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Trader Joe's MSP - Crushing Disappointment (very long rant)

First, some back story. I used to travel to California lots, years ago, when Trader Joe’s was still relatively new and hadn’t made it very far east. I like them for their charming and quirky imported treats, and their vast selection of little-known local California wines that were priced cheap. And they used to locate in the interesting off-beat neighborhoods where rent was low. In the old days, they were more like what Cost Plus World Imports is today.

Years later, when they opened their store in Annapolis (where I was living at the time) some of the quirky charm had faded a bit, but they still seemed true to their original goal of off-beat treasures, cheap. Except that their locale in Annapolis was anything but low-rent. Very much affluent, berky-lefty-yuppie demographic.

Then along comes Aldi. I don’t know how many ‘hounds in MSP have shopped at Aldi, but it’s a weird experience. It’s like being in a movie – all the products *look* familiar, but different somehow. It’s like a set designer for a film had come up with packaging for the movie that resembled a well-known product. And the products are adequate, just house-branded cheaper versions made to look similar. Aldi is OK, but no great shakes. They have a few good products. Their frozen soups are good. Their cheap black tea bags are better than most. But don’t count on them for meat, produce, or dairy. Sounding familiar? The Aldi Group owns Trader Joe's.

We’re lucky in MSP. Between Kowalski’s, Lund’s, and Byerly’s, and even Rainbow, we don’t want for great grocery stores. Add the Midtown Global Market, United Noodle, and the several farmer’s markets, and we’re downright spoiled. As for wine... Surdyk’s. Sam’s. MGM.

So a few weeks ago I was pumped up and had some time and was in town and made the trek with my CO (chowhound other) to TJ’s. I was almost embarrassed to admit that it was even a TJ’s. The produce was worse than Rainbow. The dairy was appalling. And everything was now a house-brand knockoff off something that you would find a better version of at United Noodle or even Costco. The house-branding I'm sure is influenced by the Aldi corporate culture.

And don’t get me started on the wine. I don’t think I’ve seen a more anemic wine selection in MSP since I’ve moved here. Even the old Liquor Depot had it going on ten times better than TJ’s. Say what you will about three-buck chuck, but Surdyk’s or Sam’s will sell you a much better bottle of something for only seven or eight bucks, and to me that’s worth it. And, like Annapolis, Edina is their target demographic, as opposed to Richfield which is the Aldi demographic. I really felt like I wasn’t welcome (by the other shoppers, that is). The staff on the other hand were great!

Yes, I’ll still go on occasion, but only if I’m going with someone else who absolutely has to go. But really, almost anything I could get there I could get somewhere else in town better.

We should appreciate our local establishments, and keep them well customed, rather than throwing our affections away on a what, to me, seems like a global corporation with a carefully crafted counterculture image.

OK. Rant over. Thanks.

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  1. I too used to shop years ago at Trader Joe's in Santa Ana, California. There were maybe 12 stores at the time. Last week we went to TJ's in St. Louis and it was nothing like we remembered. It was a disappointment. I had no idea they are owned by Aldi's. That totally explains the oddities of the place.
    That said, we did did buy some very good canned organic pinto beans, several kinds of chocolate, and some interesting moderately priced wine. The produce at this particular store looked fine, but limited. It was amazingly crowded with frantic shoppers stuffing their carts. The staff was great at this store, too. A weird experience all around, but the quality of what we bought was decent.

    1. I would agree it's not necessarily worth a trek across the twin cities to shop at TJ's. For me, it just happens to be the closest place to home, so it's convenient if I just need to pick up some chicken or spices.

      It's not just TJ that's gone the route of private house label products. Even Byerly's Lunds have a lot more house brands now than before. Remember, Sola is actually their own brand.

      TJ does provide some cheaper versions of ethnic staples like jasmine rice if you don't have time to go to United Noodle.

