With new Trader Joe's Supermarkets popping up weekly 'round these parts (there are at least 4 within 5 miles of me), I thought I'd take some time to impart a sampling of the knowledge I've accrued being a regular Trader Joe's shopper to make the transition for the Whole Foods/Foodmaster regulars as smooth as Trader Joe's White Bean and Basil Hummus. Before I get into the culinary/strategy nitty-gritty, there are a few things you should know about what will furthermore be referred to as TJ's.
1. Trader Joe's almost exclusively sells items from their own Private Labels. This means, you won't be finding Cheerio's or Oreo's. Instead you'll have to settle for Joe's O's (delicious) and Joe Joe's (heavenly). This allows Trader Joe's to save lots of money by cutting out the middle man, while at the same time allowing them to oversee the quality of the ingredients.
2. Speaking of Quality ingredients, Trader Joe's has this to say about the products they sell:
Our logo assures that the products it is on contain NO artificial flavors, colors or preservatives; NO MSG; and NO added Trans Fats. In addition, ALL Trader Joe's private label products are sourced from non-genetically modified ingredients.
3. Finally, if you enjoy trimming coupons and slogging through newspaper inserts for sales flyers, you will also be disappointed as Trader Joe's does not offer sales. The good news is, that their prices compare quite favorably to Market Basket are light years better than Whole Foods, especially considering that many of Trader Joe's products are organic and none contain any artificial ingredients.
Now that you've read all that and are sufficiently intimidated, take my hand and let me bring you to a place of PUUURE IMAGINAAAATION. At least that's the song I hear when I go inside a Trader Joe's, but maybe that's just me.
Here are a couple pieces of advice to make your grocery transportation as painless as possible:
-Trader Joe's parking lots are heinous. They are tiny and they are incredibly busy. Thusly, I bike whenever possible. I know this isn't feasible for everyone, but understand that you will need a hearty dose of ruthless to find a parking spot.
-Do not get a grocery cart under any circumstances (unless of course you are buying alcohol, more on that later). The aisles are narrow and choked with people and you will bring nothing but carnage and frustration
upon yourself if you try to scoot around with one. Use a hand basket and thank me later.
-Finally, you're going to want to bring your own bags. Trader Joe's does offer paper bags if you forget, but I think they are manufactured in hell.
As you can probably tell from the picture above, you can't carry more than a bag of tortilla chips without the flimsy handles tearing off and sending your perishables on a parking lot adventure. Don't say I didn't warn you.
With all that out of the way, let's get down to brass tax. Because all of the food is "Trader Joe's" brand, it is incredibly overwhelming setting foot into one for the first time. Probably akin to going to a supermarket in a foreign country. The good news is, almost everything is delectable. And I have tried everything, believe you me. Here are some of my favorite items, and a few items that didn't tickle my fancy.
Trader Joe's Pita Chips/Trader Joe's Hummus - Less than $2 each, and both are incredibly delicious. The Chipotle Pepper Hummus does not last 24 hours in my house. MMM!
Trader Joe's Tamale's - $2.29 for 2. If you have ever had these, you will know why I bring them lunch every week without fail. Shredded beef and soft masa in a corn husk. So simple, so PROFOUNDLY DELICIOUS.
Trader Joe's Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup- Sounds a little bizarre, but out of this world awesome. I also love the creamy tomato soup, but the red pepper adds a little extra tang and flavor. I like to put TJ's Oyster crackers in it. So delicious and less than the cost of a crappy can of Campbell's soup. SERIOUSLY.
-DESSERT Before I go any further let me just say that I don't really care for dessert. I like ice cream from time to time, but as far as cakes and pies go, I can take it or leave it. That was before I started sniffing around at TJ's. I cannot tell you how many time's I've had something in my hand, being all wishy-washy and then I remembered the last Trader Joe's dessert I had and it immediately goes into my basket. I am not a huge fan of the MOCHI like SS is, (maybe he isn't either and just likes to say it/yell it to/at Katie), but from the Sorbet to the Creme Brulee', C'est MAGNIFIQUE.
-WINE/BEER Finally, last but not least is alcohol. Mind you, not every Trader Joe's carries alcohol, but when they do, hold onto your butts because you will be 30 minutes late to whatever you have planned and adding a cool $50 to your grocery bill. The good news is that $50 in Trader Joe's booze goes a LOOOOONG LOOOONG way. Don't believe me? Might I interest you in some 3-buck-chuck? In addition to this, Trader Joe's carries it's own brand of wines and beers and hundreds of other varieties, many for less than $6 a bottle. That is obscene. And they are largely fantastic. $5 for a six-pack of TJ's beer? Yes please. $4 for some Riesling? Why not. Just practice that response and you'll be just fine.
The Less Good
Here are a few Trader Joe's offerings that you should stay away from, or at least follow my instructions diligently.
- Produce. Apples = Good. Oranges = Good. Frozen Veggies = Super. Bags of lettuce? Liquefy 6 hours after you open it. Unfortunate, but them's the rules in the little town of "No Preservatives".
- Another rule is that your cheese and breads will sprout unsightly mold spots faster than you can say "Who wants some crackers and EWWWW." Fine if you are having a dinner party and will use it all at once. Otherwise, no amount of Tupperware/Vacuum Sealer can keep your refrigerator from making a sacrifice to the Mold Gods.
- I had some Trader Joe's Tuna thing about a year ago that was very strange and blechy. I think this is a picture of it.
- They have really cheap ($1) chocolate advent calendars for Christmas every year that I always buy, but the Chocolate always tastes like it should have an MSDS. I bought one again this year too and brought it to work. Oh well, they eat it early and out of order so serves them right.
Moral of this story. GO TO TRADER JOE'S. YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT.
HEALTHY LIKE WHOLE FOODS. CHEAP LIKE MARKET BASKET.
Hey, they should put that on their ads. If they had ads. Which they don't.