HOME > Chowhound > Chains >


Is Trader Joe's going downhill?

  • m

While I realize that some of you think it can go no farther, this is not addressed to you TJ's haters. Instead, this is addressed to those of you who have enjoyed the availability of many wonderful things at TJ's for years. I don't know if the changes I perceive have to do with TJ's expansions of the last few years, but I've had far more problems with freshness recently. I've had several bags of lettuce go before their pull dates, I bought a dozen eggs, four of which smelled fishy, and I've had a few other problems which, er, I can't bring to mind with the 14 month old demanding my attention. Oh, now I remember: no more organic cheese because of the "lack of availability of organic milk with which to make cheese". On what planet?? And the shaving cream is unavailable because of "quality control problems." What up with that?

So the problems I've noted are across the board. Does that mean they're coincidental or that TJ's is slipping?

Interested in others' observations and opinions.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. d
    Das Ubergeek

    I don't know about "downhill" but TJ's has always had a problem with expiry dates... and for some reason their milk always seems to turn about three days before the date printed on the pitcher.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Das Ubergeek

      If TJ milk goes bad before the pull date, bring it back to the store and they'll replace it. Same with eggs and other things that sometimes go bad.

      1. re: paoconnell

        I never thought TJ's milk tasted very fresh, and sometimes it would give me an upset stomach. Today I had a carton of their milk turn rancid 2 days before its "sell by" date. That's right: the "sell by" date, not the expiration date. Now I know why I had an upset stomach.

        Prior to that, I had to return a cut of lamb, still sealed, A DAY AFTER I BOUGHT IT because it had "turned;" when I cut open the plastic wrapper it released a horrible stench.

        I don't trust anything "fresh" from them anymore. I assume their logistics / distribution model is biased towards frozen food and non-perishables; I've had this problem with Trader Joe's on the east and west coasts, by the way, so this is a company-wide issue.

        This is in Marin County, CA by the way. Take your pick. I've had the same expiration date problems at the Daly City one as well.

    2. I buy their 1% milk all the time and have never had a problem with it. Love the eggs, find more double yokes than I've seen in a lifetime, bet the last carton was half double yokes. Don't know about the shaving cream. Our TJ's is in Alameda, CA and is outstanding, almost always packed. The way things zip off the shelves I doubt there is time for anything to reach pull date status.

      1. I haven't noticed any quality problems (like Monty, I've never had any problem with the milk -- maybe that depends on how far the source your store is along the distribution chain, and handling practices and turnover at individual stores). But I was wondering the same thing about it going downhill the other day when I was shopping there: it does seem that more and more products I like get discontinued and have been replace by less appealing ones.

        Although I've been shopping there long enough to see this as a cycle -- because their product line is always changing, and at any given time it may contain a different proportion of products you really like. Right now I think it's at a low point, but it may cycle back up again in a few months.

        1. s
          sally from LA

          Where are you located? I have heard that TJ's are not as good out of California, where they originate. All the California-grown produce, eggs etc would have days of extra shipping and handling time to get to east coast stores. In the California stores the freshness may be related to the store's turnover. My local TJ's in La Canada, California seems to be maintaining its standards. Re TJ's milk - this was discussed last year on one of these boards, where it was suggested that a short shelf life might indicate less antibiotics in the milk, which may not be a bad thing.

          2 Replies
          1. re: sally from LA

            My understanding is the East Coast stores have different distribution points closer to them than the West Coast. And that would definitely be a factor; different distributors store things differently, which could result in products going bad more quickly in certain stores than other stores.

            1. re: sally from LA

              I am in Chicago. I became familiar with TJs the three years taht I commuted between St. Louis and Orange County. In terms of quality and freshness, there really is not much comparison between the average SoCal TJs store and the ones in the Midwest.

              The staples are pretty much the same as are the frozen goods.

              The rest of the food is extremely variable in quality. The problem that I have is that most of the fresh food is sourced along the East Coast when there are far better local sources for the same product. Why should I pay more for East Coast food when I can run down to the local independent ethnic market and get better food for a lower price?

              Don't get me wrong, it is a fun shop when I am in the neighborhood.