      I still have trouble justifying some of the high prices for produce and other food items at Kowalski's, Lunds and Byerly's . For the optimum balance between price, quality, selection, and obsure varieties, I will always pick Central Market/HEB in Texas.

      However, I will definitely say Lunds/Byerly's dry-aged prime meats is a stellar find anywhere in the country.

      1. Thank you Loren3 - I've been thinking the same thing about Trader Joe's in MSP. The Hub and I have been a few times (even though it's way out of the way from St Paul), thinking to support a new venture. Well. I looked. Considered. Mulled. Compared. About the only things I can say I will buy again are some of the goat cheeses, since they have good prices for when you need "a lot" versus when you need "great," and the jarred "3" or "4" or "76" cheese pasta sauce. (Hub says it tastes like hi-toned Spaghettios, but HEY, I've got a 13 year old pasta-hound.)

        As for produce? C'mon - when I see uniformly round apples each individually encased in a pre-formed plastic pod, all ready to be picked up at four-for-whatever-price, I think: How creepy is this? Other produce might not have been as creepy, but I could have picked it up at the Farmer's Market or Shuang Hur for half the price. Even my local (admittedly high-priced) co-op can do better on a lot of this stuff in the value category.

        I agree with you on the Aldi culture, even though I happily pick up a number of Aldi goods for my pantry and to augment my college-boy's larder. Aldi and TJs seem to be trying to compete with the big-box supermarkets, but they are penetrating only to a small degree. Most of the discerning shoppers I know have dipped a toe into the TJs water, then hightailed it back to their usual haunts, like Cub, the MGM, the farmers' markets, United Noodles, Shuang Hur and Dragon Star.

        I'll disagree with you on the 3 Buck Chuck for this reason - it's great to be lavish with the wine in cooking, and I can't do that with the Surdyk's wine sale good stuff. Chuck's not undrinkable, so I don't feel that I am polluting my food, but I'd rather save the 8-10 dollar a bottle stuff for sipping, rather than braising, at least on your everyday weeknight.

        Will I be at TJ's again? Yes, as I have guests who love it coming into town and I want a decent, affordable cheese spread. Will I go out of the way otherwise? Not likely. Keep shopping local, keep spending your food dollars where you have a little more connection to the food, and keep holding these cookie-cutter stores to a higher standard. I'd love to hear some of your picks for certain items in the Twin Cities - you seem to be keyed into the idea of shopping for what-you-want, versus what-you-can-get.

        Cay

        1. I went there a few weeks ago to see what all the fuss was about and had a similar experience. I was underwhelmed to say the least. The three-buck-chuck was disappointing as well. Too sweet for my taste.

          If you are looking for a great wine selection in the East Metro try Big Discount Liquor on Concord St. in South St. Paul. It is run by a couple of 20-something slackers, but they really know their wine. If you go ask for Zach.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Sven

            "20-something slackers who know their wine"

            man alive, does that EVER sound like an oxymoron to me! Even so, it's appealing to know where to go for good wine sellers.

          2. I live in the Chicago area and was thrilled when we moved back here 4 years ago to find that a TJ's had opened down the road from us. I had heard so many raves from all the food boards. At first it was great because they had so many brands that my regular grocery didn't, but then I realized I was doing two shopping trips. I'd go to TJ's first, buy what I could there, and then go to the regular grocery. Kind of a pain, but on the other hand, I'm not a poster on Chowhounds for nothing! Then it became annoyingly obvious how substandard their fresh produce was. We're not picky eaters, but we like to eat fresh vegetables and fruit. There are times when finding fresh vegetables that are in decent shape and don't look like they've been sitting in a storeroom for a couple of days is a bit of a challenge.

            The last time I bought frozen fish from there (and it was something basic like cod or flounder), it did not taste good. Originally I had been very happy with their fish, but that's seemed to deteriorate as well.

            Another thing about them that bugs me is the lack of logic behind their selection of ingredients. One time I was in the store and needed some dried oregano. How basic is that? Not only did they not have it, but when I asked one of the people who worked in the store if perhaps there was some in the back, they acted as if oregano was the most exotic thing in the world.

