Trader Joe’s has become the go-to grocery store for many, with their exclusive brand items, and extensive vegetarian and vegan options. While the company markets themselves as prioritizing quality and organic ingredients, it isn’t surprising that like most other grocery stores, Trader Joe’s has a lot of room to grow when it comes to sustainability. As a vegetarian, I have frequently enjoyed eating the Chicken-less Mandarin Orange Morsels as a delicious protein substitute. Unfortunately, their lack of transparency in the manufacturing process and high use of plastic packaging have me questioning the environmental impact of their products. Trader Joe’s has shown that they value customer’s opinions, promoting popular products and listening to criticism to improve upon others. Therefore, with pressure from consumers, I believe they will see the importance of bettering their practices and make the necessary changes to promote a more sustainable future.
The primary ingredient of the Chicken-less Mandarin Orange Morsels is soy based protein. Soy is a great alternative to meat protein as it contains high levels of energy, fiber, and essential vitamins. Soybean also produces the most protein per hectare out of any other crop. While soy is definitely a more sustainable alternative to animal products, it is important to note that overproduction has caused widespread deforestation and displacement of small farmers and indigenous peoples around the globe. Currently, only 3% of the world’s soy production is sustainable. The irony of this issue is that a majority of soybean farming is for feeding livestock, not for those relying on it for a vegetarian or vegan diet. This highlights the large negative impact of the meat industry and how this impacts the food industry as a whole. It is also important to look at the packaging of this item. Each bag of Chicken-less Mandarin Orange Morsels comes in plastic packaging and the sauce used comes in an additional plastic package within the bag. This single-use packaging is extremely wasteful and puts into question how large Trader Joe’s waste footprint really is.
Trader Joe’s provides limited information on their manufacturing process, therefore, it is difficult to determine how the Chicken-less Mandarin Orange Morsels are made. Soy requires a large amount of water to grow, and unsustainable farming practices put a strain on water resources. Without any information on where they are supplying their materials, there is no way of knowing if Trader Joe’s is buying from environmentally conscious farmers. On their website they disclose that they buy directly from suppliers whenever possible, which helps to shorten the distribution process. However, because there are no specific details on this supply chain, we are restricted in understanding how sustainable their practices truly are. A majority of the products sold in their stores are under their own label, making this lack of transparency disappointing to consumers.
Trader Joe’s, founded by Joe Coulombe in 1958, has since been bought by Aldi, and has grown to have a huge presence in the grocery store industry. Describing themselves as “your neighborhood grocery store,” Trader Joes customizes its interior and products to the location of each store, where 80% of their stock is their own brand name items. On their website they disclose various sustainability initiatives, including removing plastic packaging from products, donating excess food to recovery partners, and composting and recycling production materials. While these initiatives are promising, there is no official sustainability report available to the public, so it’s hard to tell how truly sustainable their company is. Trader Joe’s has also made efforts to increase inclusivity and diversity in their production process. Recently, they have appointed a production development team committed to expanding the number of items produced by Black-owned suppliers. It is great to hear that they are working to improve their diversity, however, without specific information, it is hard to tell their impact.