It has such a cult following that this product has been a bestseller for the past decade.
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All Trader Joe’s shoppers have favorite items that keep them coming back, but there are a few items at TJ’s that have a serious cult following. One product has not only been a bestseller for the past decade, but has won the overall favorite Trader Joe’s product in every Customer Choice Awards survey for nine years running: the Mandarin Orange Chicken.

In the first episode of their new five-part podcast series Inside Trader Joe’s, the popular grocery chain revealed how they developed this product and the snafu that almost made its launch a disaster.

At a memorable tasting panel in 2002, employees tasted a product created for Trader Joe’s by a restaurant in Southern California, which would go on to become the Mandarin Orange Chicken. The entire tasting panel was obsessed and the store decided to put the frozen dish in stores immediately.

“We all got really excited, and we wanted to bring it in. And we planned to put it in a Fearless Flyer relatively quickly,” explains Tara Miller, Marketing Director. The team quickly wrote and printed the Fearless Flyer with the Mandarin Orange Chicken featured prominently on the front, and they were about to put the flyers in the mail when they got word that due to an issue with the packaging production, the product wasn’t ready yet.

“What we were able to cobble together was basically a clear plastic bag with kind of a half-baked, if you will, sticker slapped on there,” remembers Matt Sloan, the Vice President of Marketing Product. “And I mean, it really was a testament to the power of language and words that the Fearless Flyer article could describe what you were getting, because it looked like you were getting a zip lock bag of leftovers for several months.”

Despite the less than ideal packaging, the product became a smash success. To this day, it remains one of the best selling items in the stores.