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Sep 9, 2012 05:00 AM

Trader Joe's Going Downhill?

The evidence:

- Macademia nuts blatantly rancid (not even a close call)
- Less and less times that it's possible to get decent produce (typical thing is avocado looks decent outside and then completely rotten inside.)
- Olive oil tastes suspiciously not olive oily, cap doesn't fit, drip-free spout drips.
- Sea salt dispenser poorly designed, so impossible to get more than a few grains out at a time.
- Greek yogurt: yuch.

Any others have similar experiences?

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  1. No, actually (especially with reference to produce incl. avocados, olive oil, yogurt). I shop at the Fresh Pond Trader Joe's - which one are you talking about?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Jesseve

      The Foxboro/Patriot Place store just opened, and is a huge success. They handled it really well, from having plenty of employees on hand to help and answer questions, to designing the store aisles wide enough to accomodate heavy shopping cart traffic. Everything is fresh because it just got put on the shelves. We like.

    2. In general, I'd say TJ products are as good -- and sometimes flawed -- as ever. I agree with you on the sea salt; it doesn't pour very well and I wouldn't buy it again. Also, the produce is iffy, ranging from very good and very well priced to "why is that even on the shelf?" For example, the strawberries, whether organic or conventional, almost always show signs of deterioration. I've watched employees putting out new shipments of strawberries and then examined a dozen baskets or so and every one of them contains bruised berries. Do they actually sell all these ugly berries? Dump them? Give them away? Maybe if they slashed the price 50% I'd buy them and deal with trimming away the bad spots, but you never see marked down fruit and veggies at TJs.

      But one of the things I like about TJs is that they cheerfully refund your money if you don't like anything you buy. I wouldn't hesitate to tell them about rancid nuts, rotten avocados, etc. I've never encountered a TJ employee who wasn't eager to please and make things right.

      10 Replies
      1. re: katzzz

        I work at Trader Joe's. Unless a product is very decidedly spoiled (milk carton leaking everywhere, wormy apple), if it isn't "sellable", we donate it. At least 90% of what gets pulled is donated. The food bank, soup kitchens, etc. don't mind backdated products or "trimming away the bad spots".

        1. re: Rilke

          this is great to know; thank you for reporting it and thanks to TJs for making it happen.

          1. re: Rilke

            Most products have been very good, and a small percentage have been really lousy (moldy, poor quality, etc.) but I hate to return things, so have only done so a handful of times. Last week I returned a bottle of chocolate milk that was so foul that my daughter smelled it as soon as she opened it. For the very first time, the customer service guy behind the counter argued with me - he said that no one has complained about that product. I told him that was not the point - the point was that the one we got smelled rancid. He did give me a refund, but I was surprised at how much he argued with me! Believe me, I would not spend $2.00 in gas to make a false claim on a $1.99 return! There are three TJs equidistant from me, and I'll never go to that particular one again.

            1. re: Rilke

              As long as it's off the TJ's shelf and not customer returns. Because when I've seen TJ's donations come through one of the local food pantries I volunteer with, some of those bags are opened not just "unsaleable" and we toss those. It's not as though TJ's doesn't still get the write off.

              A true donation would be 100% fresh and no different than what customers are buying.

              When I make a food donation, I'm not dropping off close to expired food.

              Just not ready to pat TJ's on the back without a caveat.

            2. re: katzzz

              How fresh are their strawberries? I'd much rather have bruised berries than berries with lots of white inside.

              1. re: katzzz

                The reason TJs doesn't ever mark down anything is because they donate anything that they find to be unfit for sale (but still perfectly edible) to organizations who distribute the food to people in need in the community.

                1. re: ohmyyum

                  Interesting. My corner market sometimes has Trader Joes produce and packaged items for sale. I wonder if they are re-selling the donations or if they have some other deal going on.

                  1. re: chinchi

                    that's like buying IKEA stuff from a small furniture store. sounds shady.

                  2. re: ohmyyum

                    A very nice tax break for TJ's. Someone should look into how much that works out to be. It's a fortune.

                    1. re: SarahInMinneapolis

                      Hmm I never thought about it that way. But I'd still prefer them donate it to someone in need than play that markdown game. I don't understand why you would pay half price for something if you didn't find the quality fit for purchase to begin with!

                2. TJ's has always been very hit or miss. Some of their products put 'brand name' versions to shame, while others are really mediocre. That's always been part of the fun -- to hear through the grapevine that their new frozen bangalorian salmon mousse is amazing and only $3.

