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I am about to become unpopular

I am about to become unpopular

October 29, 2007

I am about to be kicked out of the tree hugger club. I tried. I really did.

Trader Joe's

And as hard as it is to say this, I was not impressed with Trader Joe’s. Seriously, what is all the fuss about? The organic section of my local grocery store has a wider selection. There was almost no fresh produce. I was expecting fresh vegetables, people.

When I was in California in 2006 for BlogHer Jenijen brought me to a grocery store that was so wonderful that when the front doors opened a bright light shone down upon us and I heard angels sing. Really. This is what I expected from Trader Joe’s. Maybe my expectations were too high.

I bought lettuce, hermetically sealed in a bag. They sell the same brand at my grocery store. I bought some badly bruised bananas, but they are pesticide free I told myself. Of course they look like crap. I bought two green peppers, but they were wrapped in plastic and styrofoam. I hate that. But that was on my first pass through the store when I thought the good stuff must be around the next corner. Also I drove and hour to get to the store I couldn’t leave without buying anything.

I lapped the entire store three times. Each time thinking I had missed something. A hidden aisle. Or maybe there was a secret door somewhere. In the end I went resignedly to the check-out with the things I mentioned above and at least 30 fruit leathers that the kids threw into the cart.

We left and drove to our local grocery store where I did my real grocery shopping, where a good 75% of what I purchased was organically grown. Including bananas that did not look like they had been stomped upon. The other 25% was made up of things like Apple Jacks, Tostitos, bread, and Curious George fruit snacks. You know, the essentials.

Now I will be sitting over at the unpopular table, luckily my high school years prepared me well.

Posted by Chris @ 8:52 am  

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  1. Maddy says:

    Chris, you’ll always be one of the popular kids to me.

    TJ’s is not very good for produce. For us, it’s an excellent place for a variety of cheap wine, nuts and snack foods, cheeses, and some frozen items (I really like their frozen organic broccoli and some of the veggie mixes). Some favs: peppery cashews (hot!), sweet and spicy pecans, hunk of cheddar cheese with carmelized onions, roasted garlic salsa, balsalmic vinegar. The prices on these items are good in my area.

    I think many of the California TJ’s are a lot better, from what I understand. I live in the midwest.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I have recently heard from a very trustworthy source who was in the grocery business for many, many years that Trader Joe’s is owned by Aldi grocery stores. Aldi is a discount grocery store chain where you have to pay to rent a shopping cart. If you don’t have one in your area, i am sure they have a website. So all of TJ’s food is Aldi food in disguise. I was quite disappointed to hear that.

  3. Karen Vogel says:

    TJ’s is not good for general grocery shopping at all! It’s good for the odd item that is hard to find (such as milk-free chocolate tips for my dairy-allergic son). Definitely not worth an hour’s drive, as you found out yourself. I wouldn’t go there at all, if it weren’t 5 minutes from me. Most people, I have found, are lousy shoppers and have no idea how much money they are spending. Even if they are intelligent otherwise.

  4. Lisa says:

    3 words:

    Two Buck Chuck

  5. Jen says:

    Honestly, we shop there for snack foods only–they have killer chocolate snack things for reasonable prices (chocolate covered sunflower seeds–yum!). My mom, a card-carrying tree-hugger, only shops there for wine, cat food and dark-chocolate-covered ginger. I have a celiac friend who buys a lot of food there–you can ask and they’ll give you a sheet that tells you which foods have no gluten etc.–but no one I know does their grocery shopping there. Just the “extras”. Still, it was an experience, right?

  6. amanda says:

    I was never impressed with Trader Joe’s, even the ones in SoCal. I love Central Market and Whole Foods for organic, we have a store here called Brookshire’s thats good too, I don’t know if they have them, we’re in Texas . I try to be green with most things but I can’t quite let go of my plastic sandwich bags and papertowels. *takes her place at the unpopular table*

  7. Not The Mama says:

    Ooh, I’ll join you on the unpopular bench. We recently got a Trader Joe’s and everyone around me would not SHUT UP about how wonderful it was and how it was going to be so amazing and how deprived I was for not having experienced it yet. I was a little annoyed but mostly excited.

    And then I went. My reaction was exactly like yours: this is it? I kept thinking I was missing something. It’s small, the selection is minimal at best, and I can get much better deals on organic food at my local grocery store. If you are looking for gluten-free or other allergy-specific foods, TJ can be a good source. But for everyday shopping…no thanks.

  8. Jen says:

    Yeah, it’s not everyday. We buy trail mixes, chips, dips, and other snack-y type things for company. Since ours is close, I also use it for quick meat. I like the sliced steak for sandwiches, boneless lamb, frozen fish, cheap and easy dumplings I send for kid’s lunches, and sometimes frozen veggies. Oh, and my husband and kids like some of the cereals.

    It’s not everyday shopping nor is it produce land.

  9. Mindy says:

    You have to go to Trader Joe’s more than once before you can write it off. Do not go there for the produce. Go there for the essentials you were writing about. They have awesome stuff for kids lunches. Honest.

  10. erin rae says:

    I’m pretty much with you.

    Produce-wise: I don’t buy much.

    They are the only place I know of that sells the BIG containers of Soy Dream soy milk, our soy milk of choice. Since it comes in those long-life boxes, I go to TJs once a month or so and stock up.

    I like TJs for some frozen items and snack-y type stuff like dried fruit, plus some grains like whole-wheat couscous.

    Overall though, I completely agree.

    My last shopping trip was for: Soymilk, Puffins cereal, the chile lime chicken burgers, turkey sausages, black bean dip, whole wheat couscous, and I threw a couple Luna bars in.

    On the other hand, I have a Wegmans about 2 minutes from my house that fills my heart with joy every time I walk through the door. And if that isn’t enough, Whole Foods is a mile away. I’m spoiled.

  11. Beth F. says:

    Save a seat for me.

  12. janet says:

    i’ve been at that table for years. welcome.

