- Trader Joe’s is one of the most popular grocery store chains in the US.
- We consulted food blogs and online reviews to find the best and worst products at Trader Joe’s.
- Here are 29 products to buy at Trader Joe’s and 12 you should consider skipping.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Trader Joe’s is one of the most popular grocery store chains in the United States, making more than $US13 billion in 2017.
That’s even more impressive when you consider Trader Joe’s doesn’t have sales, a loyalty program, or even an online store.
But customers swear by the chain’s products, from cheese to tequila to its famous $US0.19 bananas.
Not everything at Trader Joe’s is a good buy, however. We consulted food blogs and online reviews to find the best and worst Trader Joe’s products for shoppers.
With that in mind, here are 29 products to buy at Trader Joe’s and 12 more you should skip every time.
Some states and locales don’t allow liquor sales at Trader Joe’s, but if yours does, you might want to try the tequilas.
Drinkhacker endorsed the silver tequila, which costs under $US20. It’s one of your best bets for bargain margaritas.
Buy: Name-brand spirits
TJ’s also stocks some of your favourite name-brand liquors at a discount. One customer said on Reddit that “Wild Turkey 101 is nearly $US4 less than anywhere else in my city.” There’s a good reason the great liquor department is one of the store’s claims to fame.
Trader Joe’s offers such a productive shopping experience that you might be tempted to check off your whole list while you’re there. Don’t do it.
Some shoppers have reported that much of the produce, especially delicate items such as peppers, greens, and broccoli, are often past their peak. If you don’t use them the first day – or sometimes even if you do – you might end up with rotten goods. Rima Hesham Reda said on Quora that “for most kinds of produce, I’d pass on them.”
Meanwhile, the Penny Hoarder blog said the prices for produce at Trader Joe’s might not even beat your local supermarket.
Buy: Organic avocados
One produce item that is more often than not a good bet at Trader Joe’s is the avocados. The blog What’s Gaby Cooking said: “I don’t buy produce at TJ’s but I make an exception for 2 things … one of which is avocados.”
Buy: Goat-milk brie
Trader Joe’s has some great deals on high-quality cheese. The chain’s goat-milk brie comes in self-contained rounds (less chance of getting moldy too soon) and is creamy and mild.
The lifestyle site A Cup of Jo recommended including this delightful brie in an inexpensive and easy-to-prepare cheese plate.
Buy: Unexpected cheddar cheese
Unexpected cheddar cheese is an iconic and popular TJ’s bargain.Sarah Arora wrote on Spoon University that it “lives up to the name with the hints of Parmesan, which provides an unexpected yet sophisticated flavour.”
When Bon Appetit asked readers for their favourite TJ’s products, this cheddar was the top-rated cheese.
Buy: Stilton blue cheese
Erika Kubick, the cheese expert behind the blog Cheese Sex Death, recommended Trader Joe’s Stilton cheese, which she described as “barny, beefy, and robust.” If blue cheese floats your boat, this one’s a steal.
It would be nice to grab a little lunch while picking up a couple of favourites at Trader Joe’s, but resist the temptation to try the sushi.
Emily Baxter, a former Trader Joe’s employee, wrote on Spoon University that the sushi at Trader Joe’s “sits in a box from production to your shopping bag.” Sarah E. Rogers said on Quora that “the sushi is gummy and always oddly sweet-tasting.”
No matter how good it looks, don’t take a chance on iffy sushi at Trader Joe’s.
While Trader Joe’s veggies can be hit or miss, shoppers rave about the $US0.19 bananas and the organic apples that are cheaper than at other stores. There’s a charming story behind the supermarket’s decision to sell individual bananas, and their cheap price makes it easy to pick up a quick and healthy snack.
Buy: Seasonal produce
Another exception to the rule of not buying produce at Trader Joe’s is anything in a huge box or on a table right at the entrance. You can get a fantastic deal on fresh, seasonal produce when the retailer gets a large shipment of something really good.
Brooke Eliason from the blog Female Foodie recommended the Tuscan cantaloupe. In the summer, watermelons can be large, cheap, and delicious. In the fall, you might see pumpkins in huge bins.
If it looks good, and the staff recommends it, go for it.
Buy: Greeting cards
Not everyone knows that Trader Joe’s is in the greeting-card game. The store sells cards for various occasions for under $US1.
Eliason said the greeting cards by the Trader Joe’s checkouts are “simple, upbeat, and not overly commercialized.” The selection is limited, but that means it takes only a minute to select the best birthday/holiday/congrats card.
Buy: Coconut oil
TJ’s coconut oil is half the price you can find for the same quality elsewhere.
Tiffany Kim wrote on Quora that it’s “cold pressed, organic, and virgin.”
There’s mounting evidence of the health benefits of coconut oil, so this is a Trader Joe’s deal you don’t want to pass up.
The cut flowers at Trader Joe’s are some of the cheapest you will find. They are varied and cheap enough that you can brighten your kitchen table anytime without feeling like you’re splurging.
