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Trader Joe questions

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So I finally went to Trader Joe's, and I have a few questions:

Is it always so crowded....lol?

Do they only sell food products with there brand name? And if so, is it superior in quality to other well known brand names?

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  1. In NYC, it is usually crowded but the line moves fast. I've been there just before closing where there were no crowds but that meant less cashiers so it took longer to check out.

    Most of it is store Brand. That's what makes it different than other good markets and keeps cost down. However, TJ does carry certain items such as Clif Bars and Pellegrino, for example.

    1. Roughly how long do you actually wait when the line's curving around at the back of the store? I've never stayed because it always seems slow, but I'm line/wait-phobic in general.

      1. YES--it is ALWAYS that crowded. One time I saw the line just about going out the door. It moves relatively fast--usually 20 minutes at the worst.

        Their name brand products are a mixed bag--hate their granola bars, cereal and yogurt (some of the premade meals are pretty bland); love the frozen pizzas, cheap frozen veggies and thai lime peanuts/cashews.

        Does anyone know when they get deliveries? Many times I have gone and my favorite products are out of stock. And am I the only one who finds the cashiers to be unusually perky and nice? It freaks me out a bit--it's NYC, I'm used to Duane Reade cashiers who won't inturrupt their conversation to acknowledge you.

        1 Reply
        1. re: erikka

          A helpful cashier told us that the store receives deliveries each night to restock the entire place when closed from 10PM - 6AM. It also stocks items throughout the day as well.

        2. I dunno, maybe it's because I'm from here, but I always find the uber-perkiness a little scary. I can never decide whether they're wannabe-actors showing me how well they can play the part of a helpful clerk or if they're just made to shout motivational slogans while doing calisthenics before their shift starts.LOL

          Thanks. 20 minutes is way too long to stand on a grocery line unless one's subsistence depends on it, but I'll use that as a guide in case I ever manage to be there when the line's shorter.

          2 Replies
          1. re: MikeG

            I think most of those perky workers are recruited from the NYU dorm above them -- still with that new-from-out-of-town smell on 'em. Wait until they become jaded graduate students and they'll spit on your purchases a la Duane Reade.

            There is no line when going on off-hours. Weekdays during bankers' hours are pretty empty.
            As for deliveries, they get them all the time every day, according to the manager. Sometimes it's just a matter of having someone check in the back, sometimes you're out of luck. Due to their constant product introduction/discontinuation, it's not a good idea to become attached to any specific item.

            1. re: Pupster

              I have also found the line to be very short during weekday lunches. I usually go during then to pick up a few things and go back to the office. Unfortunately no major shopping or anything frozen since I have to lug it to the office and then home again, but it beats the lines after work.

          2. One way they keep costs low is by not always restocking house brands--that is, if they run out of, say, TJ's frozen Thai postickers, they might not bring them back for weeks or months. For this reason, hard-core afficionados will stock up on fave items. (I love the roasted tortilla corn chowder, which I think is far better than most jarred/canned soups anywhere). And yeah, the cashiers are uniformly friendly. Love 'em.

            For more specifics on the store's process of creating the house brands & stocking them, you might try the California boards--that's where the store started and customers have been serious devotees for decades. These was also a long NY Times article last spring about product development.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Hot Dish

              From reading those boards I get the feeling that the products they carry there are much different than what they offer here - more fresh fruits, prepared foods, etc. And the Chuck there is truly two-buck (unlike our store). Do we have the bastard child TJ?

            2. Thanks everyone. When I first went in there I was expecting a whole assortment of hard to find brand names, much like Zabara’s .
              I was a little taken back by seeing nothing but Trader Joe products.

              Now after reading your comments, I'm intrigued!

              1. I'm lucky enough to live equidistant (3 short blocks) from Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Food Emporium, D'Agostino's, Garden of Eden, AND the Union Square Greenmarket! I also have the luxury of free time in the morning to go to (usually) all of the above.

                Trader Joe's has some real strengths, including mostly GREAT prices. Their produce is a little sorry, but hey--there's Greenmarket and Whole Foods and Eden for that. I love the flowers at Trader Joe's--the alstromeier (sp) bouquets for $5 are really fresh and long-lasting. I love the peanuts with chili and lime leaves, the mini-whole-wheat pitas are, like, $1.19 a bag, many of the whole grain crackers and cereals are the cheapest in the tri-state area, cheese prices are good, and I got boneless Empire chicken breasts yesterday for $5.99/lb--cheapest anywhere. Delicious dried/pressed bananas = .99!

