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Trader Joe's. What is it??

Hey Hounds

So Mrs. Sippi was telling me yesterday that they may be opening a TJ's in Huntsville, Al. I have two questions.

First of all as she asked me, I'll ask you. What is Trader Joe's?? Is it like a Costco (which is what I thought it was) or is it like Wholefoods?? If B then is it actually like WF or does it lean more towards Earth Fare (Same idea but you don't need OAC for purchase there)??

The second question is, should I be happy or indifferent. I like EF but don't shop there all that much. I do not like WF and seldom go. I'll only go if I'm looking for something specific. I really won't pay more for something simply because it's organic.

Preachers need not apply.


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  1. Trader Joe's has a lot of items in pretty packaging, but I have yet to find any items other than their ice cream, nuts or candies that I would make a special return trip for. Their breads are often stale, their produce is not the best and I find their dairy products seem to spoil quicker. The later seems to be due to the way they accept their deliveries. The times I am in the store, I often see the daily deliveries sitting on the floor and not put away in any refrigeration.

    I am not a fan.

    1. Hi DT,

      Trader Joe's a specialty grocery store (like Whole Foods) that carries a lot of "speciality" products, many/most of which carry their own "Traders ___" brand name (although my understanding is that they do not produce or manufacture their own prodcuts). Unlike a regular grocery store though, they do not have many products...most stores that I have been to have been fairly small in size.

      I have never been to Earth Fare so I cannot comment, but I will say that most prices at Trader Joe's are very fair. It is not really like Costco in the sense that it is not a wholesaler, and it does not make you buy large quantities.

      I think opinions are somewhat mixed as to whether TJ's is super or not. However, personally, I like TJ's a lot and always make a point to visit when I'm in a city with a TJ's and stock up on snacks to bring back to Toronto.

      Hope that helps!

      1. Be happy.

        Trader Joe's is neither like Costco nor Whole Foods. It's much, much smaller than a warehouse store with packaging in conventional sizes. It's also much smaller with less selection per item than Whole Foods.

        But that's what it isn't. What it is is a market with friendly people, a great selection of wines, liquors, cheeses, nuts & dried fruit and packaged baked goods. If you're a baker you won't get a better price for top quality chocolate anywhere else. They carry a good inventory of general items and prepared foods at really good prices. It's a market with conveniently packaged produce like a bag with small packets of peeled garlic cloves or a package of the variety of fresh items you want for guacamole: an avocado or two, a jalapeño, a small tomato or two, a shallot and a lime (also great for gazpacho BTW). It's an interesting cross between the inventory and prices of a supermarket with some of the ambiance of a small neighborhood market.

        They also get great seasonal items at Christmas.

        There are lots of Trader Joe's threads. Most of them will sound like "preachers" but that's because it's a great concept for a market and done very well. The only downsides I would identify for Trader Joe's is that when they sell spiced foods like their prepared Indian dishes or add spices to their nuts they tend to overdo it, when you fall in love with something it could disappear if they don't get the price they want or everyone else didn't love it as much as you did and the parking lots are almost universally too small because everyone shops there.

        Be sure to try it. I bet you'll like it too.

        PS: I don't know Earth Faire so I can't make a comparison to that. In case Earth Faire is a health food store, Trader Joe's doesn't make that claim tho the emphasis is on food with a minimum of artificial ingredients and moving things through quickly rather than relying on a lot of preservatives.

        1. Wow, another TJ thread :^/. I buy egg and dairy products, maple syrup, nuts, frozen fish, and a few other odds and ends at TJ's. Nothing that needs to be especially fresh. They specialize in items that don't fit in the typical supermarket commodity business model, so, they are able to charge less.

          1. Trader Joe's is a discount store that sells restaurant quality items. Many people use foodstamps there. It is like a costco, in that they do not advertise, and they run their business tightly (more than 50% of a product's cost actually spent on the product).

            It is also nice for good staples, like Marcona Almonds, steel cut quick oats, etc. But you'll love it for the frozen section.

            If you shop at a Costco regularly, you'll see a lot of similar stuff, but in smaller quantities. And TJ leans more towards prepared foods. I never buy their produce.

            If you like german imports, TJ's can't be beat. best in the country.

            1. Grovery stores carry about 50,000 items, TJs has about 4000.

              Dairy, produce, floral are locally sourced, so quality varies from region to region in the US

              Prices for similar items are better at TJs. Hence the hundreds of threads.

              You should be receiving a "Fearless Flyer" in the mail once one opens near you. It will explain the seasonal items, the limited in quantity items, mention why they can charge less for something...

              Or you can look up your local Fearless Flyer online. www.traderjoes.com

              1. And as you can see from the length of the "TJ food you love that got discontinued" thread, don't ever count on something at TJ's being there forever. Too bad if you get hooked on something! Oh, Ultimate Chocolate Sauce, I still miss you...

