Ok..I have to get this out in 2006..I HATE TRADER JOES
I'm sorry, I just do. Almost everything I have ever gotten there is mediocre AT BEST, the parking is AWFUL, the lines are long. I just don't get it. I'm so sorry. I live in Los Angeles, and there are so many Trader Joe fanatics out here. I am disappointed every time. Some of my bad experiences have involved, but have not been limited to:
Canned crabmeat (don't ask)
any and all frozen dumplings.
Happy New year!!
I still like TJs but I liked it better a few years ago before they replaced so many products with the TJ Store Brand. They used to have Nutella, for much cheaper than the grocery store. And the dark brown muscovado sugar. Other places are way too expensive for that kind of thing.
i LOVE trader joe's. my favs are the butternut squash, the apple cereal bars, shelled edamame and fresh salsas (from the refrigerated section). the lines are minimal. the staff is very friendly & helpful & the parking is ALWAYS plentiful, but i do live in the midwest (michigan).
It must be nice to live someplace with so many choices. That is not true everywhere. I have 3 supermarket chains to choose from and essentially no mom and pop stores. If I want nuts for brownies or even to serve in a bowl at a party I have to either buy 6oz for $7 or if I am lucky costco may have some... but not always. And specialty items are simply non existant here unless you go to perhaps a wine shop and really pay thru the nose. It was only within the last year that "Boars Head" began to be carried by some of the supermarkets, and thats about as good as it gets. Trust me, when Hawaii people go to the mainland, TJ's is one of the first things they look for, because a lot of what they sell just isn't avialable here.
I dont need Trader Joes to get my grocery shopping done, I have an excellent local butcher I go to every Saturday, great local produce available during the summer at farmstands, and farmers markets, otherwise I go to Caputo's, & I also have an excellent source for seafood & fish. Living in the Chicago area I can get all the spices, cheese, and other cooking needs I require without going to Trader Joes.
I dont eat organic foods, vegetarian foods, prepared foods, or frozen meals either, so Trader Joes really offers nothing of interest to me.
If you live in the boonies (I lived in Bakersfield and Modesto California for 12 years), TJ's may be the best option (read cheap) place in town for organic food, food without a lot of preservatives.
However TJ's does a lot of importing food (think energy cost of travel and freshness to do this). I stopped going to my local TJ's in Petaluma due to a customer service issue. Started going to whole foods (aka whole paycheck) and found many items on sale, many locally grown items. I also frequent Farmer's markets and local stands and my locally owned store G and G. I am happy and not spending a whole lot.
Left the TJ fold and not looking back...
I live in a small town (70 miles west of Chicago), but work near the city. I gladly drive to a few different places to get the product I need to stock my kitchen, and Trader Joes is not on my list of stops. To me it is a niche store, for folks who eat alot of frozen, or prepared meals, folks who eat a vegetarian diet, & folks who eat organics, and other "health" foods.
It just does not work into my diet, or cooking preferences. For those who like TJ's, enjoy.
The TJ;s in the Chicago Burbs are BRUTAL (Northbrook, Glenview soo to come HIghland Park) UGH. I think it's even more alluring to us midwesterners who think it's some funky, West cost place..
The people who go there really drive me crazy. So, unless it's first thing in the morning and Im there when the doors open, I won't go.
That said, I do enjoy the guacomole and orange chicken. But, not enough for a special trip
I am not a fan of TJs either. I think of it as the supermarket for all the " earthy, vegetarian, crunch granola people" Tons of processed foods, overpriced veggies/fruits/meats. I will say they have a larger selection of cheeses but the prices make most out of reach for me... There are other stores like TJ- whole foods, Wild Oats that I prefer to shop at. In fact I like Wild Oats much better for veggies/fruits... I still think all these places have highly inflated prices per pound for most of their meats, veggies and fruits.... My local supermarkets or the mom & pop places have just as fresh and CHEAPER prices...
Very well put, the last time I went to TJ's (about 2 years ago) for a terryaki/sesame marinade they had( which I can now find at my local grocery store, so no need for TJ's), I was behind a lady in line who purchased maybe 20 items of nothing really that special, and her bill was $200..... She wasnt purchasing lobster, or filets, or anything that would be considered a high ticket item, but just trendy, overpriced organic staples. I guess some folks have money to burn. Like you I go to my small town butcher who has prime beef,poultry, pork, etc, and invites me behind the butcher counter to pick what I want and he cuts it for me, and I go to a couple of other local, or not so local markets that have the other items I need. I cant wait for the summer, and the local roadside farmstands, and the farmers markets get going here in the midwest.
I don't like TJ's meat. It's not very good. And I don't have a nice butcher anywhere nearby. Their produce is chaloshes, too.