“In my experience, blooms from Trader Joe’s always seem to last far longer than the stuff I’ve bought at Whole Foods or Kroger,”Dana McMahan wrote for the blog Kitchn.
Many shoppers have complained about the milk at Trader Joe’s. One Quora reviewer said they found that the milk “is consistently on the verge of spoiling.”
If you need another reason to pass it up, Cheat Sheet put milk on its list of things you shouldn’t buy at Trader Joe’s, saying the organic milk costs more than what you would pay at Whole Foods.
Buy: Potted plants
In addition to cut flowers, TJ’s has a selection of potted plants that varies from season to season. They are usually quite healthy and fabulously low-priced.
Buy: Organic cacao powder
While Trader Joe’s is known for its prepared foods, you can get good deals on quality raw ingredients if you know what to look for. The company’s organic cacao powder is great for baking, or making smoothies or hot cocoa.
A commenter on Quora called Trader Joes’ cacao powder “much better than Hershey’s and at least $US1 cheaper.”
Buy: Dark-chocolate peanut-butter cups
The fan favourite in the chocolate section may just be the dark-chocolate peanut-butter cups. Customers swear they have a higher quality than major-label peanut-butter cups at the drug store and are way better than what’s in the bulk bin at the supermarket.
Bon Appetit readers rated these as their favourite Trader Joe’s candy.
Buy: Triple ginger snaps
Trader Joe’s shoppers can’t seem to get enough of the supermarket’s triple ginger snaps, a crunchy cookie with enough ginger to give it a bite.
“After the initial crunch, the cookie’s inner chewiness melts in your mouth as you bite into the hot, tangy crystallised bits” of ginger, Charisma Madarang wrote for Foodbeast.
One reviewer on the blog Trader Joe’s Fan said: “I LOVE the cookies! They have a really nice, warm ginger-y flavour. Just sweet enough, with the right crunch for a cookie.”
These cookies may be too gingery for the sensitive taste buds of small children – more for the adults to enjoy.
Buy: Mandarin orange chicken
Trader Joe’s Mandarin orange chicken tops many lists of fan favourites.
Foodbeast had this to say about the froze entrée: “Crispy on the outside, tender and flaky on the inside. The orange tang of the sauce brought a superb punch of flavour but didn’t overwhelm the savoury chicken taste.”
The Mandarin orange chicken topped the Bon Appetit list of favourite foods at the supermarket. If you haven’t tried it yet, add this one to your shopping list.
Skip: Shepherd’s pie
If you’re a fan of this traditional English dish – a meat-and-vegetable stew with a crust of mashed potatoes – you’ll be disappointed by the frozen version that Trader Joe’s makes.A Reddit user called this entrée “totally flavourless mush.” Another wrote, “I ended up giving half of it to my dog.”
Bamba, an iconic Israeli snack food, is a crunchy, lightly peanut-flavored corn puff that’s available at Trader Joe’s. Slightly sweet, a little salty, and fully crunchy, these will satisfy any peanut-loving snacker, even the little ones.
Don’t feel guilty. Just crunch.
Buy: Organic blue corn tortilla chips
Trader Joe’s sells many types of tortilla chips, and some are better than others. The blue corn chips are one of the good ones.
Cheapism described Trader Joe’s organic blue corn tortilla chips as “‘flaky,’ ‘light,’ ‘great-tasting’ morsels.”
Buy: “Everything but the Bagel” seasoning blend
The spices at Trader Joe’s are uniformly cheap and decent, but the real standout is the “Everything but the Bagel” seasoning: a quick way to get the flavour of an everything bagel without all the calories.
The seasoning mix includes white and black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sea-salt flakes, dried garlic, and dried onions.
Skip: Premade sandwiches
The premade sandwiches and wraps at Trader Joe’s are almost always gooey or dry, or both.
Many of the sandwiches are also high in calories. The “turkey pesto sandwich contains almost a Big Mac’s worth of calories plus 1,900 mg of salt,” according to CBS’s MoneyWatch.
If you’re going to eat something from Trader Joe’s that can expand your waistline, go for the chocolate and skip the sandwiches.
Buy: Soy chorizo
This meat alternative is vegan, gluten-free, and a great deal. Brenda Sickles, a food blogger, gave it two thumbs up as a taco filling.
And one Reddit user called the product “delicious and cheap,” adding, “I’m a meat eater and I’ll choose it for tacos over everything else.”
Buy: Lemon-verbena French soap
Items in the small selection of bath and personal care products at Trader Joe’s are worth adding to your shopping list. Many have praised the Lemon-verbena French soap, which Female Foodie called “light and refreshing.”
Skip: Prepared salads
From funky, slimy greens to dry grains and scary meats, the salads at Trader Joe’s are something you’re taking a chance on when you grab one for a quick lunch. Occasionally, you’ll luck into a really fresh one, but why take the risk?
The Daily Meal said this about the honey-glazed miso salmon on salad greens: “Be prepared to scoop out the salmon and serve it to a stray cat, who very well might pass on it, too.”