                  As katazz says, they're huge sticklers for product quality and customer satisfaction, though. If you bought something you don't like (rancid, rotten, or just bleh), tell them, you'll get a refund.

                  I was really excited when they introduced kimchi in a stay-fresh pouch, recently. It was fantastic. But it was only on the shelf for a week because they had too many complaints about the package not keeping it fresh enough -- so they pulled it immediately. That's not a company going downhill, it's one who's on top of things.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Boston_Otter

                    The kimchi complaints are really confusing. It's already fermented cabbage so how much more un-fresh could it possibly be?!

                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                      They were in fairly thin little plastic pouches; the employee I talked to said "the packaging wasn't up to par, some people said it was spoiling too fast and others said the bags leaked." Not sure how you can tell that kimchi is 'spoiled' (too ripe?) but there you are :)

                        1. re: Bob Dobalina

                          Late to this conversation, but I'll add my 2ยข....The kimchee complaints are not confusing, they're downright laughable. Un-pasteurized Kimchee doesn't go bad (and pasteurized kimchee is not worth buying).

                          When I buy it I leave it on the kitchen counter unrefrigerated for a day or 2 days to hasten the ripening. Hell, I even buy it as close to the "expiration" date as I can.
                          'Fresh' kimchee to me (and other afficianados) is a 'fail'. LOL. Some will disagree. :-)

                          1. re: The Professor

                            I've never tried kimchee because quite frankly it scares me. LOL
                            How does one know if it has passed 'ripe' and entered 'spoiled'?

                            1. re: PasadenaRose

                              I don't think I've ever encountered 'spoiled' kimchee. A jar (even a relatively large one) gets used up rather quickly here. I once had a small jar that got shoved to the back of the fridge and remained there for probably more than 6 months. It was _quite_ripe, but certainly not spoiled. It was delicious in a bowl of ramen soup.

                              1. re: The Professor

                                I liked the kimchee so much that I bought 6 bags of it. Couldn't finish it before the expiration date and the bags gradually puffed up in the fridge. I opened one and tried it and, while it didn't taste bad, it no longer tasted good so I tossed the bags.

                        2. re: Boston_Otter

                          You reminded me about the TJ New York cheesecake I bought the other day. Decidedly bleh. Maybe I'll ask for a refund.

                        3. We stayed in a town that didn't have a TJ's for about 10 days. we shopped and cooked quick meals in the hotel at least for one meal a day. There's a bunch of WF's, Sunflower Market, Sprouts, Alfalfa, etc. but the whole time the only thing I kept think of is "this town needs a Trader Joe's BADLY!"

                          I guess my point is that TJ's isn't perfect but it sure offers something no one else can. the prices on some items are unbeatable like sunflower seed butter. Not even Target can beat the price. i do have to be careful with purchasing some items. meat is tricky and i have almost stopped buying raw chicken there after a polka dotted chicken breast incident. I'm fine with the sea salt dispenser. what's everyone's issues with that one? it's just fine.

                          But as far as it going downhill i'm not sure when and what point in time you're comparing the current store to? the 90's? early 2000's? as far as quality issues I've always had a few bad issues there per year but not enough to warrant a going down the hill warning. i've had just as many bad/spoiled food issues at Whole Foods as TJ's.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: trolley

                            Just to answer your specific question, I'm comparing it to about 10 years ago. Used to be able to buy fresh produce and overall have a good experience--now I find it's the opposite. Same with nuts. And the little things like packaging design seems worse.

                            To be fair, on the plus side, I have noticed an improvement in freezer burn issues with things like frozen shrimp (but that could be due to me now shopping at the larger TJ's in the Boston area versus the smaller stores, which always just seem more poorly managed)

                            1. re: jon44

                              i've had the opposite experience with produce--10 years ago, it was definitely their achille's heel. now, i find the bagged produce fresher and more reliable than back then, and i appreciate that they sell individual fruits and veggies. i'd much rather buy three apples i've selected myself, rather than a plastic 4-pack. and since they have no scales at check-out, the big butternut squash costs the same as the smaller one.
                              big tj's fan here. while i (like all long-time tj shoppers) mourn the discontinuation of some of my favorite products, and sometimes wonder what they are thinking with stuff they d/c and new stuff they bring in, i'd rather shop tj than many of the other options near me.
                              they are expanding in a down economy, so hooray for them! there are bound to be bumps in that road, but i think, on balance, they do a great job. so, no, i don't see a downhill slide, personally.

                          2. The only thing that I have noticed going downhill are the chicken/green chile burritos - they have gone from yum to yuck (meat is kind of gross). I think the sea salt mill is just fine, and the price certainly can't be beat!