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Trader Joe's - Whats the big deal?

  • m

I live near Trader Joe's and am always amazed by the lines. I've gone in a few times but haven't seen anything that I had to have.

What am I missing?

What are the must have items that you can't get anywhere else?

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  1. I like their pre-cut vegetables & big bags of frozen poultry & fish. It's cheaper than what you can get at whole foods, but of similar quality. Their produce & bread is hit & miss. But for basics like spices, flour, sugar, and certain frozen items - you can't beat the price/quality combination anywhere.

    1. I'm not sure that TJ's can sell alcoholic beverages in NYC -- I don't think so -- but the basic attraction *for me* has never been the alcohol (though sometimes they have a good deal on a beer or distillate that I like, I often find the wines lacking). No, as the above post says, really high quality packaged goods (frozen, bottled, etc.).

      1 Reply
      1. re: zin1953

        NYC has beer in the store, and a (substandard, I agree zin) wine store next door.

      2. Exactly. What is the big deal???

        1. So its about packaged foods?

          Therefore if I am into cooking (and prefer to do all the chopping myself) stick with the farmer's market and Whole Foods? I am not a fan of frozen veggies or poultry.

          In NYC they do have a wine store next door and have already made my mind up about there. Some good deals, I like the Columbia Crest Cab for a good value but the two buck chuck (actually $3) was awful.

          1. they have good sweets and breads.

            1 Reply
            1. I a with you Matt. I have gone several times and usually leave empty handed. The last time I forced myself to buy items that were highly recommended by CH'ers. These included frozen pizza and pasta sauce (not really worth a trip). The four cheese pizza was very good and the Margheritta was marginal. The marinara and vodka sauces were pretty good and reasonably priced and had no sugars and junk. I only bought the ones with real tomatoes as the first ingredient as some started with tomato puree.

              Is it worth the hype, not in my opinion, but i am lucky to have two great markets near me that give me great meat and produce.

              1. I always hit the cheese section first, they have interesting and unusual selections for very low cost.

                1. Early on, I felt the same way as you did but TJ is fast growing on me. I love their Italian yogurt, flowers, peanut butter filled pretzels WITH salt, wines, lamb tenderloin, fresh basil. There are some GREAT deals if you comparing grocery store pricing. There are many posts on Chowhounds of favorite items that you might want to visit.

                  1. I've also not understood the crowds at Trader Joe's, but I do think they're a great stop to pick up fresh flowers, noshes, and beer/wine. Basically, I only go there if I'm throwing a party or need to pick up a hostess gift on my way to dinner. Actually living off the food might be tough for me -- I prefer a greengrocer for shopping.

                    1. They have several varieties of cookies, including a pretty decent mini-stroopwafel. That and I agree with TaterTot31 about some of the Whole Foods type frozen stuff.

                      1. They have many great products for families. I go every sunday and get provisions for the family. WE get our fresh vegi's, lettuce, bagged spinach. Morning Star sausages, Steel Cut Oatmeal, milk. We get our week of lunches, turkey, salami etc. For many people in urban San Diego, TJ's serves as the main grocery store.

                        They have a great selection of soups and canned fish. We like the tuna in olive oil, we use it with pasta.

                        While I prefer fresh vegi's, when cooking for a family or small children, it is often useful to be able to make a few ounces of frozen green beans or Corn.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                          I don't know at which TJ you are buying your stuff in SD but at least the TJs in LJ and PB are not good for fresh veggis, meat, salami, cheese in comparison to Wholefoods or Henry's. I can't compare the processed food, e.g. soups because I never buy or use them anywhere.

                        2. I LOVE TJ's!!!
                          Wish we had one around here. When I get near one I stock up on:
                          Chocolate, Dried Fruit & Nuts, and I always look at what's new in their house brand. Really good stuff and good prices.

                          1. As TaterTot31 said, much of what is available at Trader Joe's is "cheaper than what you can get at Whole Foods, but of similar quality".