              One off the cuff comment. I was always amazed at the absolute poor condition that some of the trucking equipment that Trader Joe's used (back in the 1990s) to deliver their food in SoCal. Some of the trucks did not even look roadworthy. It kind of cemented the notion that it was a real cheap outfit.

            2. Not here in Vegas, I have never had a problem with their freshness. My only complaint is that they run out of banana crisps too quickly.

              1. I enjoy shopping TJs but don't get there regularly since both stores in Indianapolis are up on the north side and that can turn into an hour and a half drive. I have never bought their produce. I learned years ago that plastic wrapping and packaging vegetables as TJs does hastens deterioration because of lack of air circulation and it keeps the produce warmer than if it was out on displat in bulk. This is another reason I rarely buy bagged salads and if I bring them home and rewash to get rid of the smell.

                What frustrates me with TJs is that I will make the drive and trip up there and something they had previously and I liked is not longer stocked.

                1. Definitely slipping. Because it is a mega chain, there is no individual care. Everything is mass purchased and packaged. I would stick to the packaged goods, and go elsewhere for fresh foods like meat and fish.

                  TJ has something of a cult following, but one can do much better for freshness.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Fleur
                    Das Ubergeek

                    I don't ever buy meat or fish at TJ's -- it's just not good enough to bother -- but I disagree about "individual care". If you make your displeasure known, they will take care of you, whether it's returning a gallon of turned milk or the fact that they pulled the Moroccan simmer sauce.

                  2. r
                    Robert Lauriston

                    In Northern California, the dairy products, eggs, and fresh meat I've bought have all been reliably good.

                    They just changed their organic milk supplier and I don't like the new brand, but that's one way they keep prices down.

                    1. c

                      If you don't see a product for a while, it's possible that it got discontinued. They don't discontinue things to make you unhappy, they do it because it doesn't sell.

                      If you have a problem with anything at Trader Joe's; milk, lettuce, eggs, frozen, snacks etc, TELL SOMEONE!! If you don't speak up, how will the people who work their know there is or was a problem?

                      1. I think in some ways TJ's has lost its uniqueness as it has grown. They are are trying really hard to appeal to a larger audience. Case in point, the last Frequent Flyer posted the results of a tasting survey they did and they listed the results in random order rather than a seqential listing beginning with what was the most popular item. Somehow their canned corn was "randomly" selected as the first item and naturally it was on the cover page. I like canned corn but I would never think in a zillion years they would use it as a teaser for their other products. It would be analogous to a Victorias Secret catalog cover showing a model wearing a flannel nightie.

                        1. TJ's slipped a long time ago. Their cheese and wine selections used to be amazing, especially for the price. I would never buy parmesan anywhere else. I think as they expanded, they were no longer able to carry the higher-quality, yet smaller-production products, because they needed to supply many more stores. I rarely if ever buy cheese there anymore -- their cheese selection is pretty mediocre these days. Once in a while they will still have a good buy on wine, but mostly they are famous now for wines like "two buck Chuck."

                          I've also noticed that their milk goes bad too quickly. In fact, the only times in the past 10 years or so that I've ever had milk go bad is when I've bought it from Trader Joes.

                          I still shop there, but not regularly. Typically, I'll go there for coffee, butter, and total greek yogurt, or liquor if I'm having a party.

                          Btw, I live in Los Angeles, the "home base," so to speak, of Trader Joe's.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: DanaB
                            Robert Lauriston

                            Milk suppliers vary regionally. In Northern California, freshness has never been a problem for me.

                            1. re: DanaB
                              Joan Kureczka

                              TJ's used to be the place, I agree, for lots of great cheeses, pates, and other more unique stuff. I've never understood why they decided to focus on the fresh veggies and things and to compete with regular grocery stores. We still stock up on certain prepared items, but the place is far from what it once was.

                              1. re: DanaB

                                OK, so it's not just me. I've never had problems with milk freshness anywhere else.

                              2. a
                                Amuse Bouches

                                It varies drastically from store to store -- not just region to region. I grew up in Pasadena, and most of the TJ's there are reasonably good -- I've had good luck with freshness and shelf life from the one on Lake Avenue and the one on Arroyo Parkway. I usually shop at the West Hollywood store, and I've had zero problems, ever.