I don't understand, though, how you could spend $200 on 20 items at TJ's, unless prices in Chicago are much higher than in Irvine. I usually end up with 10-15 items for about $30-$40.
I shop at the farmers' market for my produce; I go to TJ's for specialty items (they have the cheapest price on the unsweetened soy milk my wife drinks, the best prices on butter, and often the best price on milk). Only then do I brave Stater Bros., where I buy my meat.
In Chicago it's probably not worth it to shop TJ's. In Minneapolis or Des Moines or Phoenix, it might be.
I live in Chicago and I go to TJs every 3-4 weeks. It's close to my house, and because of the hours I work, I can go in the middle of a weekday afternoon when it isn't crowded. I don't buy a lot there, but there are certain things that are so much cheaper than WF or the Jewel, and it makes sense to me to stock up.
Kashi Go-Lean Bars
Double Rainbow Ultra Chocolate Ice Cream
Frozen Tikka Masala Dinners (They seem to be identical to the ones WF sells, for 2 dollars less, and they are great to have as emergency take to work food)
TJs is also the only place I go to buy flowers now. Jewel has nothing but carnations and roses, and WF is insanely expensive. TJs flowers are cheap and gorgeous.
I've had about 3 or 4 taste tests with the Charles Shaw Sauv Blanc versus $12-$18 competitors. The Chuck won every time.
No side-by-side tests, but had some of the Shiraz a few weeks ago, and it was nice, very drinkable with some cheese.
The Cabernet Sauvignon holds up well enough to beef.
And it's 3 FREAKIN' DOLLARS!!!!!!!
I also frequent the NYC store and although I rarely purchase any of their prepared foods, there are plenty of products that I like.
Organic mixed greens for about $1.50 less than at Whole Foods for the exact same product.
Applewood Niman Ranch ham
Organic low-fat yogurt
Dried fruits and nuts
Organic dried pasta
Good olive oils and balsamic vinegar
I love TJs.
1. Lowest prices ANYWHERE. I shop at the Manhattan location, so this may not be true at all stores, but it certainly is here.
2. Cool, shifting selection of interesting items you can't find anywhere else.
3. Friendly staff.
and most of all:
4. Items with ingredients I can recognize.
People on this board are all up in arms about Tj's "processed" items. Ok, they sell a lot of frozen and prepared foods. But have you ever looked at the ingredients? Most have no chemicals or preservatives. Compare the back of a box of frozen lasagna from TJs with one from Stoffer's, and you'll see what I mean.
I don't do all my shopping there (I can't find everything I need, I like to buy local and organic produce from the greenmarket, etc.) but if it weren't for TJs, I'd be a lot hungrier and a lot poorer.
tjs does a few things right:
1. they dont allow the producers to control the stores.
2. they pay the employees well. do you get 15% of your annual put into 401k?
3. they pay cash to suppliers.
4. they source local suppliers.
5. they dont over-advertise. a flyer every few months, and some radio.
6. they dont hassle w/ returns--no receipt needed. find THAT anywhere else.
7. oh, and shaw is the best-selling american wine--ever.
no one can compete w/ the mom and pops when it comes to repete sales, and joes chooses not to try. but when you talk about competition from the other markets, joes has them all dead in the water. they dont "owe" anyone anything. get over it people, its called CALIFORNICATION.
Aren't we fortunate to be blessed with so many choices that we are able to complain about what we have available to us? And we have the luxury of time to be able to debate the issue in such a wonderful forum? I had the opportunity to watch a friend from a small African country take in all that America had to offer in a grocery store (not a super-sized box one, either). He was amazed at all the offerings and options wondering how people had enough time to choose.
I think it depends where you live. For the CH's who do not have the luxury of many stores with wide varieties, the lists above would bring me to TJ's. I have fresh fish, produce (organic and not), great meats and chickens, cheeses, vast variety of canned tomatoes, baking stuff and the like. My store does not suffer from the "middle aisle" syndrome that i have learned about over thelast few weeks on other threads.
I am lucky i guess that i buy most of these lists at my local grocer.
I love TJ for some things. And of course I have had something I have hated. But for the most part everything I buy is delicious. Even some of the frozen items (Gasp!). I live in the midwest where choice and shops are limited. I can't find the variety that TJs offers at any other grocery store around. My closest whole foods is more than 30min away and anyway, I find them extremely overpriced. I know that if I lived on the west coast where seafood and amazing veggies were sold everywhere and anywhere, I might feel the same as most of you above. But until you have lived in landlocked chicago, you won't know how good that frozen salmon really is.
I don't have a lot of experience with TJ's, but the two near here (Bellevue and Kirkland WA) have been relatively well organized, without parking issues or long lines (of course, I usually go later in the evening.) I've been less than impressed with some of the frozen foods, but the Pound Plus chocolate bars are a great deal for when you're working with chocolate, and I've found a number of other decent items. I don't go there often, but there are specific things that are good to get there. A well stocked supermarket a few blocks from here takes care of the rest.