            As you can probably guess, I've simply stopped shopping at TJs. I suppose if we were more into frozen or canned items, then I'd still be going back, but I'm not. I think a lot of what they're selling is too gimmicky for my tastes and they simply fail to deliver on what I see as the basics.

            1. I used to go to Trader Joes occasionally for one or two specialty items. Since then I have found these items in other spots, and for less money... I have not returned to a Trader Joes in a couple of years. Why should I pay more for the same items that I can buy elsewhere. It isnt worth a special trip to go to Trader Joes., and I hated how small their stores are, and how long it took to get in and out of there.

              3 Replies
              1. re: swsidejim

                As long as we're piling on here, the TJ's attitude toward customer service is lacking. I've stood in a line of 15 people there and seen the managers standing around, chortling about something, without stepping to open a closed register. I even sent a letter to their corporate HQ, and got some garbage back saying that they had a program called Total Customer Satisfaction, or something like that. That was it! Basically they figured out some clever ways of marketing cheap wine, and that's OK, but I go there less and less.

                1. re: Jim M

                  My local TJ is very good at opening up registers if customers are waiting. They ring a ship's bell to signal needs like this.

                  I suspect most customers who are disappointed with TJ come expecting it to be a cheap but comprehensive grocery. That has never been their marketing strategy. The one I frequent is located in a strip mall along with an Albertsons, in a space that used to be a Petco.

                  While I shop at TJs at least once a week, getting a fairly regular set of staples, I also stop at a nearby Asian produce stand for produce and ethnic products, a large Asian grocery for meats and fish, and occasionally stop at a regular grocery for items I can't get elsewhere.

                  paulj

                  1. re: paulj

                    I doubt may are under the illusion that Trader Joes is a Cub Foods, or other "cheap" comprehensive grocer. It is a niche store that has its devotees, but it was easily removed from my list of stores I frequent once I was able to find the one or two items they carried that interested me other places, & for cheaper.

                    If it works for others, more power to ya, it just doesnt work for me.

              2. I've been to Trader Joe's in Indianapolis, Worcester, MA and St. Louis Park. They were all just a bit different from each other. I was kind of disappointed in the one in St. Louis Park after earlier experiencing the other two. Maybe they will be like Krispie Kreme. Once you get one you find out it is no big deal.

                1. was excited, then hopes dashed as well.
                  what an aweful site for such a frenetically busy place as well-- were flipped off by yuppie weekend warriors on a harley & it was such a pain to get there that we won't be back unless under great duress. food was so-so, produce horrible & not-cheap prices on stuff we looked at. liked the french soap i got tho.

                  1. I think Dara summed up the current Trader Joe's approach nicely: Snacktastic.

                    http://citypages.com/databank/27/1330...

                    I go to TJs for the multi grain oat bread (comparable and half the price of Rudi's), cashews, peanuts and tomato red pepper soup. But then again it's pretty close to where I live. If I lived a greater distance I probably wouldn't bother.

                    For produce I stick to my beloved Linden Hills Coop. Did you know we have more food coops than anywhere else in the US? We do and I am so very grateful for the loving care and attention paid to the produce. Wait - I didn't mean that in a dirty way :)

                    1. I just was at TJ's for the first time yesterday at the SLP location, and I was also disappointed for the most part. One thing I did find was my favorite peppermint soap for a cheaper price than where I was usually buying it, but as for other items I was quite disillusioned. It was a weekday afternoon so it wasn't really crowded but I cannot imagine what it is like on a weekend!

                      I bought some of their cereal bars due to the cheaper price, but wasn't moved by much. And I expected it to be bigger. I did peruse the wine store and came away with a bad taste as I encountered a clerk who did not know what a Viognier was, and actually pointed me to the Reds. At that point, I thought to myself that I have no need to come back.