  13. Mommy mommy says:

    pruduce at TJ’s? No, we go there for the frozen items, the pre-prepared chicken salads, tzitki, and hummus. The little veggie pizzas that are super easy dinners and frozen cheesecake. TJ’s is like an add on grocedry store - like whole foods but cheaper - you still have to go the the BIG grocery store too.

    Oh and 2 buck chuck

  14. Jenn says:

    Yup, here I am, at the unpopular table too. Trader Joe’s has failed to impress me.

    I buy all my produce locally grown, at a farmer’s market. That’s the BEST way to go. You get to talk to the guy/gal who grew the food you are buying. It can’t get better than that. Sure, the selection isn’t very wide (you just can’t grow bananas or oranges in the Midwest), but I get what’s fresh, and in season, and no one has spent scads of money shipping the banana or the orange to me.

    As for snack food stuffs…it’s Target, hands down.

  15. Lucinda says:

    I haven’t been to a Trader Joe’s in years. I went with my grandmother a couple times because she thought it was a “funny little store.” I agree with her. It was funny and fun. There were a few items that were unusual and you could only get there at the time so it was cool. But I’ve never thought of it as more than a gimmicky kind of store.

    Now that I’ve been diagnosed with Celiac, I may check one out again (when I’m near one) but there are so many more options now than even a few years ago for organic and special diet type foods that Trader Joe’s just isn’t that special anymore.

  16. t in h says:

    Funny, I’ve never thought of it as “renting” a trolley (re: trolleys at Aldi). All shopping trolleys here require an Euro piece or a plastic token (which you can get anywhere for free–we have dozens floating around here). This just ensures that most of the trolleys are returned to the trolley barn. ;-)

    Of course, there are a lot of things we don’t really think about here that would raise an eyebrow or two in the US such as: we pay a small deposit on every single plastic or glass bottled drink, large or small and we collect all the empties to return to the grocery store or drink market where we are given our deposit back (which is then, as often as not, just used for the next crate of drinks or put towards the groceries for that trip); and we put our groceries in baskets or cloth, net or plastic bags which we bring from home (many people who use cars to go to the shops just keep a supply in the car) or, if you need a shopping bag, you must expect to have to buy one. If I only need a few things, I’ll just put them in my back pack. It amazes me how people in the US get all their groceries bagged with new sacks every single trip.

    Yikes, I’ve really strayed from the topic. Back to the subject at hand:

    As to TJ’s food being Aldi food in disguise….we don’t have TJ’s here but I ocasionally visited one during an extended visit in the U.S. Definitely not Aldi food, in my experience of Aldi. I thought it was actually pretty interesting with some neat foods. That said, I can’t see ever actually doing my regular grocery shopping there like I would at Aldi, Lidl or Edeka. They had this wickedly good garlic hummus. Oh, that stuff was pure heaven. Wish I could have packed it back in my luggage–in bulk! I could see myself driving an hour for that stuff, but not driving an hour just to shop at a TJ.

    Now, my sister has a Metropolitan grocery store near her home. That was just heaven. Utter heaven.

  17. Jackie says:

    We don’t have a Trader Joe’s here. We have Wild Oats and another one called Fresh Market (which was amazing the first time I walked in there, they keep the bulk spices next to the door so when you walk in it smells so yummy). Just out of curiosity I looked up Trader Joe’s company profile, they’re not owned by Aldi’s but owned by the same people that own Aldi’s. http://biz.yahoo.com/ic/47/47619.html

  18. Catherine says:

    There are certain pantry items that are often cheaper at TJ’s than at your local grocery store: olive oil, vinegar, capers, olives, pasta sauce, canned tomatoes, artichokes, breakfast cereal, granola, dry pasta, dried fruit, nuts, etc. The cheese is also much cheaper (and often the same brands) than your local grocery store. And then, as was mentioned above, there are the Monday-night-lifesavers, the frozen entrees.

    But no, TJ’s is not the place to go for produce. It is also worth noting that a lot of the “prepared foods” are geared towards very small families (or single people, for that matter).

    Which TJ’s did you go to? I grew up in CT and went to the one in West Hartford when visiting my parents last Christmas. (I’ve also been to the one in Orange.) They’re smaller than the ones in CA and also don’t sell alcohol, which kind of puts a damper on things.

  19. elizabeth says:

    BEST store ever for produce and fish and cheese, on and on - is Central Market in Austin, Texas!

    TJ’s was fun (one time only - way too far away for me) for a few particular items, and the free nylon bag they gave me because I ANNOUNCED it was my first time visiting their store (did not say I would not be back! :P)

  20. nabbalicious says:

    I adore Trader Joes, but I agree with the others: it’s not a place you’d make your regular grocery store. I go there for weird crap I can’t find anywhere else. Not that YOU need it, but they have a lot of Weight Watchers-friendly foods, which is why I love it so.

  21. She Likes Purple says:

    I’ve never been to Trader Joe’s. We live in Texas, and if there are locations here, I don’t know about them. But we have Central Market, which I think is similar (although it sounds like it’s better). And I love Central Market, if only for the amazing cafe section (pre-made food you heat up at home) and the olive bar and salsa bar and fruit and salad and soup bars. And they have a great wine and produce section. But, honestly, my fancy Tom Thumb has a lot to offer, too. As does any HEB, which is my favorite supermarket on earth.

  22. She Likes Purple says:

    Also, nabbalicious, if I ever do happen upon a Trader Joe’s, that’s awesome to know. I’m a few weeks into Weight Watchers and the more WW friendly food I can get my hands on, the better.

  23. MamaLady says:

    I am so happy to hear you say this! My in-laws, particularly my mother in law, LOVES, ADORES, WORSHIPS any and all Trader Joe. They leave off the “s” as Joe is their friend, you know.
    I am the black sheep of the family because I do not share their same adoration.
    Here’s a story I love to tell. My son was on a junk food binge for a couple of weeks when he was around 2. All he would eat is goldfish crackers, chips, pretzels etc. One day my MIL offered him some sort of cracker and I asked her not to give him more as I was trying to get something green down his throat. She said “It’s ok, they came from Trader Joe.”
    Alrighty then.
    I will say that TJs frozen vegetables and berries are wonderful. Other than that, they could close the store and I wouldn’t see a difference.

  24. Suzanne says:

    Funny, I had the same reaction as you, the first (few) times I went, I was always like, what is the big deal w/this place?? Never understood why people go crazy for it. They do have alot of frozen food, which I’m not so big on. I will say wine section is awesome, prices are really reasonable, but I find you need to supplement your shopping with “real” grocery stores also. I have access to about 5 trader joe’s in a 20 mile radius of where I live, and I still only go every other month or so!

  25. Heidi says:

    Love TJ. Although my hubby has an alergic reaction to ANYTHING healthy, so I only shop for myself there. I have tried to work the stuff that I buy there into my dinners, but it doesn’t work. The spinach spagetti is green and therefore bad. The granola looks healthy and therefore is bad too. Among other things. I would love to go grocery shopping there, but haven’t yet. Yet. So I honestly don’t think I could tell you whether or not all the stuff I buy would be there. I know I find it harder to shop at TJ. I can’t find things as easily, but I attribute that to the fact that TJ is like a foreign country.

  26. Kate says:

    Like others have said, I don’t buy produce at TJ’s except for a few items like bagged spinach because it is cheaper. The rest of it is often lousy. I go there for cereal (much cheaper), milk (now $2 less a gallon than my regular store), granola bars, nuts, cheese, some prepared meals, nut butters, pasta sauce, etc. It used to be a good source of whole grain pasta and the like before all the regular stores started carrying that stuff. It’s good for when I need to bring snacks for a group. It’s also good for when I need more easy to prepare food, less good when I want to do something more complicated. I’m single and often too busy to cook every night, so it helps.

  27. jody2ms says:

    In Texas we have HEB….I love it. Organics galore, fresh meats etc. and a fantastic wine and beer aisle.

    Smooshed bananas sound nasty.

  28. goodsandwich says:

    We just got a Trader Joe’s here this month. We finally went in, all atwitter after what we had been told, and found — a little store full of wine and snacks? Really, that’s it?

    OK, some inexpensive eggs and tofu, and some gluten-free tortillas that didn’t break the bank. But other than that, all I found was a bunch of shrink-wrapped overpriced produce (who needs a salsa kit? Or bananas priced by the piece?), millions of chocolate-covered things, a whole 2-sided aisle of chips, and more friendly branding than I’d ever seen before, all wrapped in local-scene murals.

    A pleasant place, certainly. But it basically struck me as being a natural-foods AM/PM Market. With literally hundreds of varieties of wine.

  29. Kristi says:

    You just can’t do major grocery shopping there. It is more for picking up bits and pieces of this and that for every now and then. Like their own soups or the chocolate ganache cakes. Their shaving cream is pretty good too. So by the time you are done, you have a wide assortment of completely unrelated items.

  30. Kendra says:

    I’m with Lisa-TWO BUCK CHUCK!

  31. Candy says:

    Two Buck Chuck…heh…

    Yeah Trader Joe’s is a disappointment. Now Whole Foods…I hear that’s where the angels sing.

  32. Cate says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. TJ’s very overrated and the transplanted California’s in our little Oregon town are so excited we are getting one. Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and Central Market in Texas are all better.

    Central Market is, hands down, the best grocery store I’ve ever been in. Why or why do only the Texans get to enjoy them?

  33. Annie says:

    NO, NO, NO! You don’t go there for produce. Yuck! I do TJ’s for breakfast and lunch items, healthy snacks, ALCOHOL, some dinner items for when I’m too lazy to cook from scratch…you do have to supplement with another grocery story though. Their prices are way cheaper (out here anyway) for dairy products, etc…

  34. maria says:

    Wine and simmer sauces - I go about once a month and look like a wino w/a bad snack habit. I get frustrated that I can’t get some of the essentials so I can make only one trip to the store - but I haven’t been for a couple of months and am anxious to go get their green curry sauce. In my pre-kid days these would be things I’m find a recipe for and make myself - now it’s quick and easy and tastes good. But, yes I think those of us who like it - tend to oversell it and I’m in the like and enjoy club- not worship…

  35. Rachel says:

    Wegmans is definately where all the singing angels hang out. Even my 3 yr old likes shopping there (they have a train that goes around part of the store- hello free distraction!) and they have a drop in child care for potty trained kids (I wish my son was in that category). For a while we were going like 5 times a week, we’ve gotten over that, but we still love it.

  36. Manic Mommy says:

    I can’t ‘really’ shop there but I do go to augment. Their olive oil is amazingly cheap as are their frozen vegetables. We also totally love their Bolgnese sauce. My husband hates my homemade pasta sauce and I hate making it. We all like this stuff.

  37. Heather says:

    I love TJs, but I don’t think their strength is organic stuff so much as natural foods and healthier stuff… Really, they are mostly good for people (like me) whose local grocery store carries nothing in the way of organic or local…

  38. chris says:

    Hi. De-lurking, even though you have a gazillion comments already! We shop at TJ once a week and “other” once a week. Like others said TJ is good for wine, beer, some fairtrade coffee, nuts, dried fruit, multigrain pancake mix, organic peanut butter, no sugar or fake-sugar jelly, cheeses, Greek yogurt, chocolate cats, frozen fruits, and frozen foods - because they are cheaper there than other places. Cheap but good quality. Their produce is not so great, so hit a farmer’s market for fresher, tastier things. And they are owned by the Aldi family. BUT even though Aldi owns them, and occasionaly some of their chocolates or simialr things are from their German/European Aldi brand (repackaged as “fancy” for Americans), the stores are not the same as Aldi in America, and TJ has retained a lot of its original good qualities.
    If you are feeling lazy, they also have simmer sauces, tofu, and frozen nan bread. Great easy dinner. :)

  39. TwoSquareMeals says:

    Yep, we just go there for wine, frozen foods, snacks, and cheap gourmetish things, like nice oils and vinegars and natural peanut butter. I still get produce and staples at my grocery store or farmer’s market. I used to live 5 minutes from an Aldi, TJ’s, and regular grocery store in my pre-kids days. I had lists of things I bought at each store. Now I just find it easier to go to one store and get it all, making a monthly TJ’s run for wine and snack, like chocolate peanut butter treats!

  40. Fina says:

    One of the things I go to TJs for is their organic milk in a gallon. Its at least 2 bucks cheaper than my local market. Am I spending 2 bucks driving the 10 miles there and 10 miles back?? Maybe - but its nice to just shop somewhere different once in a while. I bought organic Pumpkin at TJs yesterday and I havent seen that yet at my Stop & Shop so it was a nice little extra. Whole Foods (or as I like to call them “My WHOLE paycheck on FOODS”) is nice but much much further away. And expensive!!

  41. arduous says:

    Oh geez. I love, love, love Trader Joes. But it took me a while to understand why TJs was so wonderful. First off, no, produce is not their strong suit. (Though I think they got a new produce buyer in So Cal, because the produce this year has been awesome.)
    Trader Joes is great for pre-packaged meals, for AMAZING snacks, for stuff like soybean butter, for flowers when you don’t have time to go to the florist, and for alcohol at reasonable prices. It takes a while to get into the TJs groove because you have to learn to substitute Apple Jacks with Triple Berry Os and that kind of thing. Oh, also, TJs has THE BEST organic cheese crackers. They taste just like Ritz cheese crackers, only they are somewhat better for you. Ack. I know I’ve said a lot. I do love TJs, but I get why you don’t like Trader Joes, really. And I don’t think I would go if it were an hour away from my house.

  42. SarahD says:

    I don’t think Trader Joe’s even used to have fresh produce until a few years ago (though I could be wrong). In any case, it’s never been their area of strength.

    I do love my local (California) Trader Joe’s though, and here’s why: Their (non-organic) eggs and dairy products are generally 1/3 less expensive than any other local grocery store I’ve been able to find, plus the dairy products taste better. Their breakfast cereal is generally cheaper even than the sales in other stores, as is their pasta, olive oil, frozen veggies and frozen meat/fish/chicken. What I generally do is stop at Trader Joe’s first on my shopping run, and whatever they lack I then shop for at other stores (and by “lack” I also include items that they carry, but which suck, such as beat-up bananas and highly packaged fresh veggies). I also love that they give my toddler a balloon and/or stickers every time we visit — it’s the highlight of our shopping trip. :-)

  43. Sara says:

    I’ve never been to a Trader Joe’s even though we have quite a few near me. Doesn’t matter to me as I can get a lot of stuff in the grocery store that’s organically grown.

  44. Jenny says:

    I think an hour is too far for it, even though I love TJs. I’m not a cooker (that’s my husband’s job), but TJs has lots of things I can easily throw together that taste good and are fairly healthy. That and the wine are why I love it.

  45. jess says:

    I keep hearing tons about Trader Joe’s but haven’t yet been there since there isn’t one near me. My husband’s mom was touting it’s wonderful-ness a couple weeks ago, but I’m reserving judgment until I have one near me and need something they have.

    @ t in h:

    I never thought of it as renting at Aldi either, since you get the money back when you return the cart. As for bottle deposits, which you speak of, it depends on what state you live in here in the US. I’ve lived in three states and one, Iowa, did require a bottle deposit on glass, plastic, AND aluminum cans that you would purchase (soda, etc.) If you brought these back to the store, they’d return your deposit.

    My husband and I have reusable bags that we leave in our car and we don’t use the bags in the store. I think this is a growing trend in the US as well, as some stores are indeed starting to charge for plastic or paper bags if you don’t bring your own.

  46. Joy H says:

    I’m not a TJ’s junkie but I do go there for some things, usually armed with a list b/c I like certain things from there and it IS cheaper……Organic brown rice (frozen section, green box); organic milk; hummus; pirate booty; veggie chips; trail mix; nuts for holiday baking; polenta & now grits, yeah; sparkling water; wine; cheeses.

    I’m a GROCERY GAME junkie; coupons are too important.

  47. meredith says:

    I don’t know what Trader Joes is, but I bet you’d like european outdoor markets. Lots and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, some organic, some not.

  48. mothergoosemouse says:

    Not a fan either. But I dig Whole Foods for the meat and fish - much better quality than the local grocery. Organic fruits and veggies - forget it. I like strawberries that are the size of my fist and keep for more than a day in the refrigerator.

  49. tracey says:

    We don’t shop at TJs very often because the nearest one is over an hour away, so when we do it’s for the novelty value. I like their brown rice, and hubby likes the chocolate covered coffee beans and the beer, except they haven’t had his favourite the last few times we were there. We’ve never even bothered with the produce, quite uninspiring. We do have an Aldi in our town. I hate it, they’re so disorganised, they run out of milk mid-week.

  50. salsaqueen says:

    No TJ’s in Florida. Don’t know if that’s good or bad. Do have Whole Foods and Fresh Market. Though last time I was in FM, I did notice a lack of the usually wonderful produce. Smooshed bananas=banana bread! And thank you for adding to my hubby’s retirement fund by purchasing Tostitos!

  51. Melissa L says:

    I also live in CT and the TJ’s in Orange sucks. Try to get to the one in Cambridge Mass. if you get a chance. Much better. We bring our kid’s to the children’s museum in Boston a couple times a year and hit T.J.’s on the way out. My favorites at T.J.’s are olive oil, canned tomatoes, cheese, and frozen veggie meals.

  52. Priya says:

    I shop at TJs for just the following: frozen pizzas, frozen naan, frozen breaded tilapia (my son LOVES these), toucan cheese or choc snacks, juice boxes, hand soap, moisturizer, butternut squash soup, fresh juice drinks, dips, and of course, the 2 buck chuck.

    I NEVER buy anything from their produce…low turnover.

  53. Vicky says:

    TJs was a disappointment to me, too. I came out of there with some pills to make the dog’s coat shinier (and she won’t eat them) and some cashews. The area markets are getting better, so I visit two or three of them to get the things I like. I sure do miss the good old days of one-stop shopping at the Piggly-Wiggly!

  54. Stephanie says:

    I’ll second everyone re: TJs frozen goods and snack section. And the two-buck Chuck (now actually, three bucks) is divine.
    If you want really amazing produce and meats, Metropolitan Market is the place…if you have one around.

  55. Heather says:

    I like TJ’s wine selection, but other than that much of their food makes me think of TJ Maxx. You know, the chocolates, teas and crackers that are shoved in the back? They look like their fancy, but they’re really just some weird stuff that came out of a ripped gift basket.

    I decided that trying to buy local produce is helpful to the environment - less fossil fuel used in getting it to the customer!

  56. CathyC says:

    You are too funny. The Trader Joe’s we have here in New England suck. The ones in San Francisco are MUCH better. My favorite things about TJ’s is that you can buy things from Madagascar! and Poland! and think that you are being worldly. We actually buy all our organic milk there because it is cheaper, and it’s just down the street from us.

  57. CathyC says:

    I forgot to add, we are 2 buck (3 here) Chuck drinking (ahh,sipping) people here, too. My husband buys a case at a time. No, I won’t tell you how often!

  58. Haley says:

    I hate Trader Joes. I went a few times when I lived in Atlanta, so I could fit in with the rest of the “in” crowd, but each time I hated it even more. I haven’t been to the ones in Chicago yet, so maybe I’ll give it another try. If only parking wasn’t so darn expensive…and I’m not tree huggy enough to walk. But, Whole Foods is another story…I’m infatuated with Whole Foods.

  59. Meagan says:

    After hearing such rave reviews I was initially disappointed, but I did love the selection of wines and beers, some of the special sauces and marinades, and got good deals on some organic hand soap and lotion.

    It wouldn’t be worth the trip if it weren’t for the wine, though.

  60. Carola says:

    oh, I lived in Boston for 5 years, and now back in my country TJ’s is one of THE things I miss…I never bought an apple or lettuce there (ridiculously expensive) but I loooooooved the frozen meals, the snacks (also the frozen appetizers), the cheese, the crackers, the cookies, the affordable wines and beers, the nuts…I wouldn’t drive and hour for any of these though.

  61. Kate says:

    For me the key to Trader Joe’s is the frozen foods. Their prepared meals are better than those at our grocery store and they have decent, well priced, individually frozen fish. Aside from that, the cheap vino and bulk chocolate are the only things I really buy there.

  62. Jen says:

    Wine - inexpensive and as good or better than the expensive stuff. Trellis Merlot - to die for. Delicato..mmmmmmm. And the frozen foods do rock.

  63. steph says:

    we have a TJ’s within walking distance. Which is good, because I go there to stock up on wine. ;-)
    but we also have a produce stand within walking distance that I hit a few times a week. We only shop at TJ’s, and since making the switch save a bunch on our grocery bill. We do go to Costco for TP and bathroom stuff.
    we always buy:
    yogurt (vanana and the kid squeezers)
    brown rice pasta
    hemp cereal, flax, GF stuff, go lean crunch
    brown rice tortillas
    generic pirate’s booty
    nuts and dried fruit
    fruit leather
    pasta sauce
    TONS of other sauces I plop on frozen meat in the crock

    I could really go on and on. It’s taken years of determination though to make the switch.

  64. Amy says:

    I don’t really get why people expect TJs to be an organic, have-everything store - I have always seen it as a really fabulous niche store with excellent frozen options for really fast and delicious dinners, etc. I specifically go there for the par-baked dinner rolls (SO good and fast), the cheap organic milk, really yummy frozen pizzas, the mushroom risotto that takes like three minutes in the pan, big bags of frozen fruit, soup and sauces, etc. I always leave with several bags full of stuff, and am amazed at the low prices compared to the fortune I always spend at Whole Foods (which is also a huge chain store, BTW).

  65. Heather B. says:

    I’m just trying to breathe in a paper bag after this one because my love is rather well documented. Here’s my explanation: I NEVER went to TJ’s for produce unless I was feeling particularly lazy or I wanted to make my own guacamole from a kit, other than that it was just to be avoided. Their produce isn’t all that great, I’ll admit, so I always went to Whole Foods for that stuff. It was their frozen meals and two dollar frozen organic peas and rampant tofurky that had me hooked. They just have some of the most interesting and good stuff that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Like who doesn’t like five cheese Mac & Cheese or gnocchi with gorgonzola that takes like five minutes to prepare? Ok some people probably don’t. But how about two dollar wine?? Amazing.

    For the record, I do still obsess about TJ’s and all that I’m missing, but Hannaford and I are becoming BFF and their organic aisle is amazing. Just try it one more time. And if you still hate it then I’ll understand.

  66. Mary W says:

    I am going to chime in and concur with Amanda on the central Market. when I die I want heaven to be like Central Market - seriously any store that has wine samples for your shopping pleasure?

  67. t in h says:

    Jess, I’m glad to hear the BYOB (bring your own bag, of course ;-) ) trend is starting to catch on in the US. Ironically (and sadly) it seems to be moving in the other direction here. Where only a few years ago you’d pretty much never find a store that would give you bags for free, I’ve come across a few now that will and as many as you’d like. Mostly, they were Walmarts, however, so perhaps that explains that. Since Walmart has given up and gone home, perhaps that US trend will die out again. One can hope. You just don’t see people carrying out their groceries in the store sacks here. We pile it all back off the conveyer belt and back into the trolley again, to be packed into the sacks, baskets and/or collapsible crates in the back of our cars. Much easier than packing it into bags at the check-out when you are standing there with bored wild and wooly kids! (Oh, did I mention no one bags your purchases for you here? That is one customer service nicety–amongst many–that simply doesn’t exist here, LOL!)

  68. Kelley says:

    The best thing about Trader Joes? Thier chocoolate-covered coffee beans…that’s really the only thing I miss from there.

  69. Closetmom says:

    we recently moved to Florida, and the closest TJ’s is seven hours away. I’m in serious withdrawl, and it has hands down been the hardest part of the move. But like others have said, it’s an acquired love. It helps if you have friends who go and suggest new things. Hands down best easy appetizer to have on hand is their frozen goat cheese, carmelized onion tarts. They are incredible, and I can eat the whole box in a sitting. I’ve started a letter writing campaign to try and get them to locate here, so far no luck. I hope you keep going back!

  70. Chris says:

    The Trader Joe’s I went to did not sell wine or beer, I think that is a CT thing. Only liquor stores sell alcohol.

    Also, a few things I did see that I thought might be interesting said on the label “manufactured in facilities that also produce eggs, dairy, wheat, shellfish, peanut products”

    That eliminates it for me right there.

    I don’t buy any prepackaged convenience foods, ever. I just don’t think they are the healthiest or most economical choice for a family. So while I glanced at those things in the freezers, that was all I did.

    And the soy milk that we drink is cheaper elsewhere.

  71. Karen says:

    TJ’s is for fun accent foods to make your meals more exciting and for DINKS (dual- income-no-kids)like me and my husband who like prepacked,but oraginc dinners for two. Sorry you trekked out for that especially with all the kids.

  72. Kerry says:

    Whoever led you to believe that you would find fresh produce at TJ’s was sadly mistaken. I have to drive over 3 hours to get to one so I only go when visiting family, but I LOVE them for their cheap nuts, chocolate cake, salmon, chocolate covered espresso beans, and other processed things. When we were local and my son had horrible allergies most of his food came from TJ’s. We could get wheat free waffles for $1.79, less than half what we would pay at the hf store. TJ’s Organic chilli is awesome too!

    Sorry that you were misled!

  73. Deb says:

    My favorites: Tikka Masala sauce, Korma sauce, Cuban lime sauce…all great with chicken, onions, and veggies and served over rice. Easy. Chocolate chips…the best! Their bagged granolas, including the blueberry muesli. Love the granola bars, especially the ones in the green box with cranberries in them.I also get nuts there when I am making pesto.

  74. TD says:

    I used to live within three miles of not one, not two, but THREE Trader Joe’s, and I couldn’t stand them. Snack food? The grocery store carries it. Wine? The grocery store carries it. Frozen pot stickers (if you’re so inclined)? The grocery store carries them. There was zilch that I could get at TJ’s that I couldn’t get at my regular grocery store, without having to make an extra stop. I really, really tried to love it, but I never could see the draw. Just sign me up with the unpopular kids!

  75. carrien says:

    So, I love Trader Joe’s, there’s my disclaimer.

    The only thing i don’t love about them is their produce, so if you went looking for produce I’m not surprised that you were disappointed. People who love Trader Joe’s are people who label read, and like cheap wine that tastes like expensive wine. I’ve never bought a wine from them that didn’t taste really good.

    All of their snack things, and cereals, and chips, etc on the surface are no that much different from what you get at the grocery store, but when you check the label you find that unlike what you can get at the grocery store TJ’s makes their crackers with real ingredients, like no preservatives, hydrogenated oils, and hyper processed ingredients. They make cookies with butter sugar and flour. Try finding that at a regular grocery store, cookies amde with real butter, for the same price as Trader Joe’s.

    Anyway, I’m also really fond of their cheese selection, and yogurt and RBST free dairy products and eggs and premade soups and convenience meals. All of those things at TJ’s are better for you than what you can get at a regular store.

    It’s ingredients that make all the difference. And price, it’s usually cheaper than it’s equivalent somewhere else.

  76. Paula says:

    Frozen chocolate chip cookies and Pita Chips…I can say no more…

  77. Kathy says:

    I like TJs and I dislike TJs. Really - for a party, it’s the best place to go for the $3 two buck chuck. It’s also a great place for cheap sparking water. And those candied walnuts they have? In chow mein? Oh my god - I want some now! They’ve also got some fantastic pizzas in the freezer section. But if I want great produce, it’s definitely not at TJs. Whole Foods, definitely.

    It is owned by Aldis but Trader Joe’s is nothing like Aldis. Aldis is a great store for anyone make little to no money because it’s all generic brands. But for produce? You’re better off buying canned generic fruits and vegetables than the produce there!

  78. Charlotte says:

    Hate Trader Joe’s. Love Stew Leonard’s. Too bad they’re only in NY and CT.

    Oh, and t in h:

    I think I’ve been bringing my own bags since high school, and I pay a bottle deposit on all cans and bottles. It must be because I live in a large city or something. I hope it catches on soon.

  79. Lisa says:

    I lived in PA for many years and only shopped at Wegman’s. If you are close to one, that is worth the hour drive. Otherwise, stick to your organic regular grocery store. We are getting a local TJ’s and people are excited. And I don’t care. I had the very same experience as you.

  80. Beth says:

    TJ’s is mostly good for specialty foods — produce, not so much. I think they carry produce as an afterthought, really. ;^) But for certain kinds of dips, spreads, nuts, chips, cookies, frozen items, etc. they’re great. At least in California. I wouldn’t drive an hour to one, though. You probably have gourmet or specialty items much closer to you.

  81. Janet says:

    I LOVE Trader Joe’s but I’m only fixing meals for 2 adults. Now that the kids are gone I’m pretty much “hanging up my apron”. I rarely cook “dinner” anymore. I think that a lot of TJ’s foods are interesting and don’t forget the 2 buck Chuck!

  82. charlie says:

    I have to agree it’s not for produce. I love the Carribean Fruit Floes, popsicles with real bits of coconut and fruit. The curry simmer sauces, the raw pizza dough, greek yogurt. The frosen section has great tamales and spinach puff appetizers. These are real gems hidden amidst the snacks and wine, but when you find your faves it’s worth it.