Interesting thread. I love Trader Joe's, but like some other posters, for very specific items only - of which most produce, meat and frozen items are not on the list. (I live in Phoenix)
Truffle Oil - unbelievable price
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - again price and good quality
Wine, wine, wine, wine - I buy almost a case a week of undiscovered, crazy affordable, very drinkable wine
Il Fornaio breads - just reheat and serve
Fresh pizza dough
Whole peeled tomatoes with no preservatives added - bright red and almost a dollar less than the grocery store and not pink!
Cheeses - the most affordable Parmegiano-Reggiano in town, soft cheeses, goat cheese, etc. (1/2 the price of reg grocery store - if they even have it)
Prosciutto (1/2 the price of reg grocery store - if they even sell it)
Unsalted butter (1/2 the price of reg grocery store)
Cream & Half and Half (1/2 the price of reg grocery store)
72% cacao dark chocolate for baking
King Arthur flower
Fingerling potatoes (not avail at most other stores in town)
Fresh red currants and/or other berries
Organic bagged salads ($1-2 less than other stores)
Dried fruits and nuts with no preservatives
And, best of all - I don't feel so pretentious, granola-crunchy, etc. like I do at some health food type stores. Normal people shop there. :)
I REALLY agree that it depends on location too!
You have to take some chances. Just buy the products that you are comfortable with initially - yogurt, eggs, milk, tofu, cereal, dark chocolate, nuts. Try a few new things. Some you will like; some you won't. I've had things I hated - Dr. Praeger's Veggie Burgers and things I loved - frozen instant brown rice for those times when 3 minutes is all I have
We have two TJs near us - one in Cambridge, the other in Salem MA. Both stores are a joy to shop in, plenty of parking, courteous and helpful staff, no overly long lines at check-out.. We never buy processed or ready-made foodstuffs, since we cook everything from scratch. Their cheese selection is vast, the macaroni (yes, we call it that) is excellent, as are the dairy products. We use the French roast coffee and condiments and spices plus their frozen raw shrimp. That's basically it. Never had a bad experience at a TJ, in fact we were eagerly anticipating the opening of one in this area after hearing all the hype. We have not been disappointed.
But I gotta tell you guys....if ypu live in the desert, TJ's is not bad at all. (not for produce, duh - even in the desert we have a few organic markets). But Whole Paycheck is way outta price for so much that's available at TJs...a decent balsamic, oils, and even frozen fruits (BERRIES! They don't grow here and they're exorbitant in most stores, even the frozen) . And for many moons it was practically the only place around to buy anchovies. And tuna in olive oil, not water. And I'll bet a nickel if you put a TJs into St. Paul or Davenport you'd have few complaints. So it's not a concept for regions with multiple market options - but it's great where the options are not so vast.
If you're near Fairway, that works great -- and I have to say 80th and Broadway is like the Corner of Caloric Doom -- on one side is H&H Bagels and not a hundred steps away is Fairway -- it's impossible for me to get out of Fairway for less than $50 because it's all! so! good!
Of course, then there was the ride downtown while everyone on the train shot me the evil eye because I had fish in my bag.
TJs used to be about the wine and peanut butter filled pretzels. Produce and fresh meat are very recent additions, and probably were added based on customer demand. I still don't buy those there. My shopping list looks almost exactly like Paul Js except for the eggs and produce, and I do like the frozen wild Alaskan Salmon.
Most of the people on the "I don't get it" side of the fence seemed to go in to TJ's expecting grocery Nirvana. I don't even consider TJ's to be a full grocery store, and I'd never think that I would find all my needs met there. But the stuff they do have is fun and generally a good value.
I also agree that the natural aspect of their foods is a huge benefit.
Man, I gave TJ's another chance yesterday. I went with plenty of time to kill, as the lines in NY are AWFUL. Spent quality time really checking everything out. Sorry, but still a big "huh?" for me.
80 percent frozen or prepared foods. I saw people clawing at frozen salmon -- stuff I would never touch. I could get most of the other products down the block in NY, without the lines or the endless hype.
I wound up getting a few steaks (ok) a frozen key lime pie (good) mindless snacks (peanut butter pretzels; choclate covered things) and a few frozen tamales/burritos. Oh, and some jarred salsa. Whoopeee. End the hype.
Trader Joe's offerings vary by region / city, and carry lots of regional specialties.. You might have a crappy one.
Here is one country... TJ's offers some of the best prices on local Sonoma wines anywhere. Other regional offerings include Niman Ranch meats, local Apples (offered loose), cheeses & microwbrews etc.,
I remember when the allure of Trader Joe's was the good value on wine, beer and booze.