                            Some of the great reasonably priced things TJ's has to offer…
                            wide selection of dried fruits and nuts.
                            a lot of natural and organic cereals.
                            soy milk and rice milk (way cheaper than Whole Foods).
                            as coll said of the cheeses, “they have interesting and unusual selections for very low cost”.
                            And like Themis mentioned it really is a great place to shop if you’re throwing a party. Great pre-prepared hors d'œuvres, and yummy cookies, crackers, and candies, just generally great snacks and treat (many imported).

                            There are many other good things they have to offer, but I’m actually having trouble thinking of everything. Ummm, organic jams and peanut butter, my nephews really like that!

                            The items that I really enjoy are Dr. Praeger's Veggie Burgers, Lightlife ground "sausage" and Chick'n Strips, Cabot reduced fat cheddar cheese slices, the super reasonably priced fresh mozzarella, Annie’s Organic Mac & Cheese, dried mango slices, and Milton's Multi-Grain Bread. My roommate really likes the Milton's Whole Wheat. I can't speak to the rest of the breads TJ's carries, but Milton's is good bread!

                            I'm not a big fan of their fresh fruits and veggies. The quality and selection isn't as good as Whole Foods, though it can be better then some of the large supermarkets. It just depends on the item. I got really great (and cheap!) Clementine’s last week. It does seem like their produce section has been improving lately.

                            One problem I do have with Trader Joe's is once I've become addicted to a certain item that they (and only they) carry, they don't carry it any more. It can be frustrating when you go in expecting to find something and it's not available, or it's only available in a different flavor/style. I’ve run into this problem with the mango slices and the veggie burgers, and probably a few other things.

                            The main thing about Trader Joe's is that what they have to offer will be cheaper than most other stores.

                            1. I love TJ. I don't think it is for everyone. It is for foodies with limited budgets.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: ron94303

                                I completely disagree. Other than cheese and occasionally bread or chocolate (if I'm there for the prior 2) I've never found anything of use at Trader Joe's. I see lots and lots of prepared foods, packaged stuff, and some bad quality wilting vegetables.

                                Unless it's summer (farmer's markets & garden) and I'm making fondue (see above shopping list) I don't have a reason to go in. I'd rather frequent Whole Foods, MOM's, Roots, or David's.

                                eta: for 3 people I normally spend around $60-100/week on groceries.

                                1. re: odkaty

                                  Now I understand. You actually have other options. Here in Central Indiana the options are much more limited. We don't expect to get our first Whole Foods for about another year and forget the other stores. We do have a few options but depending on where you live it could take you longer to drive there than to shop.

                              2. To me there is no "big deal" about Trader Joes, I gave it a try a couple of times, and was not impressed with anything. Their private label items were not that good, and some of their specialty products I can get elsewhere for less. To me it was not worth the extra stop on grocerey day..

                                I do have to say they do a good job in marketing this chain though, but not my choice for groceries.

                                1. You know, when I lived in NY I didn't have much use for TJ's because I lived in the food trifecta near Fairways, Citarella, and Zabar's and one or all of those places had something similar or better than what I could get to TJ's and (in the case of Fairways) often at a comparable price.

                                  But now that I don't live in NY, I'm usually at TJ's a couple times a week. Really, for specialty, foodie products at good prices it's my best option right now by far.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: sidwich

                                    That says it for me. I shop at Harlem Fairway with the periodic run down to Zabar's for particular items/yens and regular trips to Arthur Ave (we're in the Bronx); we also use Oren's for coffee, Penzey's for spices, and PJ's or Wine Legend (near where I work in NJ) for wine. I've been to TJ's in Westchester a few times, and found very little that I cared for and/or couldn't get at Fairway (and their produce/meat/dairy selections don't come close to being comparable). Whole Foods has some nice produce and some other items, but their pricing is horrendous. We also don't eat much prepared food, frozen or otherwise, which might make WF or TJ's more appealiing to some.