  83. Wendy says:

    I guess we are spoiled here in New Orleans. We get our liquor right along with our groceries. Who has time to go to another store to get your drink on? We, also, have drive through daiquiri shops. You know to save time. It is considered an open container only if the straw is in it. We can, also, walk around with cups of alcohol on the street. That is why we rock and have all the great parties.

  84. Heather says:

    Trader Joes really is a wee bit over-rated. I will usually run in there for wine and cheese during my lunch hour at work only because I have a T.J about 5 minutes away from my office. I would never drive out of my way to one, I really dont understand the attraction. Our local grocer here also has a nice variety of organic items. So nice to know I am not alone scratching my head on this one. ;)

  85. jm says:

    Trader Joes is for losers like me who can’t cook. I rarely buy fresh produce (because I can’t cook it) so I buy a ton of the flash frozen TJ’s stuff (mango, berries, corn, peas, etc.) Then I buy cheap organic milk and yogurt, cheese sticks, fruit leather and Dr Bronners peppermint soap. Now, since we only eat pre-prepared frozen food around here (which would be awful for folks with food allergies), TJ’s works. Chicken Apple Sausage, frozen chicken tacos, frozen asparagus risotto, Jasmine rice, frozen burritos, frozen salmon steaks and ahi tuna, frozen stuffed porkchops, frozen quiches. And then there are our sauces…Masala marinade, Mojito Sauce, etc.

    So, TJ’s for prepared stuff or quirky sauces. Not so much for paper goods or a large selection of meats (though we have some and they are okay) or produce. I basically fill my freezer at Trader Joes.

  86. Rae says:

    Doesn’t look like you’re any less popular. ;)

    At the risk (okay the certainty) of being repetitive, Trader Joe’s sucks for produce, and I never ever buy any there. But rice milk is the cheapest I can get it, and that is important for my allergy ridden kids who can’t drink cow, goat, soy, or almond milk. So, it’s stuff like that, I cannot tell a lie. And the healthiest people I know scoff at TJ’s, so you’d probably be MORE popular with them.

  87. Jasmine says:

    We don’t have a TJ’s near us. So glad to know I won’t be missing anything!

  88. Mark says:

    I have to laugh because just the cheese department at our Wegman’s is larger than our local TJ’s.

  89. kathy says:

    Blasphemy I say, pure unadulterated blasphemy! Every year, when we leave Mexico to visit family in the US, we hold our collective breaths until the moment we walk through the hallowed doors of Traderth Joeth. I’m hoping you’re simply drunk on power and will realize the error of your ways come morning.


    Come down to the Caribbean, baby, and you’d better bring something from TJ’s if you want to survive your vacation.

  90. judi casey says:

    never been a big fan of trader joes. people say their frozen food is good, but we tend to make things from scratch- so i never shop the frozen section. their milk is good, but not worth the trip. our basic shopping is done at costco. i am waiting patiently for wegmans to get to the maryland suburbs of dc.

  91. Colleen says:

    There should be a wegmans near Bowie soon. I live near the one in Sterling, and love it. It has a great organic section, and the rice milk was cheap for my twins (they have outgrown their milk allergy now, though, yay!)

  92. t in h says:

    Would someone please tell me: WHAT is a ” buck chuck”????

  93. Amy says:

    We now have a Trader Joe’s, but I still shop in The Fresh Market–great bulks, our organic milk, cheap but good wine, great snacks…and great produce. My kiddos ask me not to buy apples at Publix, but wait until we can get the “good” ones at Fresh Market.

  94. tuesday says:

    I am not a huge fan of trader joes either. They have good specialty things but I would rather go to Whole Foods.

  95. Cathie says:

    A new TJ’s opened near us and I had the same experience - “this is it??!!”
    However - Wegmans. Ah Wegmans. There’s a store where the angels sing when you walk through the doors. Save your hour’s drive and head toward the closest Wegmans. You will never be disappointed.

  96. Ani says:

    Joining the Trader Joe’s is overrated club. We drove two hours (to do other things besides, but TJ’s was part of it) and went there and were NOT impressed. Any so-called funky stuff can usually be found elsewhere. Including the Masala sauce. They have a better (more authentic) kind at our local Bloom store (an offshoot of Food Lion, of all things).

    Trader Joe’s rode a wave of funky publicity. But I don’t consider it a grocery store per se, just a collection of odd food-related items.

    On the other hand, they did have Tandoori masala papadum chips. And THOSE are excellent. :-)

  97. Mark says:

    Since they can’t sell wine/beer in Maryland grocery stores, we’re cut out of the Two Buck Chuck mania. I allways equated Two Buck Chuck with paper wrapped bottles of MD20/20 or Ripple that wino’s drink :-)

    For those that don’t know, this from TJ’s website:
    “If there’s been one constant in our wine selection lately, it’s got to be Charles Shaw. Lovingly nicknamed “Two Buck Chuck” by a member of the wine press, these California wines have become something of a phenomenon in the wine world, and in our stores. Contrary to many an urban legend, these super-value wines began as the result of an oversupply of wine and a great relationship with a valued supplier. They’ve become the nation’s best-selling wines, not surprising when you consider the combination of low price ($1.99 - $3.49 per bottle, depending on the region) and great taste Charles Shaw wines offer. Depending on the season and the quality of wine available, our selection of Charles Shaw varietals will vary, but the quality never will.”

  98. hollygee says:

    This may have been covered already, but I am almost positive that TJ’s brown rice pasta is Tinkyada under the TJ label, and it is cheaper than what is available elsewhere.

    I thought that I might be safe eating their semi-sweet chocolate bars, even though it carried the disclaimer about the processed in a facility that also handles wheat. I had a gluten attack. FROM CHOCOLATE. I felt so bereft.

