I bet businesses love when consumers give away free advertising by talking about their products on their blog. They sit back, simply amazed, thinking, “Yes! Use my branding, share my corporate message with your home-spun, natural enthusiasm! I can’t pay for this kind of brand promotion!” And yet, in this case, I totally don’t mind doing it. Because Trader Joe’s has the good stuff. I actually have to avoid it at times because I know I am too weak to resist buying 5 different types of snacks.
Made for the Munchies
As we were discussing our favorite TJ’s products yesterday, my friend pointed out that the buyers for Trader Joe’s are definitely a bunch of stoners. “Look at the combination of sweet and salty snacks!” And it makes a lot of sense. In any case, their products are fairly natural, lots of organic options, a ton of ethnic foods and most importantly, they are cheap. Cheaper than Fresh & Easy, way cheaper than Whole Foods. I have barely ever shopped at Whole Foods- I am always put off by (my perception of) their snootiness and overpriced “artisan” food. But not so at Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s feels like the everyman’s health food store. There are certain foods that I always get at TJ’s, which I think are better and cheaper than anywhere else, including Whole Foods.
I’m in cheese heaven! White Gouda, Fontina, triple creme Brie, so many varieties of cheddar, something called Pub Cheese that’s delicious, Gruyere, etc. Sometimes they have burrata: fresh mozzarella with a creamy center, AGHHHHH (that was Homer’s donut drooling sound). Here are a few examples of how much cheaper cheese usually is here:
4 oz. goat cheese @ TJ’s: $2.49 @ Grocery Store (Safeway/Vons, Ralph’s, etc): $3.99-$4.99
Gruyere, by the pound @TJ’s: $10.99 @ Grocery Store: $13.99
Brie, by the pound @ TJ’s: $4.99 @Grocery Store: $6.99-$7.99
If you’re a cheese lover, you can get your fix of just about any cheese at TJ’s. With the exception of a gourmet, artisan cheese shop, the Trader Joe’s cheeses are the best around at much lower prices.
2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Do you also drown everything in EVOO? There’s nothing like fresh mozzarella drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with a little salt and pepper on top. Until about age 27, I never paid attention to the price of stuff in grocery stores and wondered why I was always broke. When I got more cost-conscious, it killed me to see how expensive good olive oil was. Trader Joe’s sell a 34 oz bottle for $5.99. At the grocery store, that’s at least $8 to $9.
3. Orange Juice
The 64 oz. carton is always $1.99. That’s the sale price at the grocery store, if you’re lucky.
4. Balsamic Vinegar
They have regular and white balsamic and both are under $4. Make your own balsamic dressing with this classic recipe (it’s really easy, I do it and I’m the laziest person I know). Balsamic vinegar is great as a drizzle in paninis, a marinade for grilling vegetables, or just as a dipping sauce for bread with garlic and olive oil.
Nearly every bread is slightly cheaper here, and they all taste great. Asiago rolls, sourdough, regular white bread, Indian naan, bagels and english muffins. The only ones I don’t buy here are tortillas, because they’re cheaper at the Mexican grocery store and I like Calidad brand, and pita bread because I like the real deal which is called “Good Bread” and is dirt cheap at the Persian/Mediterranean/Arabic grocers. You might remember I have a bread and cheese habit, so I try to restrain myself in this department and not buy five types of bread at once.
6. Individual Frozen Meals
Trader Joe’s caters a LOT to the single, young professional types (those are yuppies!) and the variety of meals they have in the frozen section includes all the colors of the culinary rainbow: from empanadas to baked ziti to paneer tikka masala to pork gyoza (potstickers). They range from $2.50 to $5 and are a lot healthier and more interesting than a Subway sandwich or Lean Cuisine, two things I refuse to eat because they depress me and make me wonder if I have lost the will to live because I’ve settled for eating freakin’ Lean Cuisine as a meal. Don’t get me started on Subway.
7. Fresh Salads
Every kind of fancy salad you can imagine and all in the same $2.50 to $5 range. Blue cheese/walnut/raspberry vinaigrette/spinach. Classic Greek with mixed greens. Chipotle Chicken Caesar. The only caveat is that you should buy them for same-day or next-day consumption, because they go bad very quickly. Don’t buy 5 for the week because Friday will be a very disappointing lunch as you confront wilted, soggy lettuce and total-mush tomatoes.
8. Wine and Beer
I don’t know anything about wine or beer but people seem to like the selection here. From Two Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw wines at $2.99) to pricier cab’s and pinots, about 15% of the square footage of Trader Joe’s is in the wine and beer section, so you should be able to find your bottle.
9. Chocolate and Chocolate-Covered Everything’s
Thanks to my mom, I discovered plain milk chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s. It’s Belgian chocolate at $1.79 for three small bars that are perfectly creamy. Where else do they sell chocolate that cheap?! When strangers in trenchcoats are trying to lure you into a van, that’s where. You will not find better, cheaper chocolate. Trader Joe’s also has the biggest selection of chocolate-covered everything. Cherries, acai berries, pretzels, espresso beans…ad nauseum.
Trader Joe’s beats your Costco samples any day. Although they only have one or two kinds of samples, they have to have the most effective sales rate in the history of sampling. I buy the samples probably 70% of the time, and have discovered a few of my favorite items (how ya doin’, cheddar twisty sticks?) that I would have never bought of my own volition. That’s powerful marketing. Now that I think about it, even though the samples are free, I guess it’s not necessarily cheaper if I always end up buying it. Shut up logic! I like free stuff.
Trader Joe’s has almost all of the same food as a regular grocery store, but most of their products are their own private label and can be sold cheaper than national name brands. Their stores have a small footprint and their operating costs are lower than a traditional grocer as well. I love their prepared foods and produce and think most of their food is healthier and more natural than the grocery store’s. It’s an easier way to save money grocery shopping, especially for smaller households. But there’s just one thing…
Gone But Not Forgotten
I have just one beef with Trader Joe’s: limited edition products. They are always introducing new products or bringing seasonal products which I become obsessed with and want to eat every day, only to discover that the item is gone just a few weeks later. It’s torture. It’s like when I found out that Hershey’s no longer made Bar None, the best chocolate bar ever invented. I get a little wave of nostalgia when I think about these guys…
Unexpected Cheddar (with a Hint of Parmesan)
Imagine a really good white cheddar. Now add the flavor of a nutty parmesan. This was perfect for cheese plates or just by itself. Come back, Unexpected Cheddar.
Chocolate covered mint marshmallows that only come out during Christmas. Who came up with the rule that mint and chocolate are only popular during the winter holidays? I love mint and chocolate in all seasons.
Movie Theater Popcorn
You know what, I’m getting a little upset writing this list. The best reason for going to the movies was suddenly at Trader Joe’s. And it was good. Tasted like buttery-perfect movie popcorn. They took it away before I even bought a second bag. Movie Theater Popcorn, we hardly knew ye.
Chocolate Covered Potato Chips
Definitely, definitely stoners. I never got to try these but they look tempting.
I’m not the only one who finds writing about Trader Joe’s products enjoyable. This place has fan clubs. Check out What’s Good at Trader Joe’s? or Club Trader Joe’s for dedicated blogs on their products.
Do you live near a Trader Joe’s? Have any favorite products there? If you don’t have one in your neighborhood, let me know if you have a cool neighborhood that beats the big grocery store!