                      1. We happened to be in St. Louis Park recently, so we swung by TJ's. The parking lot, not to mention the store itself with people pushing and reaching over you, in St. Louis Park is just as congested as the ones in San Francisco were. In spite of the crowds, we managed to buy a frozen szechuan chicken stir-fry, seasoned French rack of lamb, steamed and peeled baby beets from the fridge section, marinated wild salmon steaks, frozen haricots verts, a seasoned pork loin, and, of course, some Total yogurt. Everything was seasoned, packaged in reasonable serving-for-two sizes, and had thawing and preparation instructions right on the label. The foods were of reasonable quality and very convenient, which means we ate well-enough at home last week in spite of my insanely busy schedule. But, it's not worth it to me to cross town for and, even if I lived closer, I don't think I'd have the patience to shop there regularly.

                        I prefer to buy locally raised foods, anyway. And if I'm in search of "global" ingredients, there are plenty of authentic places with a lot more character in the Twin Cities to pick those up.

                        ~TDQ

                        1. Wow. I live in Phoenix, and Trader Joe's has been my main grocery store for over a decade. I realize it is not comprehensive and lacks some basic items (e.g. dried oregano), but those items can be picked up on supplementary trips to other stores. For spices, I'd rather buy in bulk at Penzey's, anyway. As for the produce at TJ, I actually like the way it is pre-packaged.

                          Of course, TJ's has been in Phoenix for over a decade, and some of the discontent in this thread seems to focus on a possible loss of quality during the eastward expansion. Nevertheless, when I visit my sister in the Detroit area, I have found her local TJ on par with my own here in Phoenix.

                          I guess the only way I can make sense of this thread is to realize that TJ is somewhat unique and tends to divide consumers into three groups:

                          -regulars who make it their main grocery with supplementary trips elsewhere (a small minority of which I am part)

                          -occasional customers who make a monthly-or-so trip for special needs (the majority of TJ customers)

                          -people who are disappointed with TJ and stop going after a few exploratory visits (a significant number)

                          1. I just stopped in at the Lakewinds Coop in Minnetonka and came away more impressed with the choices there now that they are in their new expanded location. I doubt I will bother to trek into St. Louis Park and go to Trader Joe's again.

                            1. Lakewinds IS a fantastic co-op.....it's just in the wrong neighborhood!

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: cooknKate

                                cooknKate, That all depends on where you live. ;) It is fine by me. The Chanhassen Lakewinds is just about as close to me but I haven't tried it yet. We don't have a nearby Whole Foods or Trader Joes for that matter, but we are not missing them with Lakewinds around.

                                1. re: Davydd

                                  I'd like to start a thread on co-ops/natural food sources in the MSP area - will post separately

                              2. Trader Joe's is not owned by Germany's Aldi Group. Trader Joe's is privately owned by a trust created by Theo Albrecht, who was one of the founders of Aldi. It's a separate company.

                                1. Wow. If you folks have been having bad service or quality issues at MSP, please, by all means contact the head honcho there, Hugh Armel. I've had a problem two times with kosher chicken (packing and handling issue which may not have had anything to do with TJs)and he's been all over himself to set things right. For me, TJs is great in terms of dried fruits and nuts, kosher meat - which is much cheaper there - and some specialty items. It is one of many colors in my food-prep palette. Odd about the oregano, as I have two bottles of TJs dried oregano in my spice drawer.

                                  TK

                                  1. I will say regarding Aldi's. . .Nowhere else can you find computer parts in the fresh foods aisle. My first (and last) trip in there I found WACOM graphics tablets stocked between the carrots and the lettuce ;)

                                    1. Hello Loren3,

                                      I have no problems with your opinions, you are entitled to them and that's cool. However, get the things you call facts correct please. TRADER JOES IS NOT OWNED BY ALDI!!!! Trader Joe's is its own company run by its own management. In fact, it's a privately held company where the owner has little to do with the business itself. In fact, the owner is very hands-off and allows Trader Joe's employees to run themselves. That's why Trader's offers incredible benefits it their employees. Get this; even part time employees get Health Care, Paid Vacation, Retirement and a flexible schedule. Aldi offers nothing compared to Trader Joe's. Don't get down on a business just because they're doing what is right and growing at the same time. If you don't like the products (even though there are no artificial flavors or preservatives and NO PRODUCTS FROM CHINA) that's cool, but please get your 'facts' straight before you go trying to destroy other people's workplace and careers.