                                But I shopped at a store in Eagle Rock recently (less than a mile from one of the Pasadena stores) and the milk spoiled quickly, lots of things were past their expiration dates but still on the shelf, and things smelled funny.

                                If you have alternative TJ stores, I'd check them out.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Amuse Bouches

                                  If the stuff in the Eagle Rock store is anywhere near its pull date, it'll probably be past it by the time you get in or out of that parking lot! Bloody zoo...

                                  I agree that all the other Pasadena-area stores have been consistently more than adequate. I've ranged as far afield as La CaƱada, Monrovia and Glendale, and I've got no complaints, except for one instance of moldy cheese, and a few bottles of oxidized wine (all replaced). You do have to make sure your frozen fish is sealed tight, but that's pretty much it.

                                  1. b
                                    Brandon Nelson

                                    I have been in retail grocery for 20 years...

                                    The demand for organic dairy has skyrocketed. It is the most ofetn cut item on my orders.

                                    I don't know the regulations from state to state, but here in California it takes 7 tears of documentation to gain organic certs.

                                    I have lost 2 lables or organic cheese because dairies a couple of producers dropped their cheese line simply to concentrate on milk.

                                    The supply problem is very real.

                                    1. I'm in So Cal as well and my gripe now with TJs is that they don't re-stock shelves often enough. My store is absolutely a goldmine and by 5PM when I arrive everything is just wiped out (bread, meats, dairy, frozen). A year ago they had a much better cut flower selection as well. I didn't see any gladiolas this year at all near me :-(

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: davinagr

                                        You should see the Studio City store... there's a huge line at 9 AM on Sundays as people shop the farmers' market and then TJ's, and by about noon it looks like a tornado hit.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          I shop the Sherman Oaks store which is smallish and have been to Studio City which to me is even smaller. The farmers market has been in existence in SC for some years now, why isn't TJ's addressing this inventory issue? If anyone on this board works for TJs, please comment. It's a great problem for TJs to have (no stale, spoiling etc) but not great for their customers who work traditional hours and/or shop weekends.

                                          1. re: davinagr

                                            Yeah... I missed the farmers' market on Sunday (because I didn't go to bed until 0430), so I went to TJ's and Vons in the afternoon, and it seriously looked like stores in New York when heavy snow is forecast -- the Blizzard French Toast phenomenon. No milk, no eggs, no bread, hardly any produce (not that I buy produce there).

                                            The farmers' market and I have been in and around Studio City for the same amount of time, and Trader Joe's came in AFTER the farmers' market -- maybe the supply chain breaks down on Sundays?

                                            The Sherman Oaks TJs has the same Sunday issue, though.

                                      2. I don't know if the quality of Trader's has gone down, or they're just pushing new items more quickly. But I have sadly found some old favorites gone, w/o any suitable 'replacement'.

                                        I have seen some 'bad' expiration dates too...like yesterday, I perusing the produce section and saw an entire section of veggies (microwavable green beans I think) with an expiry date of 6/13. I read every single package, thinking, surely it was a 'picked on' date, but no, it was clearly and expiration date. What's up with THAT?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: hbgrrl

                                          I have only been shopping at TJ's for a couple of years so I really don't know if it's gone down or not, but I really enjoy it. It's a special treat for me since it's about 45 minutes away, so I usually don't get everyday grocery items such as veggies and dairy.

                                          I get lots of frozen and prepared meals, which is maybe why I've never had a problem with food quality or expiration dates.

                                          PS their chocolate chip dunkers are AMAZING. I don't even like chocolate chip cookies, and I'm addicted to these. GET THEM

                                        2. I've had a few clunkers at TJ but overall I am very positive about them. I like the variety of interesting products they carry, although as other posters have pointed out, sometimes things come and go that are good, and it's frustrating not to have them anymore. As I write this, I just took one of their Santa Maria tri-tips out of the oven and am looking forward to a tasty dinner tonight! I've been shopping at TJ since 1979 and I like them just as much now as when I stumbled onto this great "find" of a store back then. If you were to ask me where I'd like to live, I'd tell you the main requirements were that it was near a TJ and a Costco!

                                          1. My wife is a TJ junkie, and I like them a lot, too. (Though now that it's mentioned, we've had the quick-souring milk problem, too. Get the milk elsewhere, now.

                                            Otherwise, we work to get as many of our grocery needs as possible at TJ; it's much preferable to dealing with the surly union clerks at the local supers, Dominick's (Safeway) and -especially - Jewel (Albertson's.) I have read for years that Jewel, then independent, had the highest profit margins of any large market chain. Always thought that was nice for shareholders but not much comfort for customers. Anyway, the chain prices are across the board higher than for comparable TJ products, quite often a LOT higher. So, I'm still a committed TJ fan.

                                            Shopped TJ in Concord, CA, and several in Chicago suburbs and haven't been conscious of any major differences in quality, and always found really nice and accomodating staff.

                                            On a different note, my wife has a bunch of allergies, including most fragrances and the preservative sodium benzoate. It's a lot easier to work around these problems at TJ's (and of course at Whole Foods.) If we didn't have those two close at hand, we would have far more limited food choices.


                                            1. Wow, I am amazed to hear about all these milk problems. For a while we weren't using much milk at our house, and the Trader Joe's milk regularly lasted up to one month! Now we're going through it faster because my son is back into it, and he claims that Trader Joe's milk tastes better than Ralphs. (But he prefers Ralph's cream cheese -- argh!) I've been shopping at Trader Joe's for 20 years or so and although they don't have as many quirky close-out products as before, I've gradually switched over to doing about 90% of my shopping there. All these people who only buy a few things there must have a lot of time and money to shop all over town for stuff -- with two kids and a fulltime job, I need to have a one-stop shop and TJ's is it for me.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Chowpatty

                                                More than likely, the milk problem is a regional issue. Their milk prices in SoCal are really pretty good and the stock moves. In the 2-3 Chicagoland stores which I frequent, their milk prices are very high compared to many of the stores and it doesn't move all that quickly.

                                              2. I love TJs but have recently pulled back on shopping there. Never had a problem with expiration or stuff going bad, but I do have two other problems. One is that more and more of their stuff seems filled with additives. The other is that their meats, poultry and fish often seems totally overprocessed and gross. I've tried tons of it, but finally decided I needed to shop elsewhere to get stuff that hasn't been frozen to within an inch of its life. Their shrimp is an abomination. Totally smelly.

                                                1. I ususlly buy a few staples there, but...
                                                  I am from Roma, Italy, and so far their Pecorino Romano had been good. About a month ago they switched it with a much lesser cheese, completely unacceptable in quality. Same label and price. I tried it 2 more times, to no avail. We'll see...
                                                  As far as overall quality, in San Francisco it is ok, my milk always stays fresh until its expiration date. No problem there.

                                                  1. Trader Joes has never been a "complete" shopping experience for me. I tend to go there for staples with a longer shelf life since it's a bit more of a journey than larger grocers in my area. Yet I still love all of those treats and uncommon things that TJ seems to find. However even if it was a 2 doors down I'd still use other shops because their selection of fruits/veggies is pretty thin and (contrary to a lot of stuff there) overpriced. Sorry, but apples and bell peppers shouldn't cost that much for a 4-pack.

                                                    I'll grab cheese, prosciutto, rice pudding and some other items in the deli section - but not things that will expire in a few days... I'll pay the other grocers with more selection for that. Again, I love the place - but I split my shopping over a number of different shops.

                                                    1. I never get "fresh" meat, dairy (other than cheese of course), or produce (either too expensive or poor quality) there. If you remember those guidelines it cannot be beat.

                                                      5 Replies
                                                      1. re: lyn

                                                        I drove 10 miles to the only TJ in Charlotte NC to buy Mojito Simmer Sauce and was told by a very helpful employee that it was discontinued because of of disappointing sales...oh my God. I couldn't believe it...it was so delicious...guess I shouldn't have waited two months to cook with it. Here is some interesting info from employee. If you see that you favorite isn't currently in stock, but the label for it is turned over but still there...you most likely will not be disappointed that they have discontinued it...but as I found out, the shelf label for Mojito Simmer Sauce was nowhere in site and when the helpful employee checked...horrors...it is discontinued, no longer available. My first experience with TJ 's retail strategy for making large profits. If they keep disappointing people, it may eventually effect their extremely successful business.

