the instructions for cooking the cauliflower gnocchi, they are disgusting. I will say, their produce is getting better. This year, they made one of their initiatives to reduce their packaging. I think it’ll be cool to see how that plays out.
When did you start adding recipe ideas to your feed?
Initially when I started this account, I decided that I was going to be a mystery — no one’s going to know who I am! But while watching the way that Instagram was evolving, and brands were evolving, I thought that there was a value in connecting. So I decided to post recipes that I regularly make. For the Super Bowl, I made Buffalo bites with the cauliflower gnocchi in my Ninja Foodi (using the air crisper function). That was a big hit. Hopefully people like me!
Is there anything you’re sick of your followers tagging you in?
I am really impressed by the things I get tagged in. When I see people tagging me in their grocery carts, it’s a proud moment. I’m seriously not sick of getting tagged in Everything But the Bagel Seasoning!
Follow Natasha on Twitter and (of course) Instagram.
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