                                      1 Reply
                                        1. re: sullysully

                                          The ownership of Trader Joe's and Aldi can be a bit confusing. Here are the facts: Aldi was started in Germany decades ago. Two brothers, sons of the founder, (Theo and Karl) took over and they split the company in 1960. Aldi stores in the U.S. are owned by Aldi South (Karl) and Trader Joe's is owned by a trust set up by Aldi North (Theo). So while they may have similarities, they are not owned by the same companies.

                                          I have shopped Trader Joe's but not too often because it isn't convenient and they don't really have anything I 'need' to have. I like some of their products, but I can get by without them. Aldi on the other hand is a store that I shop often. I like the products and it is close by. I like the prices and the quality is good. you cannot buy everything you need at Aldi, but they are the first to say that.You can buy a 1# bag of frozen medium shrimp for $3.99 any day of the week. Most of the staples are cheaper too, butter, eggs, milk, flour, sugar, potatoes, onions, etc. I'll take Aldi over Trader Joe's every time.

                                        2. We used to go to (the SLP) TJs a lot...I guess I was caught up in the perception of what it supposed to be. But we have just stopped going and we don't regret it at all. The food is good quality, for large chain quality, but not cheap. Since we prefer a more local (fresher, higher quality ingredients) taste, their food comes out a little underwhelming. Also, because we make almost everything from scratch, the premade stuff does not wow us.
                                          The 3 buck chuck I got was undrinkable, to the point where I wouldn't even cook with it. Their beer was about double the price of any other liquor store.
                                          All in all...not worth our time, especially when there are so many co-ops that so far surpass them.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: forgottendreamr

                                            If your comparison point is Target, Trader Joes is great. If it's your local co-op, it doesn't compare. I find three buck chuck to be drinkable, as long as your having it ironically, but my word will it ruin whatever you are trying to cook with it.

                                            1. re: kevin47

                                              I live less than a mile from the TJ in St Paul. I went there about a month after it opened. The staff there were great but the customers were some of the most rude, annoyingly inconsiderate lot I have ever encountered. They acted like it was Black Friday at Rosedale Mall. People were literally waiting directly behind me and on both sides with the most smug, impatient looks upon their faces. For a moment I thought I was in a damn mosh pit. I ended up leaving with some organic juice boxes for my son which he didn't care for and some frozen Carne Asada Taco Meat which was bland and in serious need of some doctoring up. I have not returned since.

                                              1. re: Fudist

                                                We had the same experience at the one in St. Paul. We were nearly hit by some guy in an expensive SUV who was driving the wrong way in their parking ramp at about 30 miles per hour. We go to the one in Maple Grove, and you'd think the customers were in Disneyland.

                                          2. I shop Trader Joe's for limited items and usually stuff you might not find in mainstream supermarkets. For one example, they have a more extensive selection of dried fruits than most other stores at a much better price. I shop Whole Foods and Lakewinds food coop for similar reasons. Since none of them are conveniently close, that shopping is either for a specific need or an opportunity when close by for some other reason. The bulk of my shopping is at a mainstream supermarket.

                                            1. I am a bit of a wine buff, and I shop for wine regularly looking for interesting wines or good prices. To me, Trader Joe's has neither. All the wine they have except 3 buck chuck can be bought from a multitude of other stores, often for half of what Trader Joes charges. I am shocked that they are able to stay in business. To me, it furthers my belief that the average wine consumer is extremely uninformed and just grabs a bottle in their price range.

