I don't get Trader Joe's
A new Trader Joe's opened near me, and as I walked in yesterday I had the same feeling I always get when setting foot in a TJ's - frustration. I think it's because everything in there is something new, or at least it seems like it's all unique to TJ's, and since I don't know what anything is, I don't know where to start. They've got organic, whole grain flax seed next to frozen enchiladas and cheesecakes. Is it a health food store or a quick-mart? On top of that, it's always so crowded. I can't take 5 seconds to look at something without getting bumped by a Scottsdale housewife in her Ugg boots. I get overwhelmed.
I ask because I feel like I'm missing out on something. The people who shop there really seem to love it. Can you TJ's devotees give me some advice to help me wrap my head around this place, or at least some suggestions of things to try?
Also, it seems like a large part of their inventory is pre-prepared and frozen food. What does Trader Joe's have over the Fresh & Easy that just opened near me, or vice versa? Thanks.
I don't know that I can help very much with the overwhelming frustration, nor can I assist with bad manners from any zipcode, but I will tell you what I buy - and why - at TJ's. I do not purchase much pre-prepared food, so someone else will have to answer that question for you.
1. frozen cubes of garlic & basil -- in 1 tsp sizes, these give a fresh taste when you do not have the fresh product or are in a huge hurry
2. frozen croissants and pain au chocolat - good product for the price, flaky and tasty as long as you let them rise for 7-9 hours (overnight, while I sleep)
3. multi-grain sourdough bread - because it makes great toast
4. cheeses - because there is generally a pretty decent selection and better price than a gourmet cheese shop (A.J.'s in the Phoenix area = EX)
5. kalamata olives, artichoke hearts and red bell peppers in jars = the ready-to-go start of a Mediterranean salad when kept in the fridge
6. heavy cream - because it has a higher butterfat content than grocery store brands
7. fage and greek yoghurt - because they're delicious and there
8. sesame crackers - $1.29 @ TJ's, the same package = $3.29 @ WF
9. wines - see above; there is a decent selection of daily wines here. I recently bought a bottle that was entirely black with huge orange question mark for the label. I have no idea what it tastes like, but sitting on my counter it makes me smile every time I see it and no one can resist commenting on it. Cheap entertainment for under four dollars
10. king arthur flour - $3.99 at Tj's, $5.99 @ Bashas'
11. frozen bag of nasi goreng - disregard previous comments about not buying pre-prepared food, my nephews love this stuff
12. dried fruit and nuts - good quality, lower prices than I find elsewhere
13. prosciutto - see above
14. fresh flowers are fresh and inexpensive, pots of basil are fresh and a dead steal @ $3.29
15. frozen bag of greens - Southern greens like the mixture of collards & kale & turnip that are tough to find in small quantities
This listing is off the top of my head, reviewing my last trip. I, too, envy the people who seem organized, purpose-driven and efficiently load their carts with packets, boxes and sacks o'stuff. I'm just not one of them.
I have had poor luck with TJ's frozen fish and no longer buy it. My salmon & halibut tries have always been watery and mushy.
I bought a cheese enchilada once and pronounced it "meh" especially when we have the likes of Los Favoritos Taco Shop or Phoenix Ranch Market in town for a real treat.
Once, in desperation, I bought a packaged salad that was completely forgettable.
Meats have also been hit or miss. An organic Kosher chicken was delicious, a pork roast - not so much. Packaged Bul Golgi was flavorful but can also be tough. I was very surprised to find the odd-sized pieces in the package.
Is Trader Joe's a crapshoot? Not completely. Are there TJ-only products? You bettcha. Just because they're unique doesn't make them shine, in my opinion. Generally, if it is something I would likely buy normally, I may give it a try (Dijon mustard = so-so, mayonnaise = not a "do again"). If it is something bizarre and off-the-wall, I'll pass.
You might try going to TJs at an off hour - when hungry parents are not supper shopping with whiney children or any time on Saturday. Tuesday, mid-morning, could give you a fairer idea of what is what while sacrificing the Ugg encounter with Suzy Scottsdale. Good Luck
I don't get what you don't get. It's an upscale Aldi's. Given its footprint it obviously can't compare to a full-service grocery but it features a lot of convenience foods at better quality and price points than a typical supermarket. Like its big brother Aldi's it takes advantage of volume buying and generally -- but not always -- offers more attractive price points than comparable items elsewhere. It has always trended toward bringing name-brands in-house. For example, they used to carry Soy Vey, a pricey but very good teriyaki marinade product. Their price was easily 30-40% better than anywhere else. They now carry the TJ-branded product (presumably their own version and not a repackaging. This is a pretty common practice.
