They drive for miles, these Trader Joe's fanatics. They pass one grocery store after another, drive through one traffic light and the next, just to get to their preferred destination.
And there the prizes await when they stroll in: chunky guacamole, chile-lime chicken burgers, chocolate orange sticks and cheap wines.
Of course, the next shoppers through the door have their own list of quirky, private-label, must-have items: mushroom ravioli, pumpkin-pecan oatmeal, spinach-kale yogurt dip and, yes, more tasty yet inexpensive wines.
Shoppers in Palm Beach County have been begging for the California-based grocer to get here for years. On Friday, it finally happens when the retailer opens its first store in the county in Wellington at 2877 S. State Road 7.
Three other county locations — Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Palm Beach Gardens — will open later this year. The first Broward County stores are coming soon as well, with outlets planned for Pembroke Pines this year and Fort Lauderdale in 2015.
Trader Joe's loyalists are like sports fans, true to their team. If they could be supportive by buying TJ's jerseys or shirts — you can't; they don't sell them — they surely would.
But what sets Trader Joe's apart, makes it so unique? What makes it the favorite grocery store chain in North America, according to a recent Market Force Information research firm study?
And why will Friday's opening set off a stampede to Wellington?
Lots of things.
Assortment: Unique private-label items
Shoppers will tell you Trader Joe's simply has items you can't get anywhere else, or their private-label offerings are so much better than brand-name items on other grocers' shelves.
At least 80 percent of items sold at Trader Joe's bear the company's private label, from hundreds of food items to vitamins, pet food and toilet paper.
Trader Joe's says its label is a guarantee that the item is free of preservatives, artificial flavors or genetically modified ingredients.
"If you want Kellogg's Corn Flakes, go to Wal-Mart or Winn-Dixie," said Steven Kirn, executive director of the David F. Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research at the University of Florida.
Trader Joe's shoppers instead will grab breakfast items like the cranberry cereal bars, pumpkin-pecan oatmeal, maple-and-brown-sugar shredded wheat and frozen waffles.
Shoppers also will tell you Trader Joe's selections are a step up.
"You go to Costco to shop if it's a party at work. Trader Joe's is where you shop if you're having a dinner party at home," said Ellen Book, a librarian from Coral Gables who often visits the Pinecrest location in Miami-Dade County that opened in October.
Book said she loves the grocer's quirky, uncommon items that many shoppers would not even imagine existed, such as the frozen kale leaves, fat-free spicy black bean dip and the triangle-shaped ravioli filled with mushrooms, black truffles, toasted breadcrumbs and ricotta cheese.
Some Trader Joe's products are so popular that people have created Facebook fan pages for them. More than 10,000 people "like" the Speculoos Cookie Butter fan page.
Trader Joe's says it keeps its inventory fresh and exciting by bringing in about a dozen new items each week. The new items often make each shopping trip unique.
Pricing: They're trendy, not expensive
Different doesn't translate to expensive at Trader Joe's.
"It's the everyday person's more affordable Whole Foods. You don't have to spend more to get healthy products," said Suzanne Tamargo of Miami Lakes, who discovered Trader Joe's while living in Los Angeles several years ago.
Trader Joe's says buying directly from manufacturers keeps its prices down. They take manufacturer coupons if they carry the product.
"Trader Joe's doesn't have 'sales' for a few days, only to hike the prices back up again," the company has said in news releases. "Prices change only when their costs change. There are no fancy promotions, discount cards or couponing wars."
The chain's private labeling makes it challenging to do one-to-one price comparisons, Kirn said. Trader Joe's also sells products in smaller volume sizes, he said.
"Their prices tend to be relatively low. They won't be the lowest — not Wal-Mart or Save-a-Lot prices — but they're not an expensive store," Kirn said. "They're not expensive, but they're not rock-bottom cheap either."
The chain helped make a name for itself with popular wines for as little as $2, its "Two-Buck Chuck'' collection. It's still a big part of the business, with wines today starting as low as $2.99.
"They have a wine selection everyone's heard of," Tamargo said. "The Two-Buck Chuck created a great amount of interest for TJ's and spurred interest for their other inexpensive wine options."
Experience: More than just shopping
Trader Joe's doesn't "feel" like a typical grocery store.
"It's an adventure," Book said.
Aisles at Trader Joe's are arranged at an angle so that navigating the store feels more like an exploration, Kirn said.
At most supermarkets, aisles look like a bowling alley, long and vertical, allowing shoppers to peek in and see what's all the way down at the other end. At Trader Joe's, shoppers often don't know what they'll find until they walk around the corner, he said.
"It invites you to wander around," Kirn said. "Who knows what you'll find?"
For the 39-year-old Tamargo, Trader Joe's doesn't give off the big-box corporate store vibe.
"It comes across as your local, small market," Tamargo said. "It's more casual, more fun. They have chalkboards where they write stuff about their products."
While Trader Joe's may feel like a local neighborhood store, it's a chain now spread across 40 states with more than 400 locations. Its founder, Joe Coulombe, opened the first store in the Los Angeles area in 1967.
His goal was to ooze a tropical, Hawaiian-like, chill feel. Store associates are called "crew members." Managers clad in Hawaiian shirts are "captains."
It's different, and it works.
"Consumers are tired of sameness and are looking for a different experience," Kirn said. "They get that at Trader Joe's."
Secretive: Store doesn't share much information
Trader Joe's passionate, cult-like following seems unparalleled in the grocery world.
But being trendy and new doesn't mean they embrace the latest social media barrages. In fact, it's exactly the opposite.
On its website, Trader Joe's says the only way it communicates online with customers is via the site.
Don't look for TV ads either. They don't do it.
They reach shoppers near their stores with a "Fearless Flyer" that's part newsletter, part humorous comic book. They'll tell you where and how products are made, how much they weigh and what they cost. They also include cooking tips and silly illustrations.
The Thanksgiving flier had a drawing of the Mona Lisa seated at a dinner table with a bunch of other people, including a guy with an eye patch. "Everyone is welcome at Joe's table — never a dull meal," the caption read.
Another time they joked about a hard-to-say wine name by saying "if you can't pronounce it, then you haven't had enough to drink."
"They do things the old, nice way," Kirn said. "It's all word of mouth. People think it's hip, a cool place to shop."
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If you go:
What: Trader Joe's
Where: 2877 S. State Road, Wellington
Hours: Opens every day starting Friday, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Events: Ceremonial lei-cutting, free food samples, live music, and face-painting and balloons for childrenCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun