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Trader Joe's ...

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  1. TJ's quality must really just go to hell when they move East, if this and several other posts are any indication. While I've gotten some slightly rubbery broccoli and the occasional moldy green bean (in a bagful), I have never found slimy greens there. As for the dips and salsas, TJ's tasting panel and I seem to share a lot of preferences, as I find most (though definitely not all) of their stuff in these categories to be exactly to my taste. I'm in the LA area, just a few miles down the road from their HQ in Monrovia; I wonder how far away I'd have to move to start getting crummy produce?

    5 Replies
    1. re: Will Owen

      I have also not found ANY problem with their produce, some of their milk is from Strauss Dairies, and many of their Italian/French breads are crackly fresh....!

      1. re: ChowFun_derek

        The Pane bread is sublime. My fave!

        1. re: ChowFun_derek

          Bread, milk, and produce all vary regionally.

          In the San Francisco area I buy their house-brand cream-top organic milk, since it's Straus and cheaper than elsewhere. Bread I can find better elsewhere. Their produce doesn't make the grade but I'm used to the farmers market.

        2. re: Will Owen

          It sounds a lot like TJ's in San Francisco. I can't comment on TJ's produce because I would never buy plastic-wrapped produce. As far as TJ-labeled prepared foods, they frequently are included in the blind taste-testings reported by the San Francisco Chronicle and finish near the bottom about 80 percent of the time, and nothing in my own experience contradicts this.

          1. re: Will Owen

            Our East stores are good, not great; most small and I've also shopped at the parent company, Aldi outlet, in central NJ. I found the article rang true for my overall TJ experience.

          2. I'm not a big fan of TJ's produce either, and I'm in L.A. I have definitely bought items that turned out to be moldy (orange bell peppers come to mind.) I think part of the issue is the produce all comes pre-packaged in multi-packs or bags, so the produce folks aren't able to tell if something's not good and toss it away. Overall I love TJs, but I prefer farmers markets or Whole Foods for produce.

            2 Replies
            1. re: writergirl

              So do I, but TJ's is there all the time, and I tend to buy our food on a daily basis - even one meal at a time. Those little two-serving bags of green beans or cauliflower and the bags of little potatoes are the perfect backup for a small chicken or butterflied leg of lamb. A lot cheaper than WF or farmer's markets, too.

              1. re: Will Owen

                Honestly, I prefer Ralph's produce to TJs. I'm with you when it comes to shopping every day, and at Ralphs I can by one or two bell peppers or apples that I pick out, instead of a shrink-wrapped pack of four. I really like TJs, just too many times buying produce and having to throw at least part of it away because it's moldy when I get it home.

            2. I don't like their produce at all...or their policy. I bought something that I found out was bad after coming home. I called to complain and they told me to bring it in. I told them the store was pretty far (half an hour) and I didn't plan on going there soon. They told me to save it and bring it the next time I came in! When it happened at Whole Foods (yes, I know I need to check better when I'm in the store), they told me to hold onto the receipt and bring it in next time I came. Much better than holding onto moldy produce for a couple of weeks! I like TJ's for the most part, but always pass on the produce and the prepacked foods up front (like sushi and sandwiches). I've had too many problems w/ it. Prepacked in too much wrap isn't good for produce. That and their baked goods which go moldy overnight.

              2 Replies
              1. re: chowser

                For something perishable, I've had them give me a refund without bringing it back. In fact, they gave me a refund when I mentioned to the clerk that the previous time I'd purchased the item (cottage cheese) it had been bad.

                Of course the produce isn't as good as a farmer's market. I consider it mostly a convenience (it's there, I'm there) rather than a reason to shop there.

                The eggs and dairy products are another matter though: good quality, good value.

                1. re: chowser

                  I've had amazingly good experiences with returning things at Trader Joe's. I recently had one of their whole chickens go bad in the fridge before the pull date. I called and they said I didn't need to bring in the whole chicken (it smelled bad when I opened the package, so I tossed it) -- I didn't even need to bring in the receipt, just the tag with the price on it. When I got to the store I couldn't find the tag at first (it was buried in my purse) and the clerk said, "Oh, don't worry about it, I'll just scan the tag from one of the chickens in the case." A full refund with no chicken, no price tag, no receipt -- now THAT'S customer service! As it happened I did find the tag just before she was about to go get a chicken, but wow, was I impressed. The one other time I've needed to return something they were equally helpful and friendly about it. [This reply is the same as a post I made on a different thread, also about returning at TJ's -- couldn't figure out how to link directly to my comment there.]

                2. I've had problems with their liquid dairy spoiling before the expiration date. The produce not so much.

                  BTW, I'm in the LA area, about 15 miles from the original store.

                  1. Trader Joes. We used to shop at the one in Eagle Rock near the original in South Pasadena. Saw it grow from a few convenience stores to an nationwide chain and an institution. Have watched it open a store in Pennsylvania where they couldn't sell wine; and my son was very happy he could buy from a new store in D.C. when they opened there.

                    Most produce is OK but pricy.
                    Sometimes bread is old and I've gotten a few moldy ones.
                    They always take everything back, no bother.
                    Their specialty items, under their own label, are usually superior.
                    Their coffee is generally good and fairly priced.
                    Some of their wines are good and low priced.
                    Get breads from the rack by produce not from the shelves, it's fresher, I believe.
                    Some of their frozen foods like potstickers are superior and don't have stuff like msg in them.
                    Their flowers are very reasonable, very fresh.
                    Soups like roasted peppers and butternut squash in boxes are great.
                    Condiments have always been good.
                    Some vitamins and other stuff like prostate pills are first quality, good prices.
                    Their own sausages are excellent.
                    Some meats and fish are quite pricy.
                    Service has always been cheerful and helpful.

                    Hope this helps. If anything is wrong, go back to them and they will make it right. They seem to run a very customer oriented store and, as you can see, as a very long term user, I think the world of them.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: EclecticEater

                      Agreed on all but the pricey produce. For veggies I actually find them pretty cheap compared to everywhere but Jons and what not.

                      Also tough to beat price-wise are the dried fruits. Really good deals on booze. Knob Creek whiskey runs about $8-$10 cheaper than elsewhere.

                    2. The only items I have been disappointed with has been their (mostly red) wines. Granted, you can't beat the prices, but upon being opened and tasted, it's almost as if they weren't stored properly and were exposed to extreme temperatures. Outside of that, they are my go-to spots for just about all of my condiments and oils, dry pantry goods such as couscous, jasmine rice and brown rice, cheeses, dried fruits and nuts and assorted frozen vegetables. I don't care for their frozen meats or fish and prefer to eat my fish fresh the day it is purchased. Most of my fresh vegetables and fruits come from my weekly trip to the farmers market and the meat I get at my local Raleys.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: rosielucchesini

                        I take advantage of their return policy on wines I don't like all the time.

                        In fact, almost every time.

                      2. I have never visited a Trader Joe's, and I have to wonder if it is worth the trouble to drive more than 1 hour to get there. I live in Amish region on north-central Ohio and I can get great bread, produce and meat cheaper from local purveyors than almost any national grocery chain.

                        Is it really worth driving 1 hour to get there?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Kelli2006

                          They have interesting products. I definitely wouldn't go for their bread, meat and produce anyway. Local is always a better choice than something trucked from far away (sounds great, btw). I wouldn't make a special trip but if you happen to be in the area, I'd stop by. They have prodicts I haven't seen elsewhere like thai lime and chili cashews, cookies w/ non-hydrogenated oils, chocolate covered cherries/blueberries, unusual snack items, meatless meatballs, decent soy nuggets and fake corn dogs, good chicken nuggets (I shop for kids for the most part).

                          1. re: Kelli2006

                            I love Trader Joe's (produce not withstanding) and I wouldn't drive an hour to go there. But if you're in the neighborhood, check them out. They have some interesting products and very good prices. It's not a regular grocery store, so when you go the first time you might find it hard to see what the fuss is over. But try some of their sauces or condiments, even their frozen stuff, and you'll probably get hooked!

                            Also, if you go, check out their "Fearless Flyer" which is their newsletter/sales paper, it's online now. It'll give you an idea of what items to keep an eye out for.

                          2. For me, I love TJ's and I have tried many items. I don't buy a lot of their produce, but there are many things that I do go there specifically for such as their marinate carne asada, cheeses, pizza dough, etc. I also add that it is very convenient being two blocks aways and there is something to be said about their customer service that is always there and so incredibly helpful. I did return an item once, with no problems, but that is one item in over the 7 years i have been shopping there. Every one has there different tastes of what they like and don't like about their food that they buy. I love TJ's and couldn't not imagine going there a few times a week.

                            1. Things I currently buy at Trader Joe's:

                              organic milk (Straus)
                              Portlock alder-smoked wild salmon
                              McCann's oatmeal
                              organic peanut butter (nutty, salted)
                              tongol tuna
                              various nuts & dried fruit
                              Kalamata olive oil
                              Belgian white beer ($5 six-pack!)

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                How would you describe the flavor and favorite usage for the kalamata oil? Does it literally taste like kalamata olives? Have been eyeing it but just not sure...What about those Australian olive oils?

                                I know about their lenient return policy, but I don't like using it often and usually forget about returning whatever it is I don't care for since I don't go there often enough. I can't help but think that prices will go up/quality will go down the more people take advantage of this policy...they are a business after all.

                                I have a love-hate relationship w/ TJ's but have come to appreciate low prices on a few choice items that I like:

                                Straus yogurt (don't like Fage)
                                Plugra and Kerrygold butters
                                McCann's oatmeal
                                Carr's ginger lemon cremes
                                Spanish saffron

                                Husband also likes some of their imported beers there, and wine is fine for cooking or making sangria. I'm sure there are some that would be good for drinking, but I haven't bothered to ferret out.

                                I also like their cranberry walnut bread which I believe is baked by Acme; however, freshness seems inconsistent.

                                Has anyone tried any of the new products they're touting in their frequent flyer? They have some persuasive writers, but I've learned to be skeptical...

                                1. re: Carb Lover

                                  Ditto on the Plugra and Carr's ginger lemon cremes. That plugra and those TJ's chocolate chips for cookies...that's the real deal cookie...not for wimps!

                                  1. re: Sugar Jones

                                    Haven't tried their choc chips; thanks for the tip. Speaking of chocolate, thanks to all the hounds who've recommended the Chocovic bars from Venezuela. I esp. like the one w/ the orange label!

                              2. Among my friends, it goes without saying that TJ's produce is not the best. Definitely not their fruit. But there are a few things from that aisle that I will buy there (and do, in large quantities):

                                snow peas
                                baby carrots
                                cherry tomatoes
                                red onions
                                La Brea Bakery bread

                                Trader Joes is not a "main market" for me... it's definitely a specialty place where I buy "adjuct food" for my fridge and pantry. And I strongly agree about their very welcoming return policy.

                                1. I grew up in CA, and was quite pleased when TJ's migrated up to the Bay Area in the mid- '80s.

                                  Have been in NYC for 16 yrs, and seen the franchise migrate down from the Boston area to a respectable tri-state presence. I have not yet visited the E. 14th Street (Manhattan) location, (reports are that it is *always* packed) but I am sure one day I will find myself biking the four miles uptown, TJ's bags hanging off the bike.

                                  One look at the produce should tell you to leave it alone. Maybe consider the bag of meyer lemons. Maybe not. I don't care where you live, there are going to be better options for produce elsewhere.

                                  As for baked goods and prepared foods, what you need to know is that TJ's (at least in CT and Long Island) do not take delivery of these items daily. 3 times/week, I recall being told. If this stuff appeals to you ask when it came in. No need to buy day-old scones. Or sushi. (I think they only sell vegetable sushi, but still.)

                                  TJ's is most useful to me for staples/pantry items, dried fruit, nuts, oils (everyday extra virgin olive oil, canola oil) grains (such a deal on the wild rice); canned goods are fine (though am not thrilled with their tuna).

                                  Have found exellent artisinal style Italian pastas (that would cost the double elsewhere). Have not tried TJ's coffee, but am told it is good; if you drink tea from tea bags, this is a good place to get it: you know their stock moves quickly, and prices are rock bottom.