                                                        1. re: lucygoosey2

                                                          I'm still pissed they don't have Wonton Chips anymore. I pretty much just buy junk food there. I love their crackers and cookies.

                                                          1. re: lucygoosey2

                                                            Regarding discontinued products, a TJ manager told me that they regularly discontinue the bottom-selling 15% (I think it was 15% or 20%) of all their items. I just can't get my head around that concept. The policy seems flawed to me, as there will always be items that sell less volume, and they're losing some great items by doing that.

                                                            1. re: Steve Green

                                                              The point isn't to have great items, the point is to have a successful business. For TJs, having a successful business means having some great items along the way; but, it doesn't matter how "good" an item is, if its not selling and you can put something in the store that will sell better, you do it.

                                                              1. re: ccbweb

                                                                I understand that. I'm not in retail, but the concept still seems flawed. Let me clarify: As TJ continues to knock off the bottom-selling xx% items, there will always be items in the inventory at the bottom-selling xx%. So let's say they remove items X,Y, and Z, (higher letters in the alphabet denoting lower sales) and add new items, which end up being middle-sellers in the inventory --say, items M, N, and O. The previous low-but-not-lowest sellers U, V, and W become the new X, Y, and Z, and get knocked off the inventory, even if TJ is selling the same number of those items as they were before they added the new items.

                                                                This is an endless loop, and it seems to me that the process may not necessarily increase profitability. Is my logic wrong?

                                                        2. What has happened to the large chunks of Ghirardelli White and Milk Chocolate that were located at the check out stands? Miss those.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Big N Fat

                                                            I am pretty sure those are winter-seasonal, aimed toward the holiday baking season. I know that's the case with white chocolate chips. I have learned to stock up on those - sometimes they are still around well into spring but once they sell out, you wait till November. In general, if they introduce a new item that I really like, and it's non-perishable, I hoard. You never know when it will be discontinued.

                                                            1. re: greygarious

                                                              They're relatively tiny and have only so much shelf space. Some stuff is seasonal, some is limited by their contracted supply (they buy from a vendor at a given price and when the inventory is depleted -- that's all she wrote).

                                                          2. Basically I'm a TJ junkie - we live close to one and I'm in there at least once a week if not more. That said, I've noticed some things lately that really bug me:

                                                            It's Summer and local, beautiful, heirloom and otherwise tomatoes are everywhere: Except in TJ's! I was blown away the other day that every single type of tomato they had in the store, and there were at least 7-8 different types of packs: All were grown in Mexico! Now obviously I'm not naive enough to think that they would make more of an effort to source locally grown produce, rather than negotiating nation-wide contracts with mega-growers but I refuse to buy tomatoes or any other produce that's grown in Mexico when I know that we grow tons and tons of the same in California... but that's just me.

                                                            Another thing that really bugs me is about the "fresh" fish sold at TJ: Sometimes when I'm really running late and need something for dinner and don't want to make another stop, I will take a look at the so-called "fresh" fish in the refrigerated counter. The fish in many cases has a hunk of kale and a quarter lemon included in the pack. These items are included in the weight of the package - I don't know about you, but I don't want to pay the price of the fish for some greenery and lemon that I don't need... This may seem like a small thing, but I weighed them once and the kale/lemon weighed an ounce and a half - the fish in the package was $13.99 a pound - see what I mean?

                                                            On the whole, I wouldn't say that TJ is going downhill; it has just changed a lot over the years. I still shop there and appreciate the alternative to Safeway, Lucky's and their ilk... Plus, Whole Foods is just so outrageous that I rarely shop there.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: RWCFoodie

                                                              The weight on which the package is priced does not include the lemon and kale. It only includes the fish.

                                                            2. I spend quite a bit of time in SoCal but live in England alot of the time. Wanted to make some comments about bagged salad and milk mostly. In the UK it is usually washed in chlorine and so I avoid it. It also sometimes starts to disintegrate before opening. I usually buy fresh lettuce and then use a salad spinner. I also don't understand the 'milk that lasts a month' thing. Here in the UK the sell-by date is approximately a week in advance and the carton says use within 3 days of opening. The stuff with more fat goes off quicker especially in the summer. So what do they put in American milk that makes it supposedly last so long?? BTW I like Trader Joe's although I agree that their fresh fruit and veg sections aren't so great. I would rather go to a farmer's market. I remember buying some really Ca. wine there, and I like their oatmeal and snacky things.