                They are reliable for having the cheapest goat cheese and Greek yogurt, and certain other "staples". Good prices on vitamins et. al. and some toiletries.

                In my area, WF responded to the coming of TJs by reducing prices on directly competitive (same brand and flavor organic cereal, for example) so they matched TJ. So it helps if you do ever shop at WF.

                If your store has wine/beer, they usually have some interesting stuff at good prices but the selection varies a LOT.

                Don't count on it for fresh vegetables and meat.

                Do buy a Tarte D'Alsace. If they ever discontinue those there will be a revolution.

                1. A Trader Joe's opened near me recently. In fact, I have to pass it on my way to Fairway. When I first checked it out I thought, nope, not for me. Definite emphasis on prepared foods. Thanks, but I prepare my own.

                  It's been a few months now and I'm beginning to learn what works for me in terms of both quality and price--and I'm finding a lot more than I first thought I would. Their McCann's Steel Cut Oats cost less than anyplace else near me as do their Empire Kosher chickens. During the holidays they had two different kinds of vacuum packed chestnuts, both very good, for less than half the price of French chestnuts in a jar that I usually buy. I've found excellent prices on skinless, boneless, sardines; brown rice; boxed, organic, low-sodium stocks. Their price for Australian rack of lamb rivals Costco.

                  It will never be one-stop shopping for me; not by a long shot. But it's definitely worth checking out. I don't like WF either. This is a different animal entirely. I'm very happy to have found a few quality products at very competitive prices, but I admit that it did take me a few visits and a few misses to find them.

                  1. There are a handful of items I will make a special TJ's trip for - peanut butter, some crackers/cookies, nuts, dried fruit, frozen fish.

                    Produce and dairy products depend greatly on the location of the store in relation to their distribution center. I've seen a lot of people complain about produce, but the produce at my TJ's is generally pretty good. Last week I had a bag of honey crisp apples that were some of the best I've had. They do over-package produce. I've had bad luck with bread though, usually turning moldy within a day of purchase. They would refund me for the bread if I asked, but it isn't worth the effort for me.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: mpjmph

                      Yeah, I'm surprised to see negatives about TJ's produce. The produce at mine is just fine. Maybe not exemplary but just fine for everyday cooking. 'Course I grow a lot of my own so it's not my primary source of produce all year round but it's plenty acceptable in my area.

                      1. re: rainey

                        Same here...the produce at the TJ I shop at is great. Love those honey crisp apples that mpjmph mentioned. The bananas are almost always slightly green like my wife likes. and I haven't experienced problems with bread going bad ay faster than any other fresh bread.

                        1. re: rainey

                          Perhaps it's because my TJs is close to Fairway where there is a far larger selection of produce and the quality is superior across the board. Perhaps there's an expectation at my local TJs that since Fairway IS so close by that that's an area in which they can be a little slipshod. And I find odd lapses. You can buy shredded cabbage, but not a whole cabbage. The bunch of scallions come in a plastic bag and lasted less than half the time a bunch of scallions from Fairway would. The shallots, the one time they had them, were pretty sorry looking. Evidently the selection and quality can very considerably from one store to another.

                      2. I would say TJ is nothing like Costco or Whole Foods, but oddly they do seem to appeal to the same crowd (there may be a sociology masters thesis in there somewhere).

                        To try to put it in terms that someone who has not been to a TJ would understand, if you've ever been inside an Aldi's, then upscale it several notches and supply it with a rather eclectic variety of foods, with a strong tilt to organic and "ethnicy" packaged goods, many of them store brands, and then you will have a decent idea of what TJ is. The stores are fairly small, nothing as large as a Whole Foods. If you like what they have you will like it, but I think most people would have a hard time using it as their sole grocery source, because they really don't carry lots of the staples that we need and generally get at supermarkets.

                        Coming back to the sociology theme, I would say TJ is definitely a blue, not a red, store. Put another way, IMO those who tend to shop at Wal-mart would not tend to be TJ shoppers. I'd be interested to hear others' opinions about that assertion, tho.

                        (Note--I am not suggesting choice of food store is a political statement, nor am I seeking to start a political discussion. Rather, I'm suggesting that one's basic view of life tends to shape one's choices of all sorts of things, that there are patterns in these choices, and that in this case these patterns say something that goes to the question originally asked by the OP).

                        1. Davwud, you might want to peruse some of the many TJ's threads that have been started here on the Chains board over the years...it's a popular topic - the store and its products inspire quite a passionate debate among Hounds, and it could give you an interesting perspective on things. i'm personally beginning to think it has as many haters as it does fans here, and that realization surprised me!

