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03 February 2016

Don't shop at Trader Joe's. I have always disliked Trader Joe's, and have never really been able to articulate exactly why, other than "It's too crowded and seems overhyped." This article does a better job.
Actually, you might want to start with page one.
posted by JanetLand 03 February | 10:06
My personal Slate reading hack: Don't read anything on Slate.

I have shopped at Trader Joe's since I was in college... that was 40 years ago. In the 'early days' in Los Angeles (TJ's 'home' area) the stores were never too crowded in spite of their popularity for one big reason - they never had adequate parking. You were more likely to give up on finding a parking space than have any hassle inside the store. I developed a short list of 'things I buy at TJ's' and have rarely added more than one 'new' item to each shopping trip. Since moving to San Luis Obispo, where there are more locations per capita than L.A., I have had no real "it's too crowded" problems.

Also, when I was in college, their 'quirky' advertising was less hype and more humor. In fact, one of their major ad media was 'live copy' radio commercials and the L.A. radio pros were sharply divided between "love to read Trader Joes ads" and "HATE to read 'em". And I used scripts of two TJ's ads on my radio Audition Tape that got me my first fulltime radio job. So, yes, all these years later, I'm still kinda grateful (and sincerely believe I could write their 'Fearless Flyer' better than whoever's doing it now).

Still, I shop there less than once a month and still work mostly on my 'short list', especially since my attempts to improve my diet have ruled out most of the most tempting 'new' items. And I don't eat bananas that much anymore.

One other thing: in this county which was the first to ban plastic disposable shopping bags, they have the BEST reusable shopping bags for sale, including this big insulated bag which I use at every other store I buy food at because it holds a lot and keeps it all cold and/or frozen while I'm waiting for the bus to take me home. (And the baggers at some markets roll their eyes at giving this other store free publicity... sorry, but if Safeway/Vons ever comes up with something comparable, I'll use it)

So don't dis Joe in front of me... it's one of the few businesses I have a true loyalty for. (end rant)
posted by oneswellfoop 03 February | 12:45
So wait, is the only problem the lines?
posted by Eideteker 03 February | 13:25
I hate Trader Joes. I think their food is mostly processed, nasty tasting crap, their fresh selections are limited and not so fresh, for the quality they are overpriced and they are also poorly laid out I TRIED to overcome my intense Trader Joe loathing repeatedly as many people I like, some of whom are good cooks, are Trader Joe fans. But no luck, I don't see the charm.

However, I love, love, love our local cooperative store, PCC, and also like a local chain called Central Market. So my heart can indeed be won by a grocery store.
posted by bearwife 03 February | 15:27
Slate is so in love with telling us what or what not to do.

I love TJ's. We don't really cook actual meals a whole lot and their stuff is cheap and generally tasty and healthy. I also love how tiny TJs is; I can't stand giant Walmart sized supermarkets, I just want to be able to run in and run out quickly. I can buy a week's worth of food there in a half-an-hour, shorter than it takes to walk across most modern stores.
posted by octothorpe 03 February | 15:51
I like Trader Joe's. I love the ginger snaps and other cookies, cheap wine, Trader Jose dark beer, olive tapenade, and other stuff. The one near me has reasonable lines for checkout. I don't think they're more trustworthy than any other corporation.
posted by theora55 03 February | 18:46
I like TJ's way better than Whole Foods, anyway. Many things in this article can be said about WF.
posted by Melismata 03 February | 19:17
I do wish that I lived somewhere where TJ's could sell beer and wine. Two Buck Chuck isn't bad but you have to drive to Ohio to get it around here.
posted by octothorpe 03 February | 19:41
Yes, I am no fan of Whole Paycheck either. Their food is quite wonderful, but grossly overpriced and misleadingly labeled, and I always feel as though I am surrounded by spoiled yuppies/hipsters.
posted by bearwife 03 February | 19:50
I like TJ's OK, and go there every now and then to grab certain specific products that they alone carry (example: the goat cheese with blueberries), but I really despise the way the entire place is basically greenwashed. As Bearwife says, most of the food is highly processed, very little of it healthy and almost none of it organic - it's big-box food, nowhere near an equivalent to Whole Foods in terms of food quality, it just has a bourgeouis brush-up of cool flavors and cute names. It benefits from an alternative "halo effect" but a processed sat-fat cookie is a processed sat-fat cookie, a frozen lasagna is a frozen lasagna. The only thing it has in common with WF is a demographic appeal.