                                    I guess a lot comes down to where you live and what your choices are; just as in the Real Estate busines, it's all about location, location, location. :)

                                  2. I use Trader Joe's as my main grocery store for my family of four. Whole Foods is crowded and expensive, and I usuallly don't have time to make a third stop each week. I work full time, take my lunch to work, and cook a few times a week for picky kids and I don't have a lot of time to mess around in the kitchen. I defy anyone to buy the quality of food I buy at Trader Joe's anywhere else for anywhere near the price.
                                    Each week I buy:
                                    eggs (99 cents a dozen)
                                    half and half
                                    organic cottage cheese
                                    soy milk
                                    granola and Go Lean cereal
                                    Juice Squeezes
                                    frozen lemonade
                                    precut squash and broccoli for quick dinners
                                    organic Fuji apples
                                    tortilla chips
                                    pre-grated cheese
                                    onion bagels
                                    sliced sourdough bread
                                    fresh salmon or steak or hamburger or chicken
                                    frozen shrimp
                                    fruit popsicles

                                    I guess I don't understand the question, because for me, it's what DON'T you buy at Trader Joe's. I go to the supermarket for Activia yogurt and chicken hotdogs. If I want good wine or beer or cheese, I go to a wine shop or a cheese shop, but I try not to overindulge in those things.

                                    1. Thanks for the replies everyone. I am not convinced I will start going there for my weekly shops but next time I have a party I will definitely check it out.

                                      It sounds like its the place for snack foods.

                                      1. You have to be personally picky about what you buy at TJ. I love TJ smooth peanut butter, lamb tenderloin, peanut butter filled salted pretzels, canned albacore, imported Italian yogurt, parpardelle. I bought a bag of French green beans, blanched them, and they tasted like cardboard. It's random and very personal. There are some GREAT buys there if you really shop it.

                                        1. Having been to a Trader Joes in San Fransisco and here in Chicago and near Detroit---basically they are good for shelf stable and frozen stuff here in the midwest, they are more like an upscale grocer in California as far as produce, probably because that's easy to pull off there. The stores are not equivalent in all areas.

                                          1. Trader Joe's reduced-sugar strawberry preserves are way better than any low-sugar fruit spread that I've tried. I actually prefer it to fancier brands like Bonne Maman and SaraBeth.

                                            1. The chance of finding something unique for very cheap.

                                              1. Their container of grape tomatoes is most often 50c/$1 (or more) less than at the supermarket.

                                                1. TJ's is an acquired taste and it's not much of a store for regular grocery shopping. It's the best store for parties and noshes, their dried nuts and fruit selection can't be beat. Cheeses are the least expensive for what you get anywhere. Their hummus is amazing. They also offer boxes of basil leaves, so you can make your own fresh pest. Their fresh stir-fry veggies are the best around. Their breads aren't very good and they have annoying habits of dropping favorite items (low-carb English muffins) and rearranging the store so you never know where anything is. Forget TJs when it comes to baking items, such as flours, spices, etc. because they are stocked too intermittently. TJ's is cheapest for eggs and milk and butter and has the widest selection of soy, if you're into that sort of thing. Cheap wines can't be beat. It really is for foodies on a budget -- the target audience is teachers and journalists. Oh yeah, don't forget their fresh pizza dough, whole wheat and regular. Their pesto is pretty good and they have a tzatziki (sp???) that is great with seafood. The chioppino and boullabaise are also tasty and easy to prepare. Oh yeah, don't forget their desserts, especially cheesecakes and tortes. And the cookies and candy are pretty tasty too. Fresh plants and flowers are also fun. Oh and you've got to try the spelt, which is an amazing side dish and really good for families trying to increase their consumption of whole grains. Once you dig in at TJs, there's a lot there.

                                                  1. I'm a big fan of TJs, since I was a kid in L.A. TJs has great nuts and dried fruit. It has a good cheese selection. It's frozen vegetables are fantastic (especially the corn). In the summer I buy fresh, but in the winter it's canned tomatoes and frozen veggies. The spreads are really great (pinjur, adjvar). The frozen tamales are great. The pasta sauces are also great (in the Winter). The bread selection is a regional thing. Some of it in the DC area is great, most is just okay. The jams are great, including the new ginger spread. It's not meant to be a regular supermarket. It's not an overprice Whole Foods and does not offer the depth of a Zabars. It is it's own kind of food store. Also, the wine and beer selection are great and they have a money back guarantee for everything they sell.

                                                    1. For me, it's all about fruits and nuts. They have a bigger selection and lower prices on dried fruits and nuts than any other place in town. As long as I'm there, I usually cruise through produce and find an occasional great deal. When they have them, their meyer lemons are way cheaper than any other store in town.