                                              As for the 3 buck chuck, well it is what it is. If you like it, salut.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: galewskj

                                                I happen to like Trader Joe's and disagree with many of the posts in this thread. Most of these are opinions, so I've not responded. However, this post is blatantly untrue.

                                                In addition to 3BC, Trader Joe's stocks many wines that are only available though their stores. Most of these are priced in the $4 to $8 range and are what I consider the great values at TJ's, not 3BC.

                                                They also offer many wines that can be purchased elsewhere and at lower prices, but 3BC isn't their only wine that can't be found at other stores.

                                                Trader Joe's is about value - a good product for a good price. If you don't feel you get a good value there, that's fine, but don't make a blanket statement that's just not true.

                                                1. re: Kilgore

                                                  Ok, maybe my statement did generalize a little too much. I apologize and let me amend it :

                                                  I recognize more than 80% of the wines on the shelf at Trader Joe's as easily accessible grocery store wine you can get almost anywhere and I have NEVER EVER seen a wine for a decent price there other than the 3 buck chuck if you happen to like that one. I therefore conclude that the remaining 20% must also be overpriced, because why would they have a different markup than the rest?

                                                  As for the regular store, I've only walked in and walked out a couple times so I can't really comment. Obviously I wasn't impressed as I never bought anything, but I'm not familiar enough with their merchandise to discuss it in detail other than "nothing looked good".

                                              2. I'm glad that I am not alone in disliking TJ's. Here in San Francisco they're crowded, with a wait of 30 minutes even to get into the parking lot at some. I did shop there occasionally when I lived 2 blocks away, but have stopped since I moved. They're always oh so crowded, which makes me very grumpy, for foods that I've not had much interest in. Probably because i don't eat packaged foods very often, and even here their produce is subpar.

                                                Glad to see that I'm not alone, since many people i know adore the place.

                                                8 Replies
                                                1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                  i can't get over the adoration of this chain. their offerings flatly suck, their prices are not very good, and the stores are designed to make grocery shopping hectic, crowded, and competitive. this doesn't fly so well in msp, and people here in the co-op capital of the country are used to *way* better produce than tj's paltry, wilted, shrinkwrapped, "organic" offerings of bagged salads, granny smiths and red bell peppers. what's the point of going to a grocery store when you just have to make a second stop for produce? duh?!?

                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                    It seems to me that TJ's has done a poor job of setting expectations, and that failure has fueled the unhappiness people are expressing here.

                                                    TJs is owned by one of the brothers who own the ALDI chains, and -- based on my shopping the two stores -- the philosophy seems to be pretty much the same. Neither store promises to be THE only store you'll ever shop.

                                                    TJ's (ALDI) is not THE place to go if you're looking for a very specific cut of meat or kind of cheese. I'm the kind of person who likes to hand-pick my produce, so the bagged/shrinkwrapped thing doesn't sell me at TJ's (ALDI), the co-op, OR Byerly's. I would say, though, that the produce I have seen at the St. Paul TJ's has not looked as uniformly bad as soupkitten has seen it.

                                                    But TJ's is on my way home, so it does not have to be my sole source or my destination. And, at that, it succeeds. I have yet to find dried fruit and nuts which are as good and as cheap as TJ's are. Say what one will about frozen entrees in general, but TJ's are far more interesting than another Lean Cuisine or another bowl of cereal. Even though some of the cheeses available can be found elsewhere, TJ's prices are rock-bottom.

                                                    Yeah, they could build on lots which allow for more parking. Their produce often could be better-priced than it is for its quality. IME the coffee has always been disappointing. But I don't get the "hate". I have to think it's tied to TJ's not properly educating shoppers before they walk in the door.

                                                    1. re: steve_in_stpaul

                                                      When Fresh n Easy makes it way to MSP, Trader Joe's will quickly go out of business

                                                      1. re: DukeFan

                                                        Has TJ's gone out of business in other areas Fresh n Easy has expanded into?

