Inside the viral Trader Joe’s mini-tote craze

A stroll through the average upwardly mobile Brooklyn neighborhood will bring you face-to-face with a cute little bag that has somehow become the accessory of the season: The Trader Joe’s canvas mini tote. Don’t have one yet? The good news is that it’s retailing for $2.99 at all locations of the popular grocery chain, making it theoretically easily attainable. The bad news (or better news, if you already own a few): They’re frequently out of stock and being resold on eBay for upwards of $500.

A smaller version of the store’s classic canvas bags, the mini totes are about 13 inches long, 11 inches tall and 6 inches wide. They are made of cotton and polyester and feature the same long, colored handles that define the original iteration of the bag. Of the navy, red, yellow and green options, the last is apparently the most popular — at least according to Ama Birch, who has worked at various Trader Joe’s locations throughout the years, including some in Brooklyn.

What’s in your bag? (Courtesy Trader Joe’s)

“We’ve had other mini bags go viral,” she says, pointing to the micro tote bag on a chain that everyone wanted back in 2022. The product came along with a bigger inner grocery bag that people could fold and stick inside the micro tote and then carry around.

“Perhaps in New York, where space is a constant issue, small bags do gain popularity,” she says. “They did go viral nationally, though.”

For what it’s worth, Trader Joe’s representatives went on the record to describe their supposed surprise at the development.

“Our mini canvas tote bags certainly sold more quickly than we anticipated,” says Nakia Rohde, the company’s public relations manager, in an email. “Before we had the opportunity to promote them in any way, customers across the country found them at their neighborhood Trader Joe’s.”

As for the potential for re-sale, Rohde is clear to note that Trader Joe’s does “not endorse the re-sale of any of our products, anywhere” and that the mini totes should be fully restocked by late summer.

Still, we can’t imagine company stakeholders are too upset about the fact that just about anyone who shops at the store wants to buy one of their non-food-related products (except for yours truly: too many totes already).

“One thing that Trader Joe’s has always done really well is minify things,” says Natasha Fischer, the creator of the Instagram account @traderjoeslist, dedicated to the store’s many finds. “They basically took the classic tote bag and shrunk it. The second I saw it I thought it was going to go viral.”

Although Trader Joe’s had not released any official sales data, social media is awash with videos of folks rushing to their local shops and quite literally battling their way to the stands to grab as many as possible.

Hoarding, it seems, is the name of the game — as seen in this TikTok video. Then there are the modifications. Open TikTok or Instagram and you’ll notice hundreds of social media posts offering bag styling tips, stories about securing a tote, love letters to the creators of the product and more.

@athenaspud #traderjoes #totebag ♬ O Fortuna – Epic Trailer Version – Hidden Citizens

“A lot of people are embroidering them,” says Fischer.

Of course, the bag’s (listed) pricepoint doesn’t hurt either. In a fashion world defined by the luxurious, gaining access to a status symbol bag for a little over $3, including tax, is a rarity.

A generation ago, Trader Joe’s was behind another budget status symbol: Two Buck Chuck. Created by Charles Shaw, the wine retailed for $1.99 each and suddenly appeared at every apartment party and college hangout around New York. According to reports, the company sold over 800 million bottles between 2002 and 2013.

Trader Joe’s seems to know what it’s doing. And when it comes to the totes, even staffers are all in, says Birch. “The day the bags arrived, we set them up in an elaborate display,” she says. “We had them hanging from a pillar in the Williamsburg store and it was this beautiful, rainbow-colored layout.”

Whether the tote will become more readily available this summer, as folks flock to Fort Tilden with canvas beach bags, is yet to be seen. But if you just can’t seem to get your hands on one just now, you might want to follow some expert advice.

“If you wash the regular sized ones, they turn mini,” an Instagram user commented, surprising followers. “Accidentally shrunk all my TJ’s totes.”

The post Inside the viral Trader Joe’s mini-tote craze appeared first on Brooklyn Magazine.

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