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Trader Joe's vs Whole Food: What to buy at each and why?

I found that a lot of CHs like to shop at Trader Joe's and Whole Food. I have been to both, and am very curious what everyone like to get at Trader Joe's and Whole Food. What's your favorite at each store? And anything that you consider as a must-buy at each? Anything that you will not bother to buy again after trying once? Feel free to share your thoughts!

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  1. Never been to trader Joe's but I like the Whole Foods cheese section (I go to the Hazelton Lanes location). The staff is always helpful when putting together a fancy cheese tray for a party.

    1. There are a lot of staples that are just cheaper at TJ. Oils, cereal, organic sugar, and the produce is generally good and decently priced, as long as you don't mind buying in their pre-packaged quantities. Meats are also well priced, and the frozen fishes are generally good quality at decent prices. The best thing for me is the nut section, the prices are way better than other stores and the quality is high. I also tend to get a lot of dried fruits at TJs. Chocolate is also quite good, they often have Ghirardelli or other brands repackaged as TJ brand. The sweets are actually all good, from my experience. I especially like the peanut butter cups, I think they're better than Reese's (which is saying a lot for me). They also have good bacon, chicken sausages, and some of their cheeses are really good, especially for the price. Oh, and they have some great potato chips and stuff, and a few good salsas and sauces. SOme are not so great, but you've just got to try them and decide what you like, like any other brand.

      TJ's also has good prices on their few household items, like toilet paper and paper towels from 100% recycled paper, some soaps and personal care items (i'm not always a fan of their house brand items for that), and their laundry detergent. I'm not a huge fan of their dish soap (i think it doesn't stay powerful enough if you're not filling a sink with water, which I don't always do), but they actually have some great 100% cellulose sponges that don't have that antibacterial treatment, which doesn't do anything but promote supergerms. They're the ones that you need to wet for them to spring up, I can't remember what they're called. But you get 12 for $5 or somethign like that.

      At Whole Foods, I am a big fan of the bulk section. I tend to buy a lot of things like flours, grains, beans and lentils, etc. in the bulk section, and they have sucanat and other sorts of natural sweetners. Some dried fruits I prefer to buy bulk, so I get them at WF or Wild Oats.

      Whole Foods also tends to have more specialty items, and therefore more expensive items. I'd just start shopping around at both. First, figure out some of your personal staples, and just try products from both stores, as sometimes the quality can vary more than you'd expect. You'll soon figure out what you like from both stores.

      I personally didn't buy a lot from Trader Joe's until I was actually on my own and supplying my own kitchen. Then one opened up 2 blocks from my office, which was really dangerous. I'm already 4 blocks or so from a Whole Foods, so I pretty much visit one of them almost every day, just because I really lke going to grocery stores (I love that I can say that here and not feel embarrased).

      sorry this was so long but i love grocery stores. last time I was at TJ's, i was advising customers more than the employees and I got a lot of "you should work here!"s.

      2 Replies
      1. re: annimal

        I love grocery stores too. At my local supermarket, Ralph's, I am always spying clueless shoppers in the meat department and steering them to sale items and having them buy boneless meat for the butchers to grind rather than buying prepackaged ground meat.

        I buy my milk at TJ's -- about 50 cents per half-gallon less expensive than the super -- and eggs and cheese. Wine, water, occasionally beer. Then the frozen foods aisle (which also has cookies) on my way to the cashier. Whole Foods -- pretty much only produce.

        1. re: nosh

          Haha, Nosh and Annimal! I love that you help others with grocery tips! How great!

          I also LOVE grocery shopping! But I have had mixed replies when I try to give advice :) One time I tried to tell this guy to buy Humboldt Fog because it was on super sale. He was standing right in front of it and I was like "Hey, I don't know if you like blue cheese, but this cheese is amazing and this is the best price I've ever seen on it!" He was like "Actually I am French" (with an accent). And I sang the cheese's praises again... and he just kind of wandered off! WITHOUT THE CHEESE! What a dumdum. I almost bought all they had, but I limited myself to three giant slabs. Ha!

      2. It depends on where you live, I think. For me, I only buy certain packaged goods at TJs -- too often I've encountered rancid nuts or moldy cheese, and that's at different locations. Some people go on and on about TJ's produce, but what I've seen always looks like an afterthought -- like, oh yeah, we're supposed to have some veggies here, right? The produce at WF is fresh and appealing, and while there's a lot of turnover at both, I feel more confident that produce, grains, and nuts at WF are fresher and haven't been sitting in a warehouse for a while. And it's not that I don't like TJ's -- I was just there this evening, but as I said, there are only certain things I buy. I love their bbq sauce (it both tastes good and it contains no HFCS, which is unusual), their roasted red pepper/artichoke spread is great (also on pasta or pizza), etc. Some people will say that WF is more expensive than TJs, and I'm sure it is for some things, but the WF near me has a price comparison right now that shows them as being cheaper.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Chocolatechipkt

          TJ's just saved me -- they are apparently the ONLY ones in the area with fresh cranberries. What's up with that?

        2. interesting... so far, i haven't had anything funky from trader joe's (unless it was supposed to be funky... mmm stinky cheese). i find the produce at WF to be far more expensive, though sometimes their sales are great. I don't actually buy much produce from TJ, as i can't go through their prepackaged sizes on my own. I've got a lot of products from both. In general, I prefer Wild Oats because they've got most of the selection of WF with better prices, a good produce section, and not as much to tempt me for impulse buys as at WF.

          and this really just makes me miss my old co-op.

          1. i like trader joes pizza dough and they make a great chocolate truffle. yum yum.

            3 Replies
            1. re: soypower

              Really? I think their pizza dough is absolutely vile!

              1. re: sundevilpeg

                i could possibly possess an unrefined palate. after all, i do love funyuns and the occasional double cheeseburger from mickey d's. :o)

                1. re: soypower

                  Nah, it's not you - it's them. The consistency of the stuff is just awful, making it hard to work with, IMO, and the flavor and texture of the baked product is unpleasant at best. Very disappointing all around.