It is funny, though, that the article talks about all that and then is like "oh and it's only $11 cheaper." Damn, that's a lot cheaper.
posted by Miko 03 February | 21:51
Interesting discussion! Put me in the pro-TJs category- I don't do all my shopping there but there are definitely things I do like. And I never thought about liking that it's small, but I definitely do- I'm not always in the mood to run around a huge suburban grocery store and get that kind of workout. There is a lot of processed crap to be had, but sometimes, that's what I want. Also, I love their $1 greeting cards. Always stocking up so I'm ready for any occasion.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 03 February | 22:03
I go there for their chili lime peanuts (do they still have them?) but I do not have one convenient to me, so that's like, a once a year trip.
posted by gaspode 03 February | 22:28
I kind of have a thing about huge stores. I've been in Walmart only two or three times and never braved a Costco. Giant suburban stores make me itch and want to run for the exit as fast as I can.
posted by octothorpe 03 February | 22:40
I like their cheese prices, and I get nuts there for snacking. The fresh fennelnis nice because it keeps.

I also am in the small store camp and find they are quick to open another checkout when lines form.

It's not somewhere I'd shop for my entire grocery list, but I'm happy to support a store that treats it's employees a wee bit better (if reports are to be believed)
posted by mightshould 04 February | 07:19
I used to shop at Trader Joe's sometimes but now I'm pretty exclusively a Nice Murakami shopper, though if I have to run out and get something at night, Yours and Max Valu are both closer and open 24 hours.

I buy my rice at a liquor store.
posted by Hugh Janus 04 February | 08:19
Max Valu is a great name for a grocery store. Or a porn star.
posted by JanetLand 04 February | 08:23
Max Valu is a great name for a grocery store. Or a porn star.

Quoting for truth.
posted by gaspode 04 February | 08:31
Every time the total comes up on the cash register at TJs, I am shocked by how low it is. If I had one closer to me (ours is about 20 minutes away - doable but not convenient) I would shop there all the time.
posted by amro 04 February | 08:37
My wife calls it Maximum Valuable.

The Yours store in Hiroshima Station is in the basement of the Asse building. It's called Yours Asse. We used to go to a tiny nearby grocery store that we just called "the local." After it closed I learned from my barber that it was really called Kokororo.

They were constantly having megadeals on local produce. A truck would roll up stacked with giant daikon radishes and they'd be a hundred yen each. You had to watch out for elderly elbows in that place. The mom who ran it told us how worried she was about the octa- and nonagenarians living nearby who probably couldn't make it to and from Max Valu and probably couldn't afford the delivery charge.

