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Dec 4, 2006 03:24 PM

Trader Joe's in Cary-- not seeing what the big deal is...

After reading about others' gushing over Trader Joe (TJ), especially about how it was so much better than Whole Foods (WH), I had to go check the place out this weekend. Perhaps with was because my expectations were raised too high but I don't see what the fuss is about. I'll try to go down each aisle in my mind's eye and comment and make comparisons.

1. Floral-- not even a fair fight, Whole Foods wins, at least the ones in Durham and Chapel Hill do.
2. Bakery-- TJ has excellent bread selection but I' give the quality nod to Weaver Street (WS), and overall I have to give the nod to WS or WF because the TJ's pastry selection is lame and just as expensive.
3. Cheese-- TJ wins here, very good selection and some excellent bargains like fontina for $3.99/lb.
4. Veggies/produce-- TJ is rather limited, especially organic stuff. Where's the produce? WF and WS wins easily.
6. Dairy/eggs/etc.-- Milk costs a little less at TJ but that's about the only difference I noticed. Only brand of sour cream they had was Cabot.
5. Nuts/Jellies/ Juices, etc.-- TJ's has some interesting choices, their angle seems to be foods of the world, but their prices aren't that much better than WF.
6. Coffees/ teas-- TJ wins here. I'd say their coffee is a good 30-40% cheaper. Can't comment on quality until I try it but Tanzanian peaberry at $6.99 a pound? Wow!
7. Meats/seafood-- WF wins the meat dept.easily because it has a much wider selection and butchers. TJ win the seafood, there are some great deals here like mahi at $4.99/ lb or swordfish at $6.39/lb.
8. Wine/beer-- Not a wine guy so I won't comment but WF and especially WS have much better beer departments.

So in short, TJ has some great deals here and there and lots of exotic temptations, especially in the frozen foods section, but their lack of a good veg, produce, and pastries, limited organic choices, and no conveyer belts on cash registers leave much to be desired. My trip to Cary made me realize how spoiled we are in Chapel Hill with WF, WS, Southern Season, and even Earth Fare to choose from.

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  1. Someone else with more experience with TJ can weigh in here, but it is my impression that TJ is NOT intended to be a direct competitor to a full scale gourmet supermarket like WF, Earth Fare, or Weaver Street. So I think your expectations are unrealistic. It's smaller and more specialized. They select a limited number of quality products and offer them to customers at a lower price than you would normally (not always) find at the upscale supermarkets. Comparing their floral, produce, meats selection doesn't make sense. They don't pretend to compete on this basis. They are at a different scale. But...
    I totally disagree with you about the nuts etc. TJ's bargains are real, Try finding pignoli nuts at $10.00/lb or almonds at $5/lb at WF. It takes some experience shopping at TJs, but if you adjust your expectations, you will begin to see where they really shine.

    2 Replies
    1. re: TerryG

      In the "Thoroughly Fed UP with Whole Foods in Raleigh" thread, there are plenty of posts comparing the relative merits of WF and TJ. Thus my comparison of the two. If they want to be specialized and offer a limited number of quality products as you say then perhaps they shouldn't have half-assed floral, veg, and meat departments.

      1. re: bbqme

        Not sure what you mean by "half assed". There were plenty of quality products in all those depts-- just not as many of them. If you want a larger selection, go to a supermarket. IIRC, TJ stores are only about 15,000 sq ft (I may be way off here). At that size, I think they do a good job of offering selection in a variety of categories. I just think it's apples and oranges to compare stores that operate at a different scale.

    2. If you thought their produce and meat selection was limited, you should have seen it 4 years ago - it was even smaller.

      TJ's strength is house branded import items. Their hazelnut spread is from Turkey. Their frozen green beans are from France. Their dried tomato antipasto is from Sicily. Their Dijon is from France.

      The other day I browsed WF for the first time in several years. While they had a lot of 'wow' products, nothing was attractive - pricewise. I left without buying anything.

      For better prices and selection on produce and meat I go to a small pan-ethnic produce stand, a large California Asian chain, or a neighborhood meat market.


      1. I have the best of both worlds here in Pittsburgh. Trader Joe's just opened literally a 2 minute drive away from the Whole Foods. We stop at TJ first, buying their cheaper cheese, frozen items (lemon sorbet for $1.99), some frozen lunches, lunch meat and ground meat. We like the frozen indian and asian selections for a quick lunch at work. We then go to whole foods for the fresh produce and fresh seafood. TJ does have much cheaper seafood, but there is a definite quality/taste difference too. That being said, TJ's alaskan cod at $5.99 a pound worked almost as well as Whole Food's cod priced around $18 a pound when we made fish tacos last week.

        1. I'm with bbqme. They didn't seem to have what I buy. I would have considered the boneless leg of lamb, but they all seemed to be packed in a marinate of some sort. They had a couple of strips but they were cut Food Lion thin. I'll continue to do most of my shopping at Fresh Market, Whole Foods and Harris Teeter.

          I did get a bottle of Three Buck Chuck which I will try tonight with a roast from Harris Teeter.

          1. Apples and oranges.

            WF is a full-service supermarket, to use the American vernacular.

            TJ's is quite specialized and hardly a supermarket.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Atlantis

              I agree 100% with Atlantis. TJ's is a small, specialized gourmet food store with (mostly) cheap prices. WF is pricier and has a bigger (but not necessarily better) selection. I've been going to different TJ's for over 20 years and always get psyched up when one opens closer to me (I'm in Philly now and we have 5 or so). Enjoy it for what it is.