Thursday, August 18, 2011

Trader Joe's. Meh.

I finally visited one of our two new Trader Joe's stores this morning. Color me not especially impressed. On a 10-point scale, I give it a good, solid 5.

The good:

  • They have  a nice selection of cheeses at decent prices. Prices were comparable to cheeses at warehouse clubs, but the selection was probably a bit better and the package sizes weren't mega.
  • I saw some hard-to-find ingredients like white (clear) balsamic vinegar. I've been looking for it elsewhere for a while.
  • AT $2.49 per pound, they have the best price I've seen anywhere for organic free-range chicken.  I usually don't find it for less than $4.00 a pound (and therefore, don't buy it).
The bad:
  • Most produce was being sold by the piece when it is usually sold by the pound in other stores.  This makes comparing prices difficult.  Bananas seemed cheap at 19¢ each, but I weighed them at home and they came to 42¢ per pound.  That's a very average price around here.
  • I had hoped for better prices overall, but most prices were just average.  For example, non-organic milk was about the same price I pay at Aldi (which shares the same parent company as Trader Joe's), and organic milk was right in line with the prices I see in most supermarkets.
The ugly:
  • I had been told TJ's was a great place to buy bulk ingredients for scratch cooking, but instead I saw an extremely large variety of processed foods and semi-prepared foods.  There were lots of bottled sauces, mixes, frozen entrees, frozen vegetables in sauces, frozen pies, pre-cut vegetables and salads, etc.  Some of these were quite interesting (like a frozen pasta entree with brie and asparagus), but they were expensive. Because I cook primarily from scratch, these items were a huge turn-off for me.
Specific to this location:
  • Being on the Kansas side of the state line, the store doesn't sell beer or wine, which is a big draw in other locations.
  • The store was uncomfortably cold inside.  Even the employees were complaining about it.

Now, I'm not saying I didn't buy anything there (I did) or that I won't go back (I probably will), but I don't plan to make this store part of my weekly shopping routine.  I can't imagine I'd want or need to go there more than every couple of months.

If you're curious about what I bought, or the prices, here's the list:

1 qt. buttermilk - 1.19
1/2 gal. whole milk - 1.99
17 oz. (1/2 ltr.) white balsamic vinegar - 2.29
7 oz. Fontina cheese - 2.15
2 lb. oat bran - 2.69
16 oz. plain Greek-style yogurt - 2.49
4.5 pound organic, free-range whole chicken - 11.11
2 pounds sweet potatoes - 1.79
2.25 pounds bananas - .95

Is there a Trader Joe's store in your area?  If so, what do you think of it?


McVal said...

None that I know of around here... I'll probably stick with my usuals too.

Miranda said...

Wow $2.49 is an excellent price on the chicken. Is that an everyday price or a sale price? How was their selection of whole grains... wheat, oats, etc? Were the grains organic or just regular in bulk?

I was wondering if they had opened. I have an order ready for Azure for some bulk grains so I'm curious what TJ's had to offer.


Annie Jones said...

McVal: Hy Vee?

Miranda: I didn't pay a lot of attention to the grains because I am fairly well stocked right now. Nothing was in least not the way I think of bulk. I was expecting bins and scoops like at Whole Foods or other health food stores. All the grains were packaged. :(

I think the price on the chicken was their regular price. It didn't look like a special sale sign.

Osage Bluff Quilter said...

This is so weird, we were in Aldi's yesterday and the check out clerk told us that this is their sister store. Owned by the same people. I've never been in one.

slugmama said...

Never been in one since the closest is 2 hours away outside of Philly...along with Whole Foods too.

I have heard from people that there are a few things they like to get there, like unusual foodstuffs not carried elsewhere(fair trade coffee) and 2 buck chuck(I think it's 3 buck now lol). The bad I heard was that they shrink wrap all their produce...egads!

Annie Jones said...

OBQ: There are two here in KC and maybe one or two in STL. I don't think they are anywhere else in the state.

Slugmama: It depends on what you are buying. The bananas, oranges, apples, plums, etc. were all unwrapped. The sweet potatoes came in a bag, and all the pre-cut veggies were shrink-wrapped. Some tomatoes were loose, some were wrapped.

Quite a bit of the produce at Aldi is shrink-wrapped, though. Like three peppers or 4 small zucchini in a foam tray, then shrink wrapped.

Anonymous said...

I seem to have the same basic opinion of Trader Joe's as you. I was excited to hear of their opening because I had heard that they have really good prices on organics, but I didn't see anything near what I expected. What I do like is Valrhona chocolate, which they carry for $2.99 per bar (3.5 oz). It's a treat for us and that is a good price. I thought they had decent prices on frozen organic fruits and veggies, also. Like you, I would not make it a regular stop because it's just too far a drive, but if I'm in the area I will stop for a few thingsl

Cathy said...

I LOVE Trader Joes. However, they had to grow on me. The first year of shopping there I kind of thought, "What's the big deal? There isn't that much here?" However, over time I have grown to love what they offer. I will say that we have generally always bought all of our meat from a farmer so we don't buy much meat from TJ's. We buy Applegate lunch meats, gluten free BBQ sauce, toilet paper, Larabars, bananas (they may be average price but I don't like shopping at multiple places. Saving my sanity is more important to me than a few cents here and there.) We like the organic green and mint teas, beef jerky (also gluten free), sweet potates, sparkling water (we don't buy pop or any other drinks besides tea bags and sparkling water), and what I like most about them is what they carry often changes so you will see new things arriving and old things leaving. Oh, and the chocolate peanut butter cups beat Reeses any day!

SonyaAnn said...

We don't have a trader Joes but we do have a store that I would put in the same category, Woodmans. It's alright for some hard to find things but the prices aren't that hot. I only go there once in a while.

Dr. Alice said...

Living in Los Angeles, I shop at Trader Joes a LOT. They excel with baking ingredients such as nuts or dried fruit - great variety, quality and price. However they don't do "bulk" flour or sugar, though I believe their quality is good. They do sell King Arthur flour, if you are looking for that. It's supposed to be excellent.

You are correct that prepared meals, salads and frozen foods are the majority of what they sell, and that may well not be what you are looking for. And it's too bad that the store you visited doesn't sell wine or beer (they sell a lot of that)! I do like their bottled fizzy water, though. And their vitamin selection is really good and reasonably priced. Their pasta is OK, I buy it sometimes but not routinely.

I tend to think of TJs as a cheaper version of Whole Foods. If you are looking for gluten-free, dairy free or similar items or something relatively healthy to take to work for lunch, it's a good choice. However I wouldn't call it a bargain store per se.