The Iconic Brand Behind Trader Joe's Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

Dedicated Trader Joe's shoppers likely know a lot about the offbeat supermarket chain's delicious and quirky offerings, many of which have developed cult followings. But fewer know the big secret behind these Trader Joe's-branded items — they may be made by some of the best-known brands out there.

That's certainly the case with the chain's fan-favorite gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. Those avoiding gluten may notice the similarities to iconic cookie maker Tate's, which also sells similarly thin, crispy, wheat-free varieties of the classic snack. That's not a coincidence. An investigation by Eater found that is likely that Tate's does, in fact, make these cookies for Trader Joe's, which the latter sells under its own name through a process known as "white labeling."

Generally, white labeling agreements are made between food sellers like supermarkets and producers. Food companies sell the use of their production facilities and ingredients or even sell already-made products to grocery chains in bulk at relative discounts. This allows supermarkets to offer affordable "store brand" varieties without the expense of building and operating their own food factories and other infrastructure. Meanwhile, producers make extra cash and ensure their equipment rarely sits idle. The one key to the arrangement? Both sides are generally prohibited from discussing the origin of the products, ensuring the source usually remains a mystery, and consumers don't know they can get similar quality products to brand names for cheaper. 

More than just cookies

It's vital to note that while store-branded products are often quite similar to their name-brand counterparts, they're not always completely identical. In its investigation, Eater noted Trader Joe's variety includes more brown sugar, a subtle but noticeable difference. However, other experts say the recipes are rarely completely identical.

Tate's certainly isn't the only popular food product to reappear as an elevated store brand at Trader Joe's. Eater uncovered a variety of others through its investigation, which tracked the secretive sourcing deals by scouring government data on food recalls over the years. These include Tribe as the likely manufacturer of TJ's hummus, which can be eaten on store-brand pita chips reportedly produced by Stacy's. Even some of the chain's beverages are likely produced by well-known juice maker Naked.

Still, while most companies are tight-lipped about their arrangements with Trader Joe's and other supermarkets, some assumptions don't always prove true. For example, Annie's confirmed to SFGate that it does not make Trader Joe's mac and cheese, contrary to many rumors. While the origin of many of these products may be a surprise, it helps explain how the chain has become among the most beloved brands in the US