                                                              4 Replies
                                                              1. re: cathodetube

                                                                Well, its got nothing whatsoever to do with Trader Joe's in particular; but, the differences in milk are likely the differences between pasteurized and ultra pasteurized milk. Both kinds (as well as UHT - ultra heat treated, usually found in aseptic boxes on the shelf) are available in the US (though I'm not certain off hand what sorts are available at Trader Joe's). Point being, there isn't anything added to most milk in the US to extend shelf life, some of it is simply heat treated in a way that extends shelf life until it is opened. Once milk is opened it all last about the same amount of time presuming effective refrigeration.

                                                                1. re: ccbweb

                                                                  Thanks for the explanation. Didn't know there was such a thing as ultra pasteurized milk! We do have UHT here in the UK and it is quite often the kind served in fast food places,, cafeterias etc. in little containers with peel off tops. Perhaps people whose milk is going off early have merely opened it and then not used it up quickly enough. If you want to drink English style tea, ie. black tea with milk, then make sure you don't use 'cream' or half and half. It must be milk; personally I prefer skimmed as it doesn't have fat in it that takes away the taste of the actual tea. I can't count the number of times I have been offered cream with a solitary tea bag brought with an off the boil jug of water. I usually travel with my own tea bags and ask the restaurant in whatever hotel I am in to put the bag in a tea pot and pour boiling water on it. Have to have tea in the morning! Perhaps I am preaching to the converted already but just thought I would mention it.

                                                                  1. re: cathodetube

                                                                    I know this comment is eight-plus months old (someone else re-opened the topic) -- but one of the hardest things I had to adjust to, food-wise, when I lived on the Continent was that ALL the milk was UHT and was kept on the shelf in those little aseptic litre boxes, like juice. I'd never lived outside the US before (where milk comes normally in PET-type plastic jugs or else in half-gallon (1.89 L) lined cardboard.

                                                                    The taste was also completely different, naturally.

                                                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                      Don't have that UHT problem in the UK. The choice of milk is probably better than the US; there is even a 'raw' milk movement over here. I have tried it before, fresh from a farm. Delicious to make oatmeal with.

                                                              2. I have had problems with some packaged TJ bread products that turned moldy almost overnight. I suspect they started to sell "uncured" ham because Fresh and Easy started it. I also never found their fish exceptionally fresh, unlike Fresh and Easy. I've begun to believe they can't distribute their food quickly enough in many cases because they watch every expense carefully and it's an easy way to keep costs down. Their meat seems more expensive than Fresh and Easy, ditto their fish, and even their sandwiches and wraps and sushi seem to have been sitting in the case for a little longer than necessary. I suspect TJ's management will make changes as the competition heats up. Here in Southern California and South OC we have many alternatives which will keep them on their toes. Many of their items are reasonably priced and good, such as coffee, vitamins and the like, frozen desserts, wines, beers, jams and condiments, and their great Tuscan Tomato Sauce Marinara. Service is always helpful, returns are honored immediately, and they open checkouts when the lines get long. I still like them but don't depend on them solely any more, using Fresh and Easy, Wholesome Foods and enthnic markets like the Jordanian Mkt and Bahars and of course the Farmers Markets.

                                                                1. Unfortunately, the answer is yes. It's not all at once, it's very gradual. I recently tried their organic chocolate chip. In the past, it was intensely chocolate-y, and very dense and crunchy, yet not objectionably so. The last batch definitely tasted different. The cookie was more porous. There was just less "cookie" and it had a tendency to crumble being more porous than before. It's not a terrible cookie, but they've definitely changed the recipe and hope you won't notice.

                                                                  Also, their organic vegetarian pizza. They don't even call it an organic vegetarian pizza. They call it a vegetarian pizza, in case they eventually move away from organic ingredients.

                                                                  1. I only really use TJ for their frozen food and some other packaged products, and very *occasionally* when they get a steal on some local produce or something. But here in Philly I have so many other choices for fresh dairy/meat/produce at better prices and freshness. TJ's is basically a once-every-couple-months stop for me.