                                                    2. re: soupkitten

                                                      In fairness, the stores are not designed to be overcrowded. That has been a product of greater than expected enthusiasm for the brand, and the fact that alcohol and food must reside separately, thanks to our absurd liquor laws.

                                                      I went to college in CA, and we always regarded Trader Joes as the place to get party items. They have great packaged goods and great prices on low-level alcohol items. They also have affordable (if not spectacular) cheese offerings and any number of niche items.

                                                      From experience, I can say that Trader Joes has encouraged better purchasing and eating habits among those who would ordinarily opt for a slate of Hamburger Helper. I don't think my wife would be nearly so open to shopping at co-ops were she not introduced to Trader Joes.

                                                      1. re: kevin47

                                                        i'm guessing your wife is not from msp, Kevin? (feel free to correct me if i'm off base on that). it's funny that so many msp-ers see co-ops as "normal" and tj's/aldi as "abnormal," and the non-msp-ers see it vice-versa. many people i've talked to about the local tj's phenomenon state that one of the reasons they don't shop there is because they are used to "nicer grocery stores"-- then it takes a couple of questions to figure out what they mean by that-- whether they mean organic/local/ethical (co-op), or old-school wide aisles, carpets and chandeliers, check-out folks in button down shirts & ties & competent baggers (1970's, 80's, & continuing lunds/byerly's, kowalskis, etc.), or better prices/selection/bigger store (cub & rainbow). all of these grocers have been around msp for some time, while tj's only came in four years ago or so, and it hasn't necessarily gotten the reception the company anticipated-- my armchair view is that it's probably due to the high quality local grocers and the local population's continued support of them. iirc similar disappointments were experienced by the whole foods and wal-mart groups-- initial plans to pepper the area with stores were dramatically scaled back after the flagship stores first came into the msp area, and these groups continue to have a pretty modest presence here. anyway i think msp is a really competitive environment for grocers and it keeps the walmart & aldi/tj's model out (to varying success in the burbs, of course).

                                                        it's interesting to watch the grocery wars, but i really think tj's is inferior by the established local msp standards. maybe your view of it as a cheap college junk-food and booze retailer is accurate though and it's found its niche. all-in-all i think a rainbow store would be a more likely "gateway" store to the co-ops than a tj's but maybe i'm off-base in that.

                                                        1. re: kevin47

                                                          Interesting thoughts. The way I see it, the folks who shop TJs are those who are more likely to go out to eat at the mall or 'burb restaurants, e.g. Cheesecake Factory, other chains. Those who shop at The Wedge, Seward, Linden Hills Co-op are more likely to appreciate Alma, Craftsman, Piccolo,etc...

                                                          -----
                                                          Cheesecake Factory
                                                          2715 Southdale Ctr, Minneapolis, MN 55435

                                                          1. re: DiningDog

                                                            Maybe your rule of thumb works in most cases, but there are always exceptions. My wife, for instance, seems to love TJ's. I hate it. I think it's among other things: the antithesis of eating local. I'd rather pay a little more for local lamb than buy NZ lamb for $4 / lb. And I swear the flank steaks were carbon-monoxided to keep them red on the trip over from Australia.

                                                            And so you'd think my wife, who likes some of the products would not like Alma, Craftsman, etc.. but she does. She likes them very much. And she hates hot dogs.

                                                    3. I got the TJ's every once-in-awhile to get some nuts and other snacks. I've noticed that over the past year many of their name brand items (chocolates for example) have been replaced by house brands. Too bad, though their house brands aren't all awful though I've had a few that were horrible.

                                                      My biggest annoyance is the checkout staff seems to be coached to always pick one item out of your purchase and comment "Have you had these before, they're amazing!". It just feels so canned. I prefer shopping at the co-op or one of the many great ethnic grocery stores in town.

                                                      Just adding my bit to the pile-on here.