I'm not a wine drinker, but I get the impression that good wine values are not found in many more places.
TJs still has good prices on interesting international beers and good prices on spirits.
As for the store in general, I get the few things I like there: frozen turkey meatballs (which even a ten year old can turn into a meal), decaf coffee, hommos and a few items my wife likes.
I guess I'm lucky, because in Culver City there is always plenty of parking and very short or no lines.
While I don't eat everything they sell, most of my friends who dig it find many of the things they sell very convenient, though maybe not Chowhound level all the time. Their lives are like mine: families where both parents work full-time and the kids have an array of music, sports and art practices and events to attend. I'd love to be able to cook every meal myself or eat my wife's cooking (much, much better) but our schedules just don't allow for it. Or maybe our schedules and our aging metabolisms don't leave us with the energy to cook a meal every night. Or maybe it just isn't as high a priority for us. But I really do understand the appeal of Trader Joe's many ready to eat frozen foods, canned goods, and the like. Not always Chowhound quality for some, but better than fast food or similar items sold in the frozen section of a regular grocery store.
I go for the dairy products, the soy milk (which Mrs Ubergeek goes through 3 litres a week of), the nuts and dried fruit, and the cheap pasta, olive oil, and the jams. I hate their meat and I won't buy the produce after I had to return it three times in a row.
I go every week but AFTER the farmers' market and AFTER I go to Vallarta, which is half the price.
I've been addicted to TJ's for years, but think they've gone downhill in the last year or so, at least the ones in LA. Parking was always an issue, but it was worth it for the great selection at low prices. These days though I can't find a pre-packaged salad that's not soggy and many of the staples that I used to find there are regularly out of stock. I still shop there, but the love affair is decidedly over.
Also, it kind of bugs me that you discover great exotic branded products there, become hooked on them, but TJ's will eventually do a bait and switch by no longer offering it in favor of their own private label products.
Ok, I like TJ's, but having read all these posts so far, I think a lof of it boils down to the TJ's that is near you, where you live and how it's run. The one I shop at (North Cali.) is very well organized, great staff. Maybe cause it's Cali, but the produce is nice, not wrapped up. Overall, my experiences have been good. To each his/her own.
TJs is good for basic stuff at great prices: nuts, baking chocolate, honey, cereal, crackers. I also buy their unpeeled frozen shrimp--the stuff sold at fish stores is usually previously frozen anyway. And I like their goat cheese potato chips and chocolate-covered, peanut-butter-filled pretzels.
Add jfood to the "I don't get it" contingent. I have entered the stores in CT five times and walked out four times with nothing. The other time I bought Oreo-type cookies and dumplings. Cookies were good and the dumps went to the dump.
The other four times i looked at people examining frozen fish, frozen meat and veggies. What is so great about frozen salmon fillets when we have fresh fish in other stores as well as high end fishmongers in the 'hood.
OK they have a nice variety of nuts and grains, but i have a nut-allergy so obviously this has no appeal. Soy milk, i do not buy this even in my grocer, but why TJ.
Other than that i scratch my head every time i walk into TJs. It may be that westcoast stores are much larger with a better variety but in fairfield county, ct, there is no need to go.
um... am I the only one who only goes to TJ's for the WINE? a huge variety of minimally-priced interesting wines - and no, not 2-buck chuck :P ... but a huge number in the $6-$12 range. I also stock up on sparkling water by the case, which is much cheaper than the grocery store.
I never go for produce or meat, but instead lots of the frozen foods: frozen pizzas, quiches, burritos, chicken breasts, indian food and naan. I am always tempted by the frozen fish but it always comes out dry for me. The frozen rack of lamb is consistently awesome. I agree, the dumplings always come out wrong. And yes, TJs has taken away my favorite stuff, i.e. the frozen gnocchi (no sauce) which always, always came out perfect, topped with Marcella's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter.
[update: my CA-to-MA transplanted self just realized that several of the TJs in MA don't carry wine - if that's the case with the TJ-haters experience, I can see why!]
I live in a place where I can get great local butter and great local milk, so I don't bother with TJ's for such things, despite what I've heard lauding their lines of dairy.
I did just go today (first time in 3 months) for a stock-up on pasta sauce (in-laws coming- don't want to buy 20 lbs of crispy-pink winter tomatoes to try to make sauce...),some hard cheeses, some inexpensive goat cheese for appies, some frozen appies for unexpected guests (mini-quiches, etc...). Other than that? Feh. No! Wait! The jarred marinated artichoke hearts are a good deal. And the olives(if we're not on our way to our fave Mid-East place) But again: Feh. Oh wait, again, my Hub like the peanut butter. But, em, Feh, again. I think. Well, maybe not for those things.
