It’s one thing to resell a 10-cent vintage comic book for a gazillion dollars, but buying up popular food items from Trader Joe’s only to turn around and sell them online for three or four times the original price?
That may be the American Way, but it still stinks — and if there were any justice, it would get the resellers banned for life from TJ’s.
Yet in the eyes of the law, there’s nothing wrong with the practice.
A legal principle called the “first sale doctrine” gives folks permission to resell items they purchased, at whatever price the market will, or won’t, bear.
That explains why one of the hot items of the moment — Trader Joe’s new Squiggly Knife Cut Style Noodles, priced at $4.99 — is now going for $20 or so on eBay.
Introduced just a month or so ago, these noodles have already gained almost legendary status. But forget about trying to find them in stock. Most — if not all — TJ’s stores are out, and if a source at my local Trader’s is correct, they won’t be back in stock until April.
‘You go me so emotional’
Trader Joe’s doesn’t condone — or much like — the resale racket, which has been going on for several years now.
“When someone comes in and buys the product off the shelf and sells it at a higher price to somebody out there who may not know what the real price is in a Trader Joe’s, it’s not fair on a lot of levels. You know, it’s, um, I don’t even know where I was headed, because you got me so emotional about this!” Jon Basalone, president of stores at Trader Joe’s, said in a 2019 Inside Trader Joe’s podcast.
At the same time, company higher-ups seem to get why it’s happening.
“This situation’s really, really tricky for us because we understand that people might live in Juneau, Alaska, and want that Cookie Butter, but we don’t have a store there. And opening a store there might not make sense for us for a long time,” Matt Sloan, vice president of marketing, said on the same podcast.
Trader Joe’s execs may believe the practice is unfair, yet they’ve done little to prevent resellers from wiping out the inventory of popular products.
“Resellers are very much out there and they’ll easily clear out a whole shelf of a product to resell at a higher price online to those who live far from a Trader Joe’s. Sadly, there’s no company-wide rule for limiting purchases, so these resellers can buy as much as they want,” a former employee wrote for the website Kitchn.
Are they ‘meh’ or ‘drool-worthy’?
Selfishly speaking, I don’t much care if resellers decimate the supply of, say, Everything But The Bagel Seasoning. Or peanut butter cups. Or rose-scented candles.
But for a reason I can’t explain, I’ve become obsessed with these noodles I’ve yet to taste. Maybe it’s the bright red packaging. Or the name “squiggly.” Or the glowing reviews.
They’ve been described as “dinnertime heroes”; “drool-worthy”; and “an incredible deal.” Noodle Journey rated the noodles 10 out of 10, though the sauce itself brought it down to a 5.5 overall. Best of all, a checker at TJ’s actually stopped what she was doing to whip out her phone and show me a photo of the delectable meal she made with squigglies.
True, not everyone is so enthusiastic; one reviewer gave them a “meh.” But it would be really, really nice if we could buy a package so we could judge for ourselves — without having to pay through the nose on eBay.
And the answer is so simple: Limit the number of hot-ticket items customers are allowed to buy. Other markets do this all the time, especially with sale items.
Even Trader’s has done it before — there are photos online to prove it — but only with a few products, including brazil nut butter, ube tea cookies and yoga skeletons. (Seasonal items like yoga skeletons tend to sell out quickly.)
So, come on, TJ’s. It’s time to add more items to that list.
Resellers won’t be forced out of business; they can still visit every Trader Joe’s within a 500-mile radius, buying the maximum allotment of rationed products.
And who knows?
While they’re out driving around, the rest of us may have a shot at picking up some of that Cookie Butter folks in Juneau are so crazy about.