Maybe they got their good-for-nothing sons-in-law to help them out for once in their doggone life....
posted by Hugh Janus 04 February | 08:38
I have a friend who works at Trader Joes and loves it there. She's a fifty-something magazine editor who got laid off by state budget cuts a few years ago and ended up taking the job out of desperation but actually loves it.
posted by octothorpe 04 February | 10:26
I shop there weekly for specific items like cereal and bottled water and nuts and am generally happy with my purchases. I do hate it when they discontinue items without notice (Confetti Rice *sniff*) or reformulate products for the worse (Pomegranate Iced Tea *sniff*), and I never buy produce there, mainly because I need it to have a longer shelf life than TJ's provides. I would love to buy some of the packaged frozen items, but the sodium levels are often so, so high (often approaching 800-1000 grams depending on the item).
posted by initapplette 04 February | 10:35
I was really impressed with our local TJ's last year when we had the string of horrendous blizzards. At the end of it TJ's raffled off a trip to Hawaii for customers. I was joking with one of the clerks about whether they got to go to Hawaii too, and to my surprise she said "yeah, one employee from every store is also entered in the raffle!" That kind of amazed me - knowing they'd do that for their staff definitely gave them an uptick in my head.
posted by Miko 04 February | 10:38
I used to be a big fan of TJ's, but I stopped shopping there a few years ago and haven't set foot in there once since then. Ultimately, it was label reading that did me in. My husband was diagnosed with high blood pressure, and we were ordered to cut his sodium intake to 1500 mg/day. So I started reading labels, and TJ's was consistently the worst offender. We don't eat a lot of processed foods to begin with, but all of our TJ's snacks went right into the bin. Add to that the fact that I have other better options for fresh fruits and vegetables, so there is really nothing getting me back in the store.
I don't have anything against it, but I can't unsee their nutritional labeling, I doubt I'll ever shop their again.
posted by msali 04 February | 11:51
There are specific things I routinely get there: salmon oil and vitamin D capsules, their "jumbo mix" raisins, for instance. Sometimes staples like canned chickpeas. Oh, and the big chunks of Israeli feta. I'm not a fan of their packaged meals or snacks, and obviously they aren't the place for produce. I probably stop in once every week or two.

I too have a friend who worked there, a PhD in Charlottesville, VA who got fed up with trying to piece together a living as an adjunct. She's not there any more, but spoke highly of them as an employer.

They provide as pleasant a shopping experience as it's reasonable to expect from a chain grocery.
posted by tangerine 04 February | 15:40
We have a Large Store of Choice (Hy-Vee, yay!) and Awesome Co-op on our side of town, and parking sucks at TJs (where "sucks" means "damn your free covered parking that makes you use a clean, delightfully decorated elevator") but I go there a few times a year... as well as every time we're going to my friends' house around the corner, because god forbid we don't show up with a thing of chocolate covered blueberries.

I need variety. TJs has variety. So does Hy-Vee, but TJs has different variety. End of story.
posted by Madamina 04 February | 16:50
I stock up on tj's variations of sourdough bread when I go to the west coast, which they Do Not Have anywhere else...and I think they use a different starter east of the 114th parallel.
posted by brujita 04 February | 17:14
I shop at the trader but not especially for any of the reasons slate thinks I might. I don't mind the lines because I'll be listening to an audiobook. Their milk foams better and I like their bag o' lettuce varieties, their tarte d'alsace, their mohito salmon.
posted by Obscure Reference 04 February | 20:51
Oh, I did forget, they're good for nuts for baking, and for almond flour. They always have almond flour, where my usual grocery doesn't.
posted by Miko 04 February | 22:42
Does Trader Joe's have long lines in other places? I've never had to wait more then a few minutes at ours. It's always busy but they keep the registers staffed and it always seems to go quick. I find it generally faster than regular supermarkets.
posted by octothorpe 04 February | 22:57
Ours is fine. Never had an unreasonable wait. Parking is okay too.
posted by tangerine 05 February | 18:28
I've only been to two Trader Joe's - one in Columbus, OH, the other in NYC. The NYC one has insane queues and so if I'm in that area, I'll tend to go to the nearby Whole Foods instead. That's also always really busy but the queueing system is quicker and I'm usually just buying snacky things that they both sell.

I don't know a lot about the food TJs sells, and because I'm not familiar with American prices, I don't know if it's expensive or not. But at the Ohio one we once bought these really nice frozen fish fillets that came with some kind of marinade. They were tasty and my friend said they were good value. They also sell crumpets and Speculoos, neither of which are widely available in Ohio. I also once brought some friends home a little tin of dark chocolate wedges. They said it was the nicest chocolate they'd ever had.
posted by Senyar 06 February | 11:14
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