                                  Also: baking needs, such as flour (King Arthur), baking chocolate; snack foods (chips, etc); biodegradable detergents; vitamins and supplements.

                                  I have *never* had trouble returning items at TJ's. Staff is generally helpful and friendly.
                                  Just step away from the produce.

                                  1. I agree that TJ's produce goes bad too fast. However, other products more than make up for that. The chocolate chips are extraordinary. I'm a chef and I will only use those chips in my cookies. I wish I could find out which company makes them so I could maybe buy them wholesale. Even so, they are reasonably priced. Also, organic yogurt and other organic products are good. The fresh orange juice is addicting. Love the decaf green tea, cheap fresh flowers, La Brea Bakery bread at a great price, their frozen lemonade is delish, and lots of stuff for vegetarians and even good for vegans. And seriously, the nicest staff of any retail store I've ever been in..and that goes for all 3 of the TJs I shop in.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Sugar Jones

                                      Which brand of chocolate chips is it? I'd love to try it out. Thanks!

                                      1. re: chowser

                                        TJ carries different types of gourmet block chocolate (e.g. Ghiradelli) but for their bags of chocolate chips, it's usually just their own Trader Joe's label.

                                        1. re: yumyuminmytumtum

                                          I know the reviews on chowhound are mixed, but I also love their Pound Plus dark belgian chocolate bars. For big recipes, I get those to chop up, and for cookies and snacking :) I don't use anything but TJ's own semisweet chips.

                                          Trader Joe's own chocolate is really good.

                                          1. re: amandine

                                            The Pound Plus bars are fantastic, even the milk choc. is great. The chips are packaged under their own brand. They also have this new ginger soy broth that is awesome. I make it with mushrooms, spinach, shirataki and some shrimp - all available from TJs. Delicious, healthy and dare I say, low-cal. I have to offset all those chocolate chip cookies somehow!

                                      2. re: Sugar Jones

                                        I have to agree with you on this--and thanks for stating it. Most rants about TJ's don't mention the service or lack of attitude among the staff. They seem to really focus on hiring true "people persons".

                                        Hats off to all you TJ's staff out there!

                                      3. My mom and sister buy the bags of avocadoes from TJs--the fresh ones, not the frozen. I like the pasta there as well as the low or no sodium marinara sauce. There are a few other things that I like to buy there--pantry-type things, though, so I rarely go more than once a month, if that. None of the TJs near me sell wine. I do like going there, though, as there are always new items to investigate at least. The mini peanut butter cups are excellent (and dangerous) btw, lol.

                                        1. Oh and my name is amandine and I am addicted to banana crisps.

                                          1. Too bad for Walter Nicholls! I am a dedicated shopper, have been since it's inception in So. Pas and now have 2 T.J's within 5 miles of my home! One old and one new. NEVER have I found what this author is describing. (I have also shopped T.J.'s in Alexandria, Va. and Cleveland as well as various towns in CA and AZ.) I do agree with a couple of things; that I fall for a product then poof it's gone forever w/o explanation. And, IF i don't care for the taste, texture or smell of something I can return it w/o rebuttle. Where can one do that with a food product- without a receipt?!
                                            There are some products I can find elsewhere for less and other products are less at T.J.'s. T.J.'s has character and charisma and is somewhat like shopping European without leaving town. And, where else can one find such dedicated, kind and responsive staff that is SO VERY customer oriented. Overall, it sure beats the &*%$# at Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons and even some other smaller shops around town. Walter is probably happier at Ralph's anyway.

                                            1. kitchen queen, i'm feeling you on the disappearing items issue at TJ's. i'm still missing the fresh lemon tarts (2 in a package) that they used to sell in the refrigerator section several years ago. delish! they just were discontinued one day with no explanation at all. i guess the organic vanilla yogurt is better for me anyway.

                                              1. LOVE LOVE LOVE TJ's

                                                but I don't buy any produce there- I like to pick out my fruit individually- not a 4 pack......

                                                and most of the baked goods are disappointing- but I will buty the mini pitas to bake into pita crisps

                                                but I love their snack foods and soups,
                                                I only use their chocolate chips,
                                                I treat myself to their meringue cookies
                                                and their flowers and orchid plants are pretty, live a long time and CHEAP