Most meats and produce are outside of our comfort zone as purchasers, for many reasons. Mostly, I like to see the meat I buy BEFORE it's wrapped up. Produce? C'mon? Blister packs?
The lines are really no worse, and sometimes shorter than, our local big-box grocery store. Sometimes our co-op is even worse. I'll keep going to TJ's for some pantry items (jarred sauces for emergences or expendiencies) and some cheese, but there are better values to be had elsewhere.
Really...your only option for tomato sauce is one made with out-of-season fresh tomatoes or opening a jar of some commercialy made concoction? Buy a few cans of Italian San Marzano whole peeled plum tomatoes, some garlic and olive oil and you're in business. You see, it's one of the reasons I hate chains like Trader Joe's. While they purport to give us all so many choices (and they do, at least in terms of inventory), they are equally adept at limiting our perspective. Their corporate ethos is so pervasive, that, despite our best efforts, we succumb to the message, and stop thinking that we have other choices. While I'm sure there are some offerings that are generally really good, well-priced, etc., there's not a thing on your list of TJ purchases that you could not get elsewhere, even at a locally owned shop. I believe that people want so desperately to feel connected to some kind of community in our increasingly disconnected world, that bland, familiar chains become a sort of rallying cry. Given that you could leave your house, drive to your local TJ's, spend an hour in the store, pay, and return home, without talking to a single soul, I guess a mutual love of cheese-flavored chips takes on a more urgent significance.
I don't think you have to invoke some sociological theory of connectedness to explain the appeal of TJ to most buyers or hounds. Many of us heard about them by word of mouth or lists like this, but we don't shop there on a regular basis just to be part of some club (I detest most preferrred buyer cards). We talk about it alot because many of us are familiar with it, whether we live in California, Washington, or New England. We also talk about TJs because we have strong opinions, for or against.
Whole Foods is another chain that gets lots of talk. Many of the alternatives that people mention are local stores or regional chains. I get most of my fresh fish, and inexpensive meats from 99 Ranch, but that doesn't mean much to someone in the Midwest or East Coast. Mentioning the Indian eggplants that I can get at JDs Produce won't mean anything to anyone other than one or two other posters on the Pacific NW section.
I don't see how TJ's selection limits my perspective. For example they carry the full range of tomato products, from fresh, plain canned, sause bases, and more elaborate sauces. I can choose the product that suits my cooking needs. Sometimes I have the time to cook tripe with tomatoes all day. Other times, I want to put together supper in the time it takes to boil pasta and warm a cup of sauce. Other times I want to throw a few slices of oil marinated dried tomatoes on my salad.
i sort of understand what you mean - but it's like if you get a groove - it works. i always go to one of the two palms TJs -on palms or national. i rarely wait in line longer than any other place. if it was as crazy as described - i don't think i could handle it.
but - i'm totally a junkie for certain things there:
little baby baguettes,
herb salad mix,
frozen chicken breast,
96%/4% ground beef,
frozen margarita pizza,
regular pizza dough,
booze (esp. wild turkey and patron).
and that's the list - everything else is not really all that good/bad. it's just so / so in my opinion.
they also have much better prices on these itmes and spaghetti sauce in a bottle. i don't always feel like making it b/c i think homemade sauce has to sit a day before it tastes good.
Here's what is a ganga at TJ's and worth the trip:
Non Fat Yogurt
Dry pasta/conventional, wheat and organic
Mayonnaise/eggless and regular
Frozen artichoke hearts
Some of these things I only buy for clients, like the organic products I find there, and they are cheaper usually.
If the lines really annoy you, first thing when they open is usually the time to go. The only thing I have bought there prepared are a few things like pierogies and pizza for the kid. I like some of their ice creams and bon bons.
I have never liked Trader Joes. As indicated above... I do not get it. Way too much processed food for my lifestyle and the selection is no winner either. I'll pay more for fresher, better, and convenient. But to each their own.... now if only the TJ fanatics would stop pontificating about items that can be easily gotten elsewhere in fresher form, my workplace would be that much more tolerable!!!
My latest TJ bill gives a good idea of what I find good:
- xl eggs - hard to beat the $.99 price in any size (but check for cracked eggs)
- frozen edamame (ok I can get these elsewhere)
- frozen green garbanzos (haven't tried these yet, and haven't seen them elsewhere); other unprepared frozen vegies are generally good (esp. the Frech green beans).
- 2L Rice Dream, 2L Soy Dream - only price close to this is a box of 12 1L Silk at Sams Club
- nonfat yogurt for my wife; I like to stock their Greek style yogurt for use as 'sour cream'
- roasted no salt cashew pieces (I also stock walnut pieces, ground almonds, pine nuts,etc)
- muesli cereal; we also stock Barbaras round shreaded wheat, wheatabix; these cost a lot more a WF or an organic shop
- microwaveable Spanish lentils; I try various of the European condiments and prepared foods, some are good, some I don't try again.
- Bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots; I haven't had many problems with their produce. The selection isn't wide, but my local shop generally does a good job of watching for spoilage. I also shop for produce at ethnic produce stands.
- a Charles Shaw bottle of wine
I don't expect a lot from them in terms of fresh meat and produce, and I generally avoid that highly prepared items (the heat and eat kind); but find a wide middle ground of good staples and condiments.
I'm not nuts about it either. The one near my home, Westfield NJ, has an awful array of produce for instance. Truly abysmal. Everything there looks like its on the verge of going bad to me. The bread selection is terrible as well. Maybe it's me but I find their breads very unappealing - all wrapped up in plastic - you can't get any sense of what it is like that.
As for the rest of the store, I can get lots of organic items at Kings Supermarket nearby, such as the aforementioned King Arthur flour and Plugra butter. Kings is wonderful for lots of other interesting, gourmet, specialty items. So, again, no need for TJ.
TJ used to carry Mario Batali's tomato sauces, but don't anymore. Too bad, they were a runner up for my fav bottled brand (other one is Rao's but I can get that at any supermarket). I used to stock up on them. Wish I knew why they decided against selling them.
They also used to have a great natural vanilla soda - but that seems to have disappeared as well.
The only thing I go in there for occassionally is for packages of dried California apricots, which I can't get anywhere else near my home. I have no interest in their frozen meals - none of them hold any interest for me. The few I've tried haven't been worth buying again.
Kings?!? You must be wealthy. That's one of the most obscenely overpriced supermarket chains that I've ever had the misfortune to encounter. Even worse than Whole Paycheck... errr I mean Whole Foods. I bet the Plugra and King Arthur flour are 35%-40% less at TJ's than Kings, if not 50% less. Kings has great produce, sure, but you're paying an arm and a leg... no, make that seven arms and nine legs.
That said, I'd never buy produce at TJ's. I have no idea why they even have a produce section. I used to work at the Westfield TJ's, actually (several years ago), and customers frequently returned the produce and milk and pre-made foods like wraps (which tasted terrible anyway IMO) b/c of spoilage issues.
I agree with you on the Batali sauces though.
Isn't all bread packaged in plastic in all supermarkets? Since you and I are in New Jersey, we can go to the local Italian bakery, but most TJ's are located in places that don't have such options. Their bread makes less sense around here. That said, I don't buy bread at TJ's or any other grocery store b/c I make all my own bread in a bread machine at home.
But I love TJ's for certain items. I'm a penny-pincher and they have the absolute lowest price on roasted cashews pieces anywhere. $3.19/lb or less... you won't find that anywhere else (or $3.99/lb for whole cashews). (I eat tons of cashews.) Upthread, ChefJune in Manhattan says she goes to Kalustyan's or Bazzini's for nuts. At Kalustyan's you probably pay twice as much for your cashews. Yikes.
Other nuts are cheap at TJ's too, plus dried fruits and trail mixes. Natural peanut butter for $1.79/lb or less. Try finding *that* anywhere else. And they have great cookies. Big hunks of Ghirardelli dark chocolate are very cheap. Incredibly inexpensive 3 lb. cans of honey. I avoid most of the frozen stuff, but the fish is quickly flash-frozen, so it's pretty good, and the price is right. Sometimes I also get kalamata olives at TJ's if I haven't had a chance to go to Fairway in NYC or Wegmans.
Overall, I'd say that many penny-pinchers appreciate TJ's a lot. Still, I pick and choose carefully there, as with any other grocery store.
Also, the first couple of times I visited TJ's, I was confused and didn't find much. Everything's packed in so tightly that you have to take a really close look to notice everything there. It took me a few visits to get accustomed.
I am generally a fan of Trader Joe's. In the Midwest, it's one of the few places to get certain gourmet items. But it's still a big corporation aimed at making a buck. The thing that drives me nuts is how they eliminate the bottom 10% of underperforming items with some frequency. So, don't get attached to a favorite ingredient. They'll also change the packaging when certain things don't sell well enough. I mean, I fell in love with a very un-obscure item: aged cheddar potato chips. Soon enough, they were gone. Thankfully, scallops are back, though they aren't the same proportion as before. Truthfully, though, the best rule is to find as much stuff locally as possible and only rely on a place like Trader Joe's to round out your pantry.
A year ago I would have agreed with you. Then this year I started reading labels on food. At TJ's there is a higher hit of getting just the food and not a chemical lab in a box, bag or can.
There is A LOT I still don't like about Trader Joe's. I don't think the prices are all that outstanding. I don't like the changing stock. I hate falling in love with something only to have it discontinued. I have to say the fish is more miss than hit ... even the canned fish. I don't liked the jumbled, disorganization to the store. I rarely buy the items you mention.