Buy: Cheese tortellini
For a decadent Italian dinner that’s quick and on a budget, nothing beats Trader Joe’s cheese tortellini.
The tortellini is “one of my favourite easy dinners served with Trader Joe’s Vodka Sauce and a pinch of Parmesan cheese,”Eliason wrote for the Female Foodie.
Buy: “These Peanuts Go on a Date” bars
For a quick energy boost, these peanut-and-date-filled bars are a yummy choice.
“They’re just sweet enough without being cloying and give me the pick-me-up I’m after in the middle of the afternoon, post-workout, or when I’m starving and stuck on a long commute,” said Kelli Foster, an associate food editor at Kitchn.
Skip: Fresh meat
Many a picky shopper has had a bad experience with Trader Joe’s meat section. A common complaint is that the supply chain is just too long, with weeks between packaging and getting to your store.
Shareably said that “the quality may vary from store to store, so check out what people are saying about the one near you before your next shopping trip.”
If you need another reason to skip the meat section, Eating Well advised against the meat at Trader Joe’s because the products may not be sustainably produced.
Buy: Spinach-and-artichoke dip
The Trader Joe’s creamy spinach-and-artichoke dip is so good that you can pass it off as homemade.
“Trader Joe’s version is a great option if you don’t have time to make it yourself,” Southern Living magazine said.
While you won’t find Fruit Loops and Cheerios lining the aisles of Trader Joe’s, the store’s private-label cereals are just as good as the real deal – and at a fraction of the cost.
“You can get a big box of ‘Joe’s O’s’ for just $US1.99, with regular-sized boxes of tons of other varieties starting in the mid-$US2 range and going up to about $US4.30,” wrote Jamie Cattanach, a contributor at The Penny Hoarder. “Most regular-sized boxes at my local Publix started around $US4, so I’d consider TJ’s a win.”
Skip: Paper products
It may be tempting to grab a pack of toilet paper while doing your weekly grocery shopping, and at $US3.99 for a package of six rolls, the price isn’t too shabby. However, The Cheat Sheet recommends ordering paper products in bulk to get the most bang for your buck, which unfortunately Trader Joe’s does not offer.
Buy: Dried fruit
Trader Joe’s has an impressive selection of trail mix, but you may not know it also has a solid array of dried fruits, available in sweetened and unsweetened options. According to The Daily Meal, you can’t go wrong with the Just Mango slices, but all varieties come in handy resealable plastic bags.
Skip: Frozen rice
While frozen steam-in-a-bag rice packs at Trader Joe’s are certainly convenient, CNBC warnsthat it comes at a cost. Three 10-oz packages of frozen rice will set you back $US2.99 at Trader Joe’s, but at places like ShopRite you can snag a 12-oz package of frozen rice for $US0.99.
Buy: Frozen appetizers
Doing some last-minute entertaining? Trader Joe’s has got you covered – and at a bargain cost. However, not all of the appetizers are made equally.The Daily Meal recommends the pork gyoza potstickers, mini chicken tacos, and vegetable samosas.
Skip: Nuts & Fruits & Honey
This jar of goodies looks like a work of art, but it’s actually sneakily unhealthy and loaded with fat and sugar. “Nuts & Fruit & Honey might sound like nutrition in a jar, but don’t be fooled,” wrote Marissa Laliberte at Reader’s Digest. “With the ingredients ‘bathing‘ in honey, the calories add up – all the way up to a whopping 300 calories per quarter-cup serving!”
Conventional eggs at Trader Joe’s are probably the cheapest you’ll find among the major grocery stores. However, The Penny Hoarder notes that Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell ethical eggs, which is easy to miss since most cartons are emblazoned with the words “cage-free.”
Without additional labels like “certified humane” or “animal welfare approved,” improved treatment of egg-laying hens is negligible, according to Vox. It’s worth considering, though, if you’re trying to save some cash.
Skip: Frozen pie crusts
Since homemade pie crust is notoriously difficult to make, pre-made options can save time and preserve sanity. However, shoppers told The Kitchn that Trader Joe’s frozen crusts have a tendency to crack or melt while baking.
“I recently bought Trader Joe’s frozen pie crusts and they were kind of a disaster. They broke into a million pieces along the fold lines and as soon as I tried to create edges,” a reader told Kitchn.
If you’re like us and love putting hummus on just about everything, then Trader Joe’s is here to help. While brands like Sabra go for $US4-6 per tub depending on the size and flavour, you’ll be able to nab one at TJ’s for a couple bucks cheaper. Plus, as The Daily Meal points out, you get the benefit of special flavours like tomato and basil, Mediterranean, and sriracha.
Lauren Greutman, a frugal shopping expert, told CNBC that vitamins at Trader Joe’s are comparatively more expensive than at stores like Target or pharmacies like CVS. For example, an 100-count bottle of vitamin B pills sells for $US5.99 at Trader Joe’s and for $US4.75 at Walgreens.
“Watch for sales at your local grocery store. Or try a health food market in your area, since those will often offer samples or coupons,” Megan Leonhardt wrote in the CNBC article.
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