                Yes, they run out of certain items a little more often than I'd like, and it is precisely because customers stockpile their favorites. Look at some of the carts, groaning with 5 bags of $1.69 tortilla chips, 10 bags of those amazing, heavily addictive peanuts, 5 bottles of iced green tea. . . .

                I have a strong feeling that they will expand both this store and bring others to Manhattan as well. They're obviously a huge hit! And they haven't hurt Whole Foods or Greenmarket at all. Eden and Food Emporium are feeling the pain, though, no question.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Tom Steele

                  "Eden and Food Emporium are feeling the pain, though, no question."

                  Really? GOOD! Die, FOOD EMPORIUM, DIE! Maybe ShopRite or Stop & Shop will come in and replace them. Much lower prices. Hell, even a PathMark would be better.

                  "I have a strong feeling that they will expand both this store..."

                  They never expand their stores, to my knowledge. The Union Square location is as big as any TJ's gets. At least, as far as I know.

                  "From reading those boards I get the feeling that the products they carry there are much different than what they offer here - more fresh fruits, prepared foods, etc. And the Chuck there is truly two-buck (unlike our store). Do we have the bastard child TJ?"

                  Everything I've read implies that the West Coast locations are a little better and bigger overall, and carry certain things you won't find at the East Coast locations. But last year, I was in Phoenix and stopped in a couple of TJ's and I couldn't tell much difference from the East Coast ones. Maybe only the original California TJ's are truly killer. Also, I've heard that only CA stores can offer two-buck chuck for two bucks because of some sort of state alcohol exportation law or something like that. Ahhh, bizarre local alcohol laws!

                  Anyway, for the original poster, et al., more threads about Trader Joe's:

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                  1. re: Ike

                    Yeah, all TJ's stores are basically the same size. Part of their business model is to keep costs down by maximizing sales per square foot, so they only have enough space to display their product line (and vice versa: they only keep a product line the size they can fit into a "regular" TJ's store). That's also why they restock continuously: they keep very little backstock so they aren't paying retail-rate rent on a lot of storage space. They'd rather pay rent on one warehouse at a much lower rate per square foot and distribute frequently than keep stock on hand, especially fresh items, which are require even more expensive refrigerated storage areas. There's some variation (especially in areas where liquor laws don't allow them to sell hard liquor, or beer or wine, or some combination), but not much.

                    I think it's much more likely that they will open more locations in Manhattan.

                2. I live in Queens and have been driving to the suburbs once a month to stock up on TJ...the Manhattan opening hasn't changed that practice (no parking lot, lines...ick I am so suburban...) but the wine store is great, the only one in NY.
                  WHY don't the NY stores sell beer???

                  The house brands are really hit and miss--some are awful some I buy every month.
                  Favorites:
                  various trail mixes
                  black pepper and other spiced cashews
                  wasabi-tamari almonds
                  great price on pine nuts
                  frozen pizzas from Italy
                  frozen quiches
                  rice bowl frozen meals
                  frozen taquitos
                  frozen tamales
                  coconut ice cream in coconut shell
                  mochi ice cream
                  passion fruit sorbet
                  thai curried tuna (in foil package in box)
                  pasta sauce with sausage
                  beef chili in jar
                  spanish chicken stew in jar
                  portuguese stew in jar
                  cornichons
                  stuffed grape leaves (in jar)
                  low carb salsa fresca tortilla chips (addictive cardboard-like quality)
                  cheese popcorn
                  goat cheese potato chips
                  peanut butter-stuffed pretzel nuggets
                  dark chocolate-covered pretzels
                  chipotle salsa
                  spicy and smoky black bean dips
                  grapefruit soda (sugar, not HFCS)
                  best Clif Bar price
                  Reed's Ginger Beer
                  lemon kitchen soap
                  tea tree oil and honey-oatmeal bath soaps

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: kenito799

                    The one in Manhattan has a limited selection of beer near the dairy cases.

                    1. re: erikka

                      oh kool thanks I'll go in and see if there's anything worth waiting in line for. I will put in a shout out here for the cheapo vinho verde and prosecco in the wine store--oh yeah, summer's ending...