But I like buying peanut butter that just has peanuts in it and tastes good. I like picking up products without preservatives.
So while I'm not a rabid fan, I have come to appreciate it.
However, I'm really a fan of Grocery Outlet. You have to watch the expiration dates, but there are some unbelievable bargains ... especially for organic products. For some reason Grocery Outlet doesn't have that jumbled look that TJ's has and the prices really are amazing ... lousy produce for the most part though.
You can get Plugra _anywhere_ these days without having to deal with TJ Mania.
If you want to see crazy, check out the TJs on 14th Street in NY. The line is so LONG it snakes through the entire store most days. A NY trick is to go to the far end of the store, pick up a few items, then get on line and shop while you are on line as it snakes up and down and up and down the isles. What a zoo. Can't stand it.
And its frozen food! First time I went I scratched my head "all this hype over frozen and processed, premade foods?"
Go there for nuts? In NY we have Kalyustans, where you can get real Persian Pistachios, amazing stuff. Coffee? The Emperor wears frozen food.
I agree, Bengoshi. In Manhattan, especially it's superfluous. Everything TJ's has, other places have better of, and sometines even for less! On the subject of their prices, sometimes cheaper also means lower in quality....
I wouldn't think of buying nuts at TJ's..... Kalustyan's, Bazzini's... shoot, the whole world buys the nuts they sell at Bazzini's. That's the place for fresh!
I am with both of you, and I'm also a New Yorker. I had no idea what Trader Joe's was supposed to be all about, but like any Chowhound with a curious nose I wondered why people were camped outside of a food store before it opened so I checked it out. I had that eager feeling that I was going to discover something magically wonderful as I waited in line for 5 minutes just to get in the DOOR (this was a month after it opened). And I was increasingly frustrated as I walked the aisles and found nothing I'd want to buy. Cheese? Nuh uh. Nuts? Nuh uh. I remember seeing they had that crappy goat cheese, pesto, sundried tomato thing that was so popular in "better" suburban grocery stores in 1991. Meanwhile people were flying through the aisles scrambling to fill their carts with dwindling supplies of frozen I-don't-know-what and standing in line for what must have been hours. After 15 minutes of browsing I walked out empty handed. The wine store was no better.
Yay Plugra! We also jones for TJ's French Roast and Bay Blend coffees, plus their new Volcano Roast. The missus wouldn't think of buying her nuts or dried fruits anywhere else. The closest TJ's to us is a 7-hour drive, so we always stock up. Sounds like the OP bought all the wrong stuff...
I live closer to the TJs in Santa Monica, but shop at the more distant TJs in Palms. The first is consistently a nightmare - impossible parking lot, thoughlessly rude customers, long lines, and employees who seem to be a bit overwhelmed. The Palms TJs offers a much better shopping experience.
Thats funny... up until June of 2006... we use to walk to both TJs (Sepulveda & Palms) and WF (National & McLaughlin)... those were the days. Now we are gas guzzling, wine country suburbanites, that depend on the car to go anywhere.
Good lord, I even miss the Big Blue Bus... limited range, but everytime I could take the bus, I would consider it a victory!
Have you found any of these items elsewhere that you like? At what kind of price?
I assume, for example, that you tried the canned beef stew. Is there any good canned beef stew?
Which smoked salmon? The small cans, or a flat pack in the cooler section?
What was wrong with the ground beef?
Which soups? I'm not a big fan of canned soups myself, but have been happy using the TJ lobster bisque on camping trips.
I really like Trader Joe's, but I really don't buy produce or meat or even prepared food there. I have other places to get meat and produce.
What I do like at Trader Joe's is their inexpensive organic dairy products (Plugra butter!), their nuts and snack mixes, their oils and vinegars, King Arthur flour, cheap power bars, oatmeal, cheap basic cheese varieties...
I cook pretty much everything I eat from scratch (read: no frozen meals) and I make my own salad dressing. But I just can't beat their prices on some of the ingredients that go into my homemade food.
In my mind there are certainly some things you should get there and some you shouldn't. You can't really approach it like you would an Albertson's or whatever other big grocery store because that's not what TJ's is going for. It's good for certain ingredients and certain specialty items.
The lines do suck and I can't attest to the parking issue because my TJ's is in Manhattan, so there isn't any parking. I just wish there was a TJ's in my neighborhood so I wouldn't have to take the subway home with my groceries.