<"I consider it a store for non scratch cooks.">
That's funny. I'm probably a 99.5% From Scratch cook and have been all my married life. When I go to TJ's I buy ingredients:
Great EVOO, vinegars, durum wheat pastas of every description, organic cereals, breads & rolls, crackers, rices, mustards, mayo, ketchup, olives/peppers/beans in jars, tuna in olive oil/salmon/sardines in tins,
coffee, imported cheeses, organic yogurt/eggs/milk, juices.... and more. In my pantry right now is just one prepared food stuff: their prepared tomato sauce. Lovely flavor and perfect "in a pinch."
You don't miss anything at TJ. Overhyped shop with average products but good advertisement strategy. (It tells a lot that one of the Albrecht brothers (owners of the German supermarket chain Aldi) owns large parts of the company. Aldi is already the worst supermarket in Germany.) Low quality for low prices.
Having moved from Scottsdale to Honolulu, TJ's is something I really miss here. I totally understand your initial experience with TJ's - I felt the same way too when I first started shopping there as I too was over-run by way too aggressive shoppers (though their pent-up shopping rage doesn't even come close to comparing to the Scottsdale Whole Foods Shoppers!).
But after trying some of the products and looking what I purchased regularly at the grocery, I realized much of my staples were less expensive per pound and in smaller (read: less spoilage) than the regular store.
The reason you run into Soccer Mom's there, is that you can always pick something up there to take home and cook fast. Some of it is organic, and if that is important to you, their organic prices can't be beat. Also, if you are cooking for one or two and COSTCO is waaay too much for you, then TJ's a great option as their sizes aren't insane.
Although I am not a HUGE fan of frozen foods, what I did buy, I bought there. Including a microwave french onion soup (quick comfort food). Although I agree with postings here regarding the frozen fish there, I used to pick up the "steam in bag" fresh salmon once a week; throw some lemons and oranges in the bag and a quick, tasty nutritious meal can be had. I always bought my pasta and rice there as it was quite a bit cheaper, I also liked their olive oil for a basic, no frills cooking oil at a reasonable price. I found their soy sauce decent (before moving to Hawaii) and well priced. I miss a yellow or red curry simmer sauce that was great with chicken (again, perfect for quick dinner). For awhile they carried Kobe Beef (US) burgers (frozen) which were a totally awesome treat. I bought my frozen berries there for my smoothies, which I could also put on my cottage cheese b/c it the berries are individually frozen and didn't come out of the bag in clumps. Because I could never get Soybeans at the grocery in PHX, I picked up Etamame. The red bell peppers in a jar are awesome! I liked the quality, selection and pricing on cheeses.
I would grab a couple of the pre-madesalads for lunch that week, and I always loved those; I couldn't make single serving salads for that price, so I felt it was a relative bargin. Some of the produce is pretty good. I always got my garlic, basil and rosemary there.
As referenced, the flowers there are reasonably priced. I always found the microbrews there to be limited, but competitively priced. You will hear people rave, about the prices of wine there, but I only bought cooking wine there as their labels did nothing to excite me.
Well, enough of waxing poetic about Trader Joe's. Give Trader Joe's another shot - you've got some great advice from Sherri too. Arm yourself and have fun. =) Let us know what you buy and how it goes.
I love that you mentioned that about aggressive shoppers at Whole Foods. I was beginning to think it was my imagination. The whole foods near me is filled with very nicely dressed people being very aggressive with their carts and body language. I just don't get it but I am generally much happier shopping at Acme. A TJs is opening very near me in about six months. Maybe I can get some body armor by then so I can check it out.
I find the agressive shopper with borderline road rage is very obvious at not only Whole Foods and some TJ's (it's totally geographically dependent), but also at Costco (particularly dangerous with those SUV-sized carts) and my love/hate Santa Monica farmers market on Arizona Ave...
wait wait wait: i also run into aggressive shoppers at the farmer's market here in Charlottesville, VA. And at the Whole Foods here...and some of the larger chain supermarkets. Perhaps its people, generally?
I was recently in the TJs in Centerville, VA and there weren't any aggressive folks there at all and the store flowed nicely. The TJs we went to in San Francisco were full of folks who ran their carts forward without regard to what was in front of them. Of course, we found that generally true of cars, bikes, carts in all sorts of grocery stores...
