Tuesday, March 15, 2011

There's Nothing Pie-in-the-Sky About Trader Joe's 'Elegantly Simple' Pie Recipe Contest

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Among the various ingredients that make Southern California-based Trader Joe's so successful are its unique use of humor and its "elegant simplicity," by which we mean that in all aspects of its operations, from the design and day-to-day operation of its stores to its private brand development, merchandising and marketing communications, the iconic grocery chain always keeps things simple, clear and understandable to the consumer, doing so with its own private brand of whimsy.

A perfect example of how Trader Joe's regularly combines these various elements into a seamless whole is a new recipe contest the grocery chain just launched which is as easy as, or as simple as, pie.

In fact, that's what the recipe contest focuses on - pie.

Specifically, Trader Joe's is challenging Americans to "Create a recipe for pie that is easy as pie." The contest is part of TJ's "2011 HiiP (Highly innovative ingredient Pairing) Recipe Showdown."

In terms of the pie recipe contest Trader Joe's keeps it simple rather than taking a pie-in-the-sky approach. Here's the "elegantly simple" criteria for the recipe contest:


• An Easy As Pie HiiP Recipe uses up to 5 Trader Joe’s products. Nothing else. Binders (i.e., salt, pepper, butter, cooking oil, etc.) do not count as ingredients.
• And just to be fair to all of our chefs under the age of 21, the use of alcohol is not allowed in Easy As Pie HiiP Recipes.
• Easy As Pie HiiP Recipes must take 20 minutes or less for preparation; the actual cooking can take longer.

The instructions on how to enter the pie recipe contest are equally simple.


• In an e-mail, list ingredients and explain cooking steps as concisely as possible.
• Include your name and preferred method of contact (in case your Easy As Pie Recipe is selected).
• Send to hiiprecipes@traderjoes.com by April 1, 2011.

That's it - as easy as pie.

The winning criteria are also "elegantly simple," as you can see below under the "REWARDS" heading. Innovative, yummy and - "as easy as pie." That's it. And really, when it comes to pies is there really anything else that matters?

The recipe contest winners also will be rewarded by Trader Joe's in a simple but meaningful way, as the grocer spells out plain and clear in its "elegantly simple" one-page contest entry form here).


• Pie Recipes will be evaluated first by the Trader Joe’s (R2 ) Recipe Review Panel. Pies will be judged on how highly innovative the ingredient pairings are (HiiPness); how "easy as pie" the recipe is; and, naturally, how yummy it is.
• 5 Easy As Pie HiiP Recipes will be selected for further judging by the Trader Joe’s community (to be announced in our May eNewsletter), who will vote on 3 winning Easy As Pie Pies.
• Aside from the honor of having your culinary art recognized on our website for millions of Trader Joe’s community members to enjoy, the creators of the 3 selected recipes will each receive a Trader Joe’s Gift Card in the amount of $25 dollars + one of our hip reusable bags + a super

There you have it, a pie recipe contest that's as easy, or as simple, as pie. Take some Trader Joe's private brand frozen pie crusts, add some fresh peaches (or apples perhaps) from TJ's, along with the grocer's own brand milk, sugar and butter (plus a few more things), and you have one version of a simple and easy yet potentially yummy peach or apple pie. It's not a very innovative one. But its simple and therefore makes for a good illustration.

And as you can see here, Trader Joe's is offering numerous suggestions about the potential universe of pie recipes that budding bakers entering the contest might want to create. For example, there are your basic dessert pies - apple, peach, berry and cream, for starters. But there's also custard, mince, chess, pizza, savory, meat, curry and even...pie-in-the-sky.

There is one ingredient that if used in a pie will send a potential winner to pie recipe purgatory. That ingredient, or class of ingredients: alcoholic beverages of any kind.

But before you think the booze prohibition is because Trader Joe's is exercising a moral prerogative, think again. Rather, the prohibition against the use of adult beverages in the pie recipes was instituted in order to create a level playing field for those budding pie-maker/contestants who happen to be under the legal drinking age, according to Trader Joe's.

Arguably the most important "elegantly simple" criteria for Trader Joe's in its "easy as pie" recipe contest is this one: "An Easy As Pie HiiP Recipe uses up to 5 Trader Joe’s products. Nothing else. Binders (i.e., salt, pepper, butter, cooking oil, etc.) do not count as ingredients."

After all, from a simple product sales standpoint Trader Joe's is going to get numerous consumers to participate in the recipe contest, particularly as word-of-mouth spreads the yummy news. As a result, the iconic grocer is going to be selling a whole lot of those up to five Trader Joe's ingredients used to make the pies, along with a considerable amount of those "binders" - the salt, pepper, butter, cooking oil, etc. that although aren't among the up to five main ingredients for the pies must be used to hold them together and give some added flavor.

Look at it from an average market basket sales perspective. The ingredients - apples, pie crust, cinnamon, nutmeg - and those binders - milk, sugar, brown sugar, butter, ect. - needed to make an apple pie to enter in the recipe contest would, if all the items were bought at a Trader Joe's store, easily add $10 or more onto a customer's average market basket purchase. In other words, if Jane Jones planned to spend $40 at her local TJ's but decides to enter the recipe contest and pick up what she needs to make her pie, the $40 purchase can easily turn into a $50-plus buy one. The bigger the average market basket purchase size the happier a grocer is. The contest encourages incremental sales. And it does so in a soft-sell and fun way.

But even more important, the simple and easy pie recipe contest hangs a lantern on Trader Joe's private brands, reinforces the grocer's humorous and whimsical style, operations, merchandising and marketing approach, continues to create buzz for the chain, which spends little or nothing on traditional advertising already, and further positions its private brand products as being equal to or even better than manufacturer national brands.

After all, many moms will be making pies and entering the recipes in the contest. And as we all know, mom would never make a pie without using the "best" brands and ingredients.


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