TJ's is good for (usually): olive oil, fish, chicken, wine & spirits, nuts and salads. Afterward come miscellaneous items like rice, coffee, pasta, etc. that seem to change all the time. They tend not to carry some things very long, so if you see something that's not perishable and like it, get more than you think you'll need.
Some of the olive oil at TJ's was (probably) the same as a premium oil at WF (same bottle, same type of olives, same region). Their truffle oil is a deal, too.
The meat, surprisingly enough, was cheaper at WF for premium steaks. WF is much better for cheese. TJ's occasionally has premium cheese, but is only likely to have one or two types vs. WF's 15 or so.
So, we tend to go to both places - we'll check TJ's for what they've got, and fill in any holes at WF - unless we want premium meat or cheese, where we head for WF.
It can be very frustrating to find a product at TJ's that you begin to grow accustomed with then find it to be out of stock or no longer available.
I don't know all of the ins & outs of TJ's sourcing but I can tell you with great confidence that TJ's brokers many of their products through small to medium-sized producers. Because of TJ's buying power, they can be very demanding of their sources who are often mom & pop operations. Quality levels, delivery conditions and times, payment terms, etc. are all set by TJ's.
Having TJ's as a major client is a huge kick for these small businesses at first, but oftentimes they run into difficulties in keeping up with the demands in the intermediate and long term. For many of these suppliers, it comes down to cashflow problems that can reduce if not shut down these small operations. Many have no idea how to anticipate or deal with the issues that can arise as a consequence of stepping up production.
A friend of our family was one of TJ's suppliers back in the late 80s who ultimately decided not to continue his relationship with TJ's because he found them to be a distraction to the main core of his business. One of my wife's former clients currently provides some goods for TJ's but has found their relationship to be somewhat strained as well. There's no doubt that TJ's plays hardball with their suppliers. This ultimately benefits its customers by bringing good products at a very attractive price, but I believe this is a primary reason why inconsistancies in product availability will always be an issue at this store chain.
I no longer shop at Whole Foods due to the ridiculously high prices. As mentioned above, the same product will be much, much cheaper at TJ's than WF. TJ's doesn't have much produce but usually has an excellent selection of cheeses, sauces, frozen and prepared foods. They have good organic products and their house brands are generally high quality but low price.
For us, one trip to TJ's each week, a trip to the regular grocery another night, and maybe a visit to our local produce/farmer's market fills our cupboards and keep money in our pockets.
Trader Joe's seem to carry limited "pantry" items (I.e. things you can actually cook with, be it spices, fresh vegetables, dried/canned items, etc) Instead they seem to focus on the prepared frozen and snack items, sauces, and "fancy" junk food none of which has earned a repeat try from me. But to give them credit, they do have a great dried fruit/nut selection. All pre-packaged and pre-mixed, but I've never run into a bag of stale nuts.
At least at Whole Foods I know I'll find decent vegetables, a bit better selection of cheeses (v. a regular grocery), and the occasional ingredient I can only find in a specialty store. Basically Whole Foods is my first stop if I'm looking for a "specialty" ingredient the local grocery doesn't carry.
I'm closer to a TJ's than to the Whole Foods, so I tend to shop TJ's fairly frequently. I have certain things that I only buy at TJ's but I never go in expecting to get everything I need. I don't like most of their produce and they are frequently out of specific items.
If the same product is found at TJ's and WF, 99% of the time it will be significantly cheaper at TJ's; the only exception to that I've found is flour tortillas, for some reason. But TJ's just doesn't have the breadth and depth of coverage that WF has.
Think of Trader Joe's as the budget gourmet compared to Whole Foods. You'll find alot of organic and gourmet items that may not be the best but are a true bargain and seem to work for the everyday issues. They also have alot of unique items that no one else carries - some of these items tend to be hit-or-miss for alot of folks - it boils down to personal taste. Their deli and dairy sections are very strong and reasonably priced as well. We personally find that between Trader Joe's, Costco, 99 Ranch (a Taiwan-based Asian grocery store) and a few specialty shops, we rarely need to shop at the typical grocery chains. Furthermore, most of what we find in Whole Foods tends to be overpriced and we only get a very few items there that can't be had elsewhere. I think you'll find Trader Joe's to be a good compliment your current grocery shopping.
Well said. I live in New York, where the TJs is just down the street from a WFs. I rely on WF for their WF labelled products - prices can't be beat - and some specialty or prepared items when I feel like treating myself. WF has everything you need, whereas TJs has a more obscure selection but everything is at a great price. I love TJs because I feel like I'm getting such a steal on everything. So, I do my big round of shopping there, then I plug all the holes by going to another grocery store.