I think our similar experiences are a result of demographics as well as that mindset many fall into when going to certain places.
Farmers markets - there's only so much good stuff to be had - the pickins' get slimmer as time progresses. The demographic profile plays a lot into this as well. Santa Monica has become overrun with assertive 30s-50s types with Type-A personalities and little regard for others. This combination results in a frantic atmosphere for what is supposed to be a leisurely stroll through pastoral produce stands.
This mentality carries over at the Santa Monica TJ's. Same folks, same mentality, carts a-slammin'; we don't go there unless it's our only option...
Whole Foods is the same as well - think about the demographic profile of the typical shopper there: mostly upwardly mobile, self-centered, very opinionated. I go to WF strictly for specialty items - I'm in and out and gone...
Costco attracts a broad group, but I find many to exude a desperate mindset. It's like the world is coming to an end tomorrow and they need to get in front of you in the parking lot, the aisle, the checkstand, and the exit area where your receipt is checked. I find that Wednesday night is consistently the slowest time for our local Costco - the sense of despair and rudeness is at its low.
I would say they are a "specialty grocer." The vast, vast majority of their items have higher quality ingredients, or at least less additives, chemicals, etc. than you find in similar foods at a regular grocery. They also have more unusual and/or upscale items than in a regular grocery. They aren't intended to "replace" a regular grocery store I think, just offer specialty or more pure items for those who want higher quality stuff or different choices that aren't available in your typical chain grocery.
For example, all the meat is much higher quality than anything you find in any grocery stores where I live. It's not shot full of hormones and antibiotics. You can't buy chili-lime cashews in my regular grocery store, nor 2 buck chuck, which has its detractors but is a great, cheap table and/or cooking wine. They have a very nice cheese and imported/smoked meats section, most of those items are not available in my regular grocery. I enjoy some of their sauces like BBQ or pasta sauces, they seem to be missing huge amounts of corn syrup and filler ingredients like in regular stores. They have "green" items for your kitchen (cleansers and paper products) which are nearly absent from my chain grocer. I won't find ginger snaps with REAL GINGER in them in my regular grocery. And on and on and on. I shop there for treats, extras, higher end things, green things, wine, etc.
Agreed. The place has it's niche, and has the added benefit of not making you feel like you have to read the ingredients on every package. The foods are definitely not as processed, and in most cases, taste better. Alhough as I get to know the availability of products in regular grocery, farmers' markets, and specialty food stores in my area, I find it less necessary to drive the 40 miles out to the Woodmere, OH location (closest TJ's to me). I always try to wait until I am already going to be in the area, because just going there to shop costs me $15 in gas at todays prices, so any savings quickly get eaten up in the hole I create for myself by simply getting there. It's hard to stop myself when they have so many products that I feel must be in my house at all times. But I've found that there are always substitutes...though they arent the same...dammit TJ's, build one in Canton, will 'ya?!
I love TJ's. The best thing about it is that when I run across an item that is new to me and is calling my name, I can take it to the sample counter and ask for a taste.
My favorite products are the Italian (NOT the others) made frozen pizzas, organic tofu (can't beat quality and price), wine buys, olive oils, and sweet potato chips.
Good point. They're always wiling to have you give something a try. They are happy to refund anything you're not thrilled with also, with no hassles. It really makes for a no-stress experience. I know that I can try anything with no risk. I find that return is not usually necessary. If I like the sound of something they have there, chances are, I will like the taste.
I'm sure this depends on region, but my TJ's is much cheaper for many staples in my house--organic milk, cage-free eggs, and butter. I can also find a lot of items--like the sesame crackers listed above, some fancier cheeses, etc--that Giant doesn't carry and Whole Foods charges much more for, so I save a lot there.
there are a lot of convenience foods and as others note they do vary in quality. We buy their pre-made pizza dough for $1. I roll that out and with the good prices TJs gives me on olives, marinated artichoke hearts and feta cheese, and I have an inexpensive, quick dinner. I'm sure that if I made my own pizza dough it would be better, but some days i barely have time to roll out the premade stuff. Similarly, I like their simmer sauces--I simmer a can of chickpeas in Korma or Masala sauce and serve with TJ's frozen garlic naan. Really quick, inexpensive meal.
As others have mentioned, their snack items are awesome. ginger snaps, pb cups, chocolate covered pretzels, papadam chips, snap pea crisps. Most (all?) of their products are made without the piles of chemicals, HFCS, and hydrogenated oils that fill snack foods at standard grocery stores. And as someone else noted, they have a phenomenal selection of dried fruits and nuts at good prices.
if you run a search you'll see quite a few threads devoted to favorite TJs items.