  99. Shannon says:

    You have made me feel better. There is no Trader Joes around here and I’ve always felt like I was missing out.

  100. daring one says:

    Oh Chris.

  101. Another Susan says:

    Since I can pretty much guarantee there is nothing organic in my fridge or cabinets … I’m probably Queen of the unpopular table.

    There is a TJ’s near me but I’ve never stepped inside it. But I can highly recommend Wegmans. LOVE that place!

  102. jess says:

    t in h:

    I moved to Minnesota from Illinois and was surprised to find out that they do not bag here either! It’s weird. I’d never seen a place that didn’t bag (except Aldi) when I was living in Illinois or Iowa either one, and then when I move here no one has baggers. It’s strange. (I don’t mind the bagging, though, since I never have broken or smushed items any more.) I’m glad the BYO bag thing is catching on here too, though, since it will help with the plastic bags flying around everywhere.

    And where I live now they also don’t have alcohol in grocery stores. It’s odd because where I’m originally from they had a liquor section in the stores but here you have to go to a special “Liquor Store” (which is what all their signs say even though they have other names like “Dick’s Liquor” and the like in small print on advertisements, etc.)

  103. Kim says:

    I used to trek over to Trader Joe’s once every two months or so to stock up on their frozen whole green beans. But then an Aldi opened up close to me and I can get the very same thing there for sixty cents cheaper per bag. Some of your commenters aren’t impressed with Aldi’s produce - well, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. If you shop right after they’ve unloaded it from the truck it’s OK and you can get some good deals. Where else can you get a green pepper, a yellow pepper, AND a red pepper (wrapped together in plastic on a styrofoam tray - sorry, Chris) for JUST $1.89?

  104. kate says:

    trader joes for wine and nuts and other misc things, not for produce.

    Oh and I have to go to a different state to get the wine good thing I live close to Delaware and it is right over the state line!

  105. Kat says:

    Chris, you crack me up. I love your blogs. First time commenting.

    I don’t see what all the fuss about TJ’s is either…the first time I went in I was soooo disappointed.

  106. dcrmom says:

    I used to wander around TJ wondering what all the fuss was about. The produce DEFINITELY leaves something to be desired. But then I posted a “What’s so great about Trader Joes?” post, and I got a lot of great ideas. Now I go once a week but I mostly get snack foods and frozen prepared foods. I also get their coffee. I am NOT one to eat prepared foods AT ALL but I do like some of TJ’s stuff. I also get their wild sockeye salmon, their frozen string beans, and some of their little appetizers.

    I haven’t read your 100 comments, lol, but I’m sure you’ve gotten some great suggestions. If you have any plans to go back, and want more input, here’s a link to my post with lots of great suggestions in the comments.


  107. kmbr says:

    I live in Pasadena, CA, I have easy access to Whole Foods and a different farmer’s market every afternoon. I actually do almost all of my food shopping at TJs. There was a long grocery store strike here a couple years ago that put a damper on going to the regular store, and I learned that it is actually cheaper to go to TJs for weekly stuff and to Costco for the balance of bulk items not carried cheaply at TJs (oatmeal, soda, pot roast, detergent, etc.). The last holdout I was going to the grocery store for was deli-sliced roast beef for lunches, but then TJs started carrying it pre-sliced in packages for the same price (and equivalent flavor). Now I don’t have to wait forever for a human to appear at the perpetually understaffed deli counter anymore.

    TJs doesn’t have the vast selection that the grocery store does, but what they do carry tends to have less preservative/hfcs content than the major brands. Also, the dairy goods are cheaper, mostly non RBST, which probably doesn’t matter, but what the hell. Eggs are cheaper, with more variety, weirdly.

    I find it to be a good thing to not have to look past all the nutritionally empty temptations at the big store. I get out of the store faster, too.

    I’m a native of the midwest, and when we first moved to CA I thought TJs was only useful for entertaining-type foods, they do have a killer selection of interesting chocolates and tiny cookieish things. The produce department is not great, but they do carry some interesting produce I might not have known about otherwise. Baby kiwis, anyone?

    I don’t know that I would drive an hour for it though. It is likely that the distribution for the chain isn’t great the farther away you get from here, so I can imagine that the east coast TJs are underwhelming.

    If they have the Double Rainbow Pumpkin ice cream, that IS worth an hour’s drive to get.


  108. ~summer~ says:

    Trader Joe’s for wino, premade herbed pizza dough (!!), trail mixes (!!), cheap vitamins, hummus and other premade dips for parties, juices, frozen red/green bell peppers, chicken stock, cheap fresh flowers. That’s it. I don’t buy produce there. It’s just down the street, and I go there only ocassionally because the TJ’s in California have woefully undersized parking lots that are always a nightmare to navigate.

  109. b says:

    For me it’s the combination of price and ease of preparation. I couldn’t live without Trader Joe’s–well, I could breathe, I guess, but I wouldn’t want to. If we ever moved, proximity to a Trader Joe’s would be a deciding factor.

    I’ve never met a thing in their bread section that I didn’t like–crumpets, whole wheat tortillas, their nine-grain bread, three kinds of naan, the list goes on. The produce section in our TJ’s is pretty good–not a wide selection, but what’s there is great and very affordable–organic sweet potatoes, organic baby carrots, and the organic herb salad and spring salad mixes (all costing less than the nonorganic versions at the grocery store) being our favorites. The champagne and pear salad dressing is to die for. I love being able to afford kosher free-range organic chicken and cage-free eggs and rBGH-free milk and butter. And then there’s the premade sauces that make cooking so easy–especially the yellow curry sauce and the Punjabi spinach sauce. I love their frozen foods section, with wild Alaskan salmon for the same price as you’d pay for farm-raised Atlantic salmon. My family loves the teriyaki chicken and the Mintz’s Blintzes.

    It’s not a full-service grocery store and has never claimed to be. I still have to go to the regular store every once in a while to supplement, especially for produce. But I’d say that about 70% of our food comes from TJ’s. I couldn’t manage without it.