THANK YOU!!! I just don't get it either. I never, EVER eat prepared or processed food, but apparently a lot of people do. Making homemade balsamic vinaigrette takes approximately 2 minutes (I timed myself tonight.) Tomato sauce should contain olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and a little salt; it takes less time to make than boiling water for the pasta you serve it with. Homemade guacamole is hardly more involved. I guess I'm just not interested in whatever chocolate-covered, cheese-powdered, spice-crusted, sodium-enhanced faux ethnic snack food most of the population swoons over. The sad little produce section (why all the plastic wrap?) and the even worse fresh meat section (a butcher is a beautiful and rare thing!) do nothing for me. I guess the prices are fine, but for the life of me I cannot understand the fuss.
I totally agree! We don't have one near us, but on a road trip we saw one and actually braved insane traffic to turn around (it was on the other side of a divided highway) so we could check out this place everyone always raves about. After struggling to find parking we got inside only to find a store with nothing in it that we were interested in buying. I was very disappointed.
Amen!! I thought it was only me. :) All of my friends seem to live at that place, but to me, Trader Joe's is the worst. It tries to come off as healthy, with its boutique atmosphere, but everything there is processed and packaged to within an inch of its claim to be food. The last time I voluntarily went into a Trader Joe's, I noticed that they were demo-ing Spaghetti Bolognese, and figured they were trying to hawk their jarred Bolognese sauce. Which they were. But they were also spotlighting their PRE-COOKED, FROZEN, BAGGED SPAGHETTI. I mean, really. Can people honestly no longer boil water and wait for dried pasta to cook? For Pete's sake, fresh pasta isn't difficult to make, let alone using dried. That was it for me; I was done. I think most people don't remember this, but years ago, before they took off, they didn't have anything fresh in the stores -- it was all boxed, canned and frozen goods. Then people started requesting fresh fruits and vegetables. So, Trader Joe's started selling them: packaged on styrofoam trays and covered with plastic wrap, like cuts of meat. I'm not against meat at all, but I think it's just a glimpse into the corporate mind-frame. They just wouldn't know fresh if it bit them on the ass. Now that they actually sell fresh fruits and vegetables normally, they've also upped their game with every kind of over-processed non-food imaginable. Yuck. I'm happy I hate them -- I don't have to deal with those ridiculous parking lots. :)
If people did not buy the products, it would not be in business.
Until about 1992, the (original) Pasadena Store (it opened in 1967) made sandwiches to order. It basically was a deli.
When the first store came to San Diego in about 1988 or 89, it also had a sandwich making area.
Trader Joe's most certainly has always sold fresh items.
I honestly didn't know about the sandwiches, but as amply demonstrated here, TJ's is very different from location to location. I've only been to a few in New Jersey and Southern California, and I vividly remember those meat-like packages of fruits and vegetables.
As for the first part, yes. People buy lots of things. It's why McDonald's does so well. Doesn't mean it's good. In my book, there is no excuse for that pre-cooked spaghetti. To each his own, though. You can have my share. :)
Don't let the demos determine your image of the store. The limited demo facilities mean that they usually can't create items from scratch. Imagine the logistics of boiling up a big pot of dried pasta, much less making fresh pasta in the store. Plus the demo person might not be an accomplished cook.
Handling fresh meats requires a butcher counter and facilities that TJ stores do not have.
The produce selection has grown noticeably since I started shopping there. Still I only buy the few fresh items that are relatively unique, such as their very small potatoes and some lines of tomatoes. I get most of my produce from a Vietnamese multi-ethnic produce stand near by.
Most of what I buy at TJ is partially processed. I've not been happy with most of the ready to heat-and-eat items (e.g. pizza). I buy things like oil, packaged cereal, coffee, nuts, pasta, canned peppers (e.g piquillo), frozen vegetables, juices, bread (best prices on local artisan breads), tortillas, eggs, and inexpensive wine.
It wasn't the demo facilities that I objected to. It was the fact that this product existed in the first place.
I don't care why Trader Joe's doesn't have fresh butchering facilities. The fact is that they don't, which is part of the reason I don't shop there.
The rest of it, I've already covered. Look, you guys just aren't going to change my mind. And notice how I'm not trying to change yours. For the people who shop there, you obviously like it, and there are a lot of you; clearly TJ's is doing something right for the vast majority of people. I am aware that my opinions and thoughts about food aren't the same as most others (although I think there are a few on Chowhound that I'd jive with). I don't enjoy eating things that have been pre-cooked in a factory. I am willing to take the time to cook from scratch and to spend more for the privilege of doing so, because I enjoy it. You don't have to justify your purchases and likes/dislikes to me.
I think I'm done now. I'm starting to get defensive and it's not a good color on me.
OK, you answered my reply further up while it was in process.
It is not TJ's you object to, but supermarkets in general.
TJ's just happens to be a better representation of the supermarket ... more organic/natural than most, less expensive than Whole Foods.
I'm certainly not trying to change your mind either, but I guess I don't understand your complaint. You are happy shopping in boutique markets, farmstands, etc. TJ's doesn' t pretend to be that.