Trader Joe's is usually poorly laid out -- and constantly changing that layout, so I can never find anything, but --
good chocolate chips for $1.69 (I bake a lot)
good eggs, cream, yogurt if I can't get to the farmers' market a given week
reasonably priced vitamins and supplements
extra virgin olive oil for $7.50 a liter (around here, that's a good price)
bordering on cheap cereal prices, and I prefer their Raisin Bran to name brands
I hooked a co-worker on the TJ-brand not-Oreo cookies; she says they're so much better than Oreos and can't believe they're only $2.50 a good-sized box
The place has its drawbacks, but for me the above things make it worth the occasional trip.
Ive been shopping TJs since it was TJs, pre-Aldi. They started out specializing in wine and some snack foods (such as the peanut butter filled pretzels, dried fruits). They were the low-priced "gourmet" store. Over time they've added the prepared foods, vegetables and fresh(?) meat. They have always been crowded and chaotic. I guess it's part of their vibe.
Fresh & Easy to me is a low-priced limited selection grocery store. In my opinion, the quality is higher in F&E, although the selection is more limited. The F&E folks must have found out that a lot of people don't like the crappy parking and chaotic layout in TJ's. The F&E store layouts are identical, it's easy to grab what you need and get out of there in 5 minutes, thanks to self checkout. And the parking lots are great.
Since the F&E opened up, I rarely go to Trader Joe's anymore. Usually just for a different selection of nuts or cheeses (the carry a wider line of reduced fat ones) and maybe some of the frozen fruit bars.
I have fat-free greek yoghurt with honey every morning and TJ's store brand is great and the cheapest I've found anywhere!!! Throw in some blueberries and a couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseed (I buy the roasted seeds at TJs and just grind it in my coffee grinder) and you've got a yummy and very healthy breakfast.
I like TJs. I don't get there real often as it's not convenient to my home. However, their Fiber bread is really good, and I only drink their Smooth and Mellow cofee.I also like their baked potato/tortilla/cracker options, and some of their convenience foods - altho we've cut back on those since we started weight watchers!
I appreciate their try-it-before-you-buy-it policy, and their no question returns. I bought some instant oatmeal that was WAY too sweet for my taste, and they took it back no receipt, no problemo.
I definately try NOT to go on Saturdays or at dinner time, if they were closer to home I'd pop in late in the evening. :)
My regular TJ's shopping list includes fat-free rBST-free milk, heavy cream (no additives), all-natural sour cream, Fage yogurt, bottled TJ's water, sliced crimini mushrooms, kosher chickens, 17 oz. 70% chocolate bar for baking, semi-sweet chocolate chips, frozen Serenada chicken entree (to die for, really), Trader Giotto's extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil for frying, 12-grain mini-crackers, tortilla chips, whole wheat couscous, vanilla extract, bottled herbs and spices, vanilla beans, olives, pretzel slims, cheeses including jalapeño jack and carmelized onion cheddar, flowers, pots of basil in the summer, canned tuna (in water or in olive oil), nuts-nuts-nuts from pecans to marcona almonds, Shikai shower gel, Prosecco, no-additive corn tortillas, canned organic black beans and garbanzos, King Arthur flour, baking powder, sometimes creme fraîche or mascarpone. And much more.
I rarely go to supermarkets. Between farmer's markets and an excellent butcher and TJ's, most of our needs are covered.
I completely disagree about TJ's being like Rachel Ray. Although products differ regionally at TJ's, they carry many excellent additive-free products. Try finding heavy cream without additives at a supermarket. The prices are much lower than supermarkets—if they even carry these products—and the quality is superb. And if you don't like a product, they'll refund your money with no questions asked.
I no longer buy meat, produce OR fresh dairy. I check the plastic wrapped cheeses carefully for the beginnings of mold. And sadly, I recently purchased some stale popcorn.
It isn't always convenient for people to go back to the store for a return, either. Since we got a Fresh & Easy, they've pretty much replaced Trader Joe's for easy in and out, easy parking, better fresh meat, and a decent range of "gourmet" items that are better quality and fresher. Prices are similar. (Seems that OP is also trying to figure out why he should bother with TJ's rather than F&E).
Sounds like your local store has serious turnover/rotation problems. I have access to four TJ's - all within 10 minutes of our home, and while I can't say that this has never happened to us, it is very rare, and since we go regularly, the very rare return is quick and easy:
"Hi - we picked this up last weekend and when we pulled it out of the fridge on tuesday, it was already bad."
