Trader Joe's - I don't get it.
I know people love TJ's, but I can not see why. One just opened up by me and I was very excited because of all the hype. So I gave it a try. Everything seems to be just processed food with their label on it. I went to buy the non-processed items (veggies and meat) and they were some of the worst quality items that I have seen. I walked out with nothing. Thinking that it may just be a fluke, I went again and came to the same conclusion.
TJ's does not really specialize in fresh, perishable foods. They have a few fresh items to support one-stop-shopping, but they are more about high quality processed foods and shelf stable foods (such as nuts, dried fruits, pasta).
Give it another try, but reset your expectations about buying fresh meats and produce. Check out their frozen items (including frozen fish and meat, fruits, etc), olive oil, pasta, cereals, nuts, etc.
I agree with your assessment. I used to think TJ's was pretty useful... until I found WF. Now I cook 6nights/week with barely a processed item on the menu.
Yeah, I have a similar story. I used to do all my shopping at Trader Joe's until I began cooking for real at home. I used to be excited when a new new frozen entree would appear (again, minimally processed, high quality) but nonetheless, I find myself now staring at their newest offerings like frozen coq au vin, and think to myself "hm, I can probably make that better and cheaper". So I pass.
I still do shop there, but not exclusively. By the way, I do "spot shopping" at Whole Foods but overall I find it to be a bourgeois yuppie, expensive experience. I buy chicken from a local poulterer and beef from a local butcher. Other stuff like produce I tend to buy from the Korean markets, which have a great selection of affordably priced organics.
There are only two items I found in TJ's worth a return trip.....
Chocolate Covered Dried Cherries and their TJ's Ice Cream in quarts for 4 Bucks.
Their packaging is eye catching....but their quality is fair, to good, at best.
I actively avoid fruits, vegetables and bread at TJs. I've brought home far too many of these items only to find them moldy, or for them to become moldy within a day or two. Where these things are stored, and under what conditions, one can only imagine.
That said, their cheese and alcohol selections are good and well-priced.
It's gotten better. At one time, TJ seemed to have nothing that needed cooking. Eventually, they got chicken and fish. You can buy individual pieces of fruit now. You used to have to buy an entire bag. You couldn't even buy an individual avocado. They came too-many-for-me-to-the-package, in what they called a "guacamole kit" that included a jalapeno, a lime, and an onion IIRC. I live alone. I never eat more than a single avocado, and it's not something that keeps.
I have a friend who likes to shop for food, but not to cook. He loves TJ.
I have found some things I like at TJ's, though. Their English Breakfast tea makes the best-tasting iced tea (the competition: Twinings Ceylon, Luzianne), and costs significantly less per glass. They have an excellent extra-extra-sharp cheddar that makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches. It's $5.99/lb. I like some of their breads, though I'm never quite sure I'm buying the same thing I did last time I was there.
Their "good" cheese section looks skanky, mostly precut, and wrapped in "cheese sweat" packaging in somewhere like Jersey City.
It's not a place I can depend on. I wanted dried beans last week. They just don't sell them. Too unadulterated, I guess.
If TJ were to drop off the face of the earth, I wouldn't miss it except for the tea. But I end up going there with this friend, so I buy what I can, and look for beans, and most other "real" food, elsewhere.