                      1. re: kenito799

                        The beer selection isn't too impressive--a couple smuttynoses, blue moon, etc...definitely stuff you could get elsewhere for a much shorter wait.

                  2. i agree that food emporium should suffer.

                    when i was unemployed i went at all different times and found that after the lunch rush and before the after work rush is perfect. if you go after the work rush, there's nothing left. i went in once and about 70% of the store was empty. i love the alsatian french tarte with gruyere cheese, ham and caramelized onions. it's like a really ridiculous sauceless pizza. the tamales are awesome, so are the pierogies and potato pancakes, baked in the oven, topped with TJ's spiced chunky applesauce. i've also found the boneless skinless flash frozen chicken thighs to be awesome to cook with. you literally just defrost a bit in the microwave and use as you would in regular cooking. they don't taste frozen at all.

                    1. Just want to clarify that although that the majority of TJ's items are private label, they are usually made by the real brands. For example, I bought this Mango power drink a few weeks ago, hoping it'd be just like the Naked juice Mighty Mango and it tasted JUST like it. It was like half the price too ($1.69) Anyway, you can ask TJ employees about what brand really makes a specific item.

                      1. FYI, there is an Express check out line for 6 items or less.

                        Another brand name item I've bought there is Double Rainbow ice cream.

                        One warning, bananas are priced individually, not by the pound.

                        fwiw, there are several threads on the General board dealing with the best/worst items at TJ.

                        of the TJ stuff, I like the handmade flour tortillas and frozen French Onion soup (complete with cheese and crouton). I've seen similar packages of soup at Whole Foods but have yet to compare taste/price.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: was_bk

                          This is a fun thread to read for me. I live in San Diego and we have had TJ for many years. I can not imagine standing in line for 20 minutes to buy stuff there.

                        2. Been there twice. Came out empty-handed each time. Pre-packaged, pricey, pathetic produce--P for POOR.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: workintheater

                            yes, you have so many other produce options...that's not the point of TJ! TJ is about GUILTLESS PREPARED FOODS. Cheaper, healthier and better than most take-out crap...don't tell me you never are too tired to cook, too broke to eat someplace good and end up feeling ill after eating some crap sushi/chinese/indian...huh? huh??

                            I eat the TJ frozen offerings for lunch every day that I don't have leftovers from my own cooking, and I save a ton of $$$ and feel much better than eating the garbage my coworkers choke down every day at lunch...

                          2. I love a good TJ's debate. When I first moved to Boston from SoCal, TJ's wasn't here yet so I'd stock up on vitamins and other non-perishables while on vacation and ship them home.

                            I'm not so sure they are that healthy...have you ever checked the salt content on some of those frozen meals. Doesn't stop me from buying them; I've become addicted to the quiches (I bring them to work and can sleep an extra half hour because I don't have to cook and eat breakfast at home) and everyone always asks, what are you eating because they smell so good. I don't usually by my produce there but I don't think that was the original intent of the store - I seem to remember no produce in the early days in SoCal.

                            Miss the full liquor sales in SoCal (beer and wine only in MA).

                            1. Good point Patricia,
                              Originally TJ did not have any produce. It has just shown up in the last few years.

                              1. Hey everyone....Trader Joes has a website that explains how/why they have their name on many of their items.
                                Check it out...traderjoes.com
                                also I HIGHLY recommend a frozen dessert (you heat it up) called Chudleigh's apple blossoms. They're like a Flower of Pie crust with crust petals enveloping a dollop of apple pie filling....with oats and such. They are awesome. I would serve them at a dinner party...that's how great they are.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: masha bousha

                                  the key lime pie is great also...have not been disappointed with most of the frozen desserts. Most of the cookies are good too (especially the dunkers)...I avoid them only because the huge tubs o' cookies make it too easy to eat too many...

                                2. In terms of grocery stores, Trader Joe's is the only saving grace in a city filled with dirty & scummy & overpriced grocery stores like Gristedes.

                                  Their perkyness is what makes them unique -- not just in NYC. They are like this EVERYWHERE. Thank God for it, too. If you don't like what you bought, tell them next time and they'll get you something else for free. Trust me.

                                  They are what a grocery store should be. I wish there were more in the city.