"Oh sorry - I hope it didn't ruin your dinner plans. Did you want a refund or exchange?"
"Exchange is fine."
"No problem - just let our crew know when you check out. Again, sorry about the inconvenience..."
TJ's is perfect, but considering the industry that they're in, they do a pretty good job for what they are...
Depends on where you live: the two TJs nearest me (Coolidge Corner in Brookline MA and Memorial Drive in Cambridge MA) have tremendous turnover of goods, and I have never gotten anything even threatening to go off there, including dairy, cheeses, eggs and the like. Meat I don't know about because the TJs around here barely even sell meat, and I don't buy produce there because I buy it from a local greengrocer, farmers markets and a CSA.
I would never shop solely at Trader Joe's, but the things I do buy there -- olive oil, nuts, whole wheat couscous, frozen mixed berries and granola (which I eat with homemade yogurt every morning), etc. -- are things that I buy there because they're high quality products at cheaper prices than I can get them elsewhere. I don't understand what's so hard to get about that.
Try to give yourself about an hour to stroll the store, unrushed. Try to also go at a good time, and that would usually mean after 6pm, or when they first open. (At least the one near me isn't too hectic after 6pm.) Yes, the store seems very haphazrd in places, but it does have some rhyme and reason.
In my shop in Henderson, Nevada, they have a divine garlic and cheese sourdough bread that my dreams are made of. Some soft, salty butter on it and i'm so blissed-out! See if yours has it. TJ has the freshest bagged salads, plus ones that are a bit harder to find. They do a great butter lettuce in a bag that i've allways been thrilled with. Fresher and tastier (and cleaner) than anything a supermarket has, by far.
My TJ's gets an amusing, but not compatible mix (at times) It's very close to a large seniors community, plus lots of schools and a major hospital. So yes, you get harried, frantic soccer-moms that get annoyed with all the nice, sweet older folks who are in NOOOO hurry whatsoever, and love to chat up -everyone- in the store. The seniors prolly come in every other day, at least 3 times a week, and are well-known by the staff. (at least the day I was there, last week) It's a love/hate relationship, from what I overheard a checker at TJ's say. The older folks with no hurry annoy the rushed and busy younger ones who "just wanna get OUT of the damn place" and the older guy wants to talk to the cashier about the new bread he tried out!! *LOL* I guess that's life everywhere, right??
Go when you have time. Relax. Take a few samples, try one of their good coffees. Take a deep breath. TJ's is a real fun adventure for me, I love it!
I buy ingredients that are cheaper than anywhere else. Olive oil, canned tomatoes, canned beans, cheese, yogurt, nuts, dried fruit, frozen fruit. The only processed/prepared foods I buy are chicken sausage, hummus, and sandwich bread.
TJs has a reputation in many parts of the country for horrible produce. Ours (western Massachusetts) seems to be OK quality but nothing special. During the winter I do buy a lot of organic lettuce and greens there--much cheaper than anywhere else. During the growing season I avoid all supermarket produce entirely.
Best prices on dairy in town. Also, inexpensive but drinkable wines. I've jiggered my shopping so that I can accomplish 90% of it at Trader Joe's -- some prepped foods (I'm a lawyer with a toddler and if I can find tasty shortcuts I'll use them -- the frozen BBQ chicken teriyaki is pretty good and low fat for a frozen meal (salty, but then, what frozen meals aren't?), my husband likes the french onion soups for lunches, their sausages are pretty good, sometimes I buy prechopped fruits or vegetables for convenience), lots of staples at good prices (olive oil, vinegar, aged cheddar, pasta, beans, organic chicken broth, French roast coffee), interesting snack foods (their hummus and dips are reliable party pleasers, I love the soy flaxseed tortilla chips, their version of Pirate's Booty is cheaper, and they carry natural sodas), and most things are made without scary additives (nitrate free hot dogs are a staple, as is uncured bacon. Did I mention I have a toddler?)
Their meats aren't terrific, and if I'm preparing a special meal I won't make TJ's my first stop, but ground beef or turkey is more than adequate, they usually have great whole chickens and antibiotic free chicken breasts, their fish is typically eh and I wouldn't buy the frozen fish except for the frozen shrimp, which is a great bargain. With that in mind, I can cover most of my weekly grocery needs at TJ's. I like some of the packaged salad mixes (the arugula is pretty reliable), and I buy the cauliflower and broccoli prechopped and it's good, and some of the fruits (berries, pears, plums, bananas) are at least as good as supermarket, and when supplemented with farmer's market work just fine.