                                                      1. This is interesting - I can see how it would be easy to go into Trader Joes and buy a cart full of groceries you don't like. You do have to be careful about what you buy - over time I've learned what to avoid through trial and error. For example, their "fresh" baked goods are almost always stale, sometimes to the point of being moldy. I also don't like a lot of their frozen and prepared items. At this point though, I do almost all of our grocery shopping there - mostly because they have good prices and a good selection of organic items - and I don't have time to shop all over town (San Diego).

                                                        Produce-wise, I buy organic bagged lettuces and carrots, pre-cut chopped onions, organic fruit (including berries, bananas, oranges, apples, etc.) the pre-cut yams and green beans, and tomatoes. They are convenient, and I don't buy them if they don't look fresh, so that solves that problem.

                                                        I don't generally buy their soups or prepared foods - but I like the frozen garlic cubes (great for sauces and soups, etc.), organic marinara sauce, jams and jellies and peanut butter - and the jarred masala sauce is pretty good in a pinch.

                                                        In the dairy section - I buy plugra and the organic unsalted butter, organic dairy - including half and half and whipping cream, organic plain lowfat yogurt, organic omega 3 eggs, (are you seeing a trend here? :-) cheeses - including fresh mozzarella and fresh ricotta, reggiano parmesan, goat cheese, feta, crumbled bleu cheese, etc. It's at least as good as what you'll get in an ordinary grocery store, and quite a bit cheaper.

                                                        They have good fresh pasta - including lasagna sheets, grass fed meats, organic chicken, Niman Ranch bacon, Spicy Italian chicken sausage and ready made-carnitas.

                                                        I like their Bay Area Blend and Volcano blend coffee, and I buy the Go Lean Crunch cereal, the frozen (not refrigerated) chocolate chip cookie dough, the frozen naan bread, the mushroom turnovers, samosas, pizza dough, oats, King Arthur Flour, Valrhona chocolate bars, the milk chocolate covered raisins and cocoa almonds, the almond chocolate chip cookies, frozen organic brown and jasmine rice, the buffalo burgers, Double Rainbow ice cream, Il Fornaio Bread slipper bread and focaccia buns, the brioche, the lemon bread, organic tortilla chips, Full Sail Ale beer and a few different cheap wines, the organic olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, organic tomato paste, the salted blister peanuts (super crunchy), the cheese sticks and tortilla flatbread crackers, the hummus and tzatziki dip, zone bars, pellegrino, champagne, fruit juices (especially unsweetened cranberry and pomegranate), hand soap and lotion, dish detergent (the lavender scent) and cut flowers and plants. They also have pretty good seasonings and spices - I like their cinnamon, and they have good vanilla extract and even vanilla paste - which is made with vanilla bean seeds. As others have mentioned, they have a great selection of dried fruits and nuts - which are great for baking or snacking.

                                                        Having said that, for every Trader Joes product I love, there is at least one I have tried and will never buy again. All I can say is explore for yourself. You'll probably find some things you like and some you don't - but chances are if you do your shopping there you will save money over time.

                                                        1. I go to TJ's every week after the farmers' market. I get organic and hormone-free dairy, extra virgin olive oil at $6 to 9/liter, some fruits and veggies that I didn't see at the FM, fragrance free dish, laundry and people soap, decent beer and wine, dried fruits and nuts, Valhrona chocolate, cheap Altoids, a case of Gerolsteiner liter bottles for 15.99, butter, cheese, again, hormone-free, frozen chicken breasts, frozen fish, free range beef, lamb legs and loins, kosher chicken, wild smoked salmon, double rainbow ice cream, etc. I spend between $100 and $150 per week. And I have teenagers.

                                                          1. Try the frozen apple strudel. $3 a box...you keep it in the freezer...when you need a last minute dessert or an easy dessert, pop it in the oven. Delicious.

                                                            1. Man...that place is a good deal. Energy bars, produce, and their specialty frozen section...


                                                              1. i live in a place where i cant get fresh fish without paying an arm and a leg, so i get a lot of their frozen fish and it always is great. well packaged and not slimy or glossy, just a good cut of fish once thawed right.
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