                          your happiness or indifference will depend largely on your food preferences and shopping habits, and it would certainly be worth checking out at least once to form your own opinion.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            TJ's is NOT a replacement for your regular grocery store, doesn't carry all the items and leans more towards specialty things, and its stock is not necessarily consistent. Prices are good/better on SOME items. It's owned by ALDI, which has the same "faults". Some of its stuff is great, and some sucks (their coffee, for instance, although the packaging is cool). I like their bread and cereal and have never had a problem with it. Like their cat food, don't care for their dishwasher detergent or paper products. NOT impressed with their produce or produce prices, but very impressed with their wine and beer selections and prices--and no not just the Chuck (which is fine for cooking, and even drinking once in awhile). And the people are so happy and cheery! I hear from a former employee that's a bit of a farce, though. GO HUNGRY, unlike most shopping because you can often eat your way through that place.

                            And maybe I am PURPLE or schizo, but I refuse to go to either WalFart or Hole Foods. One is too un-PC to me and I refuse to support that, and one horrendously overpriced and pretentious. Target is okay--I just never think about going there to specifically grocery shop, although I will if I am there anyway. I like Costco the few times I've been there, but I don't need five gallons of ketchup or a case of toilet paper. People seem to go a little crazy there and go home and end up with piles of STUFF all over the place.

                            So, go and check it out, but don't count on becoming a total convert. I guess you need to feel lucky too, because it's said that they get hundreds of requests per day from people wanting them to open in their area.

                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              I precisely didn't want to read those things because I wanted to know what exactly the store was. Not so much what products do they carry because they may vary from one store to the next. And seasonally as has been pointed out.

                              I've got my answer and I guess it should come as no surprise that the thread is this long. TJ's seems to be a real hot button 'round here.


                              1. re: Davwud

                                The problem is that Trader Joe’s IS the products they carry. Unlike Costco, where you know you’ll have to buy in bulk to take advantage of good pricing, or Whole Foods, where you presume everything you buy is organic and you pay through the teeth for it, Trader Joe’s is all about product. That’s what they advertise. Try OUR brand of Cheerios; cheaper and better for you. Try OUR brand of chocolate; as good as the expensive stuff at nearly half the price. It makes it difficult to talk about Trader Joe’s generically and why, I think, so many discussions about the store almost by default become discussions about their products.

                                1. re: JoanN


                                  I still stand by my statement thought in that there's a lot of threads out there that talk about discontinued products so I'm best off finding out the general idea and deciding if it's worth checking out. Then discover the products the local one has.


                                  1. re: Davwud

                                    hope we've been helpful.
                                    you gonna check it out?
                                    if so, let us know what your thoughts are! ;-)

                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                      Absolutely gonna check it out. Sounds promising.


                                2. re: Davwud

                                  gotcha. i was thinking more about the discussions regarding *why* people shop there (or don't) and what the experience is like, rather than the yea/nay or discontinued product threads...but i see you've arrived at [what i think is] the most useful conclusion...to just check it out for yourself!

                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet


                                    I guess it boiled down to whether I made a point of going or waiting 'til the opportunity presented it's self. As it turns out, the answer is somewhere in between.


                                    1. re: Davwud

                                      I'm sure you've figured this out already but don't go in the first week or two. TJ does a good job of whetting people's appetite and they're mobbed when they first open.

                              2. The broadest comparison I can make is that Whole Foods is a place for people who like to cook from scratch, Trader Joe's for people who like to (mostly) buy things that are already made, i.e., packaged goods.

                                The things I really like at Trader Joe's are their English Breakfast teabags, which I use for iced tea, an extra-sharp cheddar I grate for grilled cheese, cage free eggs, and their Empire Kosher chicken. But I cook everything from scratch. Recently, I was put off by the fact that I couldn't buy dried beans there without some kind of flavoring kit..

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Jay F

                                  Funny you mention dried beans. I was looking for them last week and was really surprised they didn't have them. The place is just so idiosyncratic. And I agree 100% that it has far less appeal for those of us who cook from scratch. Although to say that Whole Foods is, is, in my opinion, not quite right either. My local WF seems to do more business in prepared/take-out foods than in fresh. Not surprising since the prepared foods section takes up at least 50% of the store.

                                  1. re: JoanN

                                    Yeah, some stuff is odd. No tomato juice. Puff pastry but no fillo dough. ::shrug::

                                    Still, I'm glad to have TJ's in my area and I was thrilled when they put a new one between the ones I was accustomed to shopping at and the new one is now just 3 blocks away.

                                2. I think the others posting here have covered it pretty well! I agree completely that the quality of their produce and meat varies widely from store to store. I was over there last week and they had no green beans or broccoli, so selection varies from week to week as well. I used to shop a lot more in TJs, but it is out of my way so I go there once in a while for speciality items or to satisfy a craving.
                                  Last week we got some fantastic specialty joe-joes (their answer to oreos) - chocolate covered, peppermint filled dipped in dark chocolate, peanut butter filled, and ginger. o.m.g. so delish!
                                  Go in, browse, take your time to check it all out. :)