Of course, there's one 5 minutes from my house with ample and spacious parking that's not too crowded, so that helps.
I cook a lot from scratch but no all the time and everyday. I find Trader Joes frozen foods pretty good. I especially like the appetizers. They are good to have on hand in the freezer.
They also have good deals and good quality on a lot of items. I especially like them for capers and pine nuts. Also, their Italian Roast coffee really reminds me of the coffee you get in Italy.
Their 2-buck chuck cabernet (3-buck where I am) is not the finest wine you'll ever drink but it is a really good value for an "everyday" wine.
I thought it was an urban myth that TJ's was owned, even partially by the Aldi people (?).
Anyway, I go there and I LOVE LOVE LOVE the fact that they have a brie that has 50% reduced fat and is still yummy. Their cereals are good and cheaper than commercial ones and ditto for bread. I also buy their oils, nuts, vinegars, peanut butter and like their crackers and cookies and so does my daughter. Things like natural chicken sausages are priced much better than WF (which I find annoying anyway). SOMETIMES eggs and dairy are priced lower than other stores, sometimes not. I have no idea why. Cat food is priced well and although I have not personally indulged, the cats seem to like it and it's supposedly natural.
I have bought potted plants and flowers that were decently priced and were fine.
Plus, it's a pleasant place to shop and the people that work there seem happy to be there and are friendly and helpful and seem compelled to lay treats on my kid, which is fine with me.
I DO NOT like their coffees or dishwasher detergent.
Sadly, in this area, Two Buck Chuck is now THREE Buck Chuck due to transport costs, per a TJ's "team member". But it's still okay for its price, especially if you're using it to cook with or for a sangria or something.
I go to TJ's for pantry/freezer/fridge stock up.
I chime in with other posters re:
~ prices, especially for organic goods. The other 2 organic markets in our area are WF (and you won't catch me dead in that place because of the $) and a family-owned market which has better prices on its vitamins/supplements than food.
~ the fact that most of their items are minimally processed. I'm a voracious label-reader and like the fact that, outside of couple of items here and there, I don't need to worry about your typical TJ's item being chock-full of additives.
~ that you can find items there that you can't find anywhere else. I'm a diehard fan of their three-ginger cookies and sesame peanut noodle salad, among other things. No other market in my area carries them.
~ their frozen section. Yes, there are duds within, but for the most part I've found things both tasty and affordable.
The down side? I stay away from their meats mostly because of the price point. I don't trust packaged produce whether it's from TJ's or the local supermarket. Their baked goods, including bread, are "meh".
I also think it's a riot that so many TJ's sell beer and wine. Our local branches don't.
I live in the Monterey Bay area of California and shop at a TJ's wherever I happen to be, which could be one of 4 or 5 stores. We don't have Fresh and Easy yet, so can't compare. I wouldn't buy fish or meat at TJ's or make it a primary produce source because of quality and because it is shipped and I'm looking for more local products in these categories.
Any TJ workers out there? If so, how are TJ's labor practices? Good compensation? Health benefits? You all seem pretty happy, helpful and friendly. I'm hoping it's because it's a good place to work.
TJ's is several things at once, things that aren't necessarily consistent with each other. But one thing it is, that perhaps explains the rest, is made in California. "Gourmet" food, Asian and other international and ethnic food, health food, healthy food (either organic or at least without the usual list of chemical preservatives), and all at prices below similar national brand products at the supermarket across the street.
TJ's has some fresh meat and produce but are best known for prepared foods sold under their house brand. The first time I walked into a Trader Joe's, I saw the massed rows of TJ products I knew nothing about, turned around and walked back out. Then a friend told me of a couple of products she really liked, I tried one of them and really liked it too, and the rest has been exploration, even adventure, and usually satisfaction.
Once a TJ's has been open for a while and the local people have caught on, the lines to checkout can stretch throughout the store and get in the way of finding what you know you want, let alone browsing. You definitely don't want to go at 3:00 Sunday afternoon.
You've probably already found the other threads here on people's Trader Joe's favorites and non-favorites. Another source is the Trader Joe's Fan web site:
Another web site, Heat Eat Review, includes Trader Joe's among the many brands it covers:
TJ is constantly discontinuing items, even popular ones sometimes, when its suppliers no longer make them or just to make room for new products, so some of the reviews are outdated. But you'll get the idea.