Trader Joe's meta-discussion

I’ve followed this thread sporadically since inception. The posts seem to focus on one product or another without addressing the underlying question of whether to go into Trader Joes at all.

In that context I don’t see the attraction in suburbia. As a corner grocery within walking distance of many people it makes sense, just as the food intensive version of Rite-Aid, 7-11, or other convenience stores. As a toe-hold to break food deserts you bet. As a shopping destination when you have to drive, park, load, and drive I simply don’t get it.

Add a pandemic and a corporate refusal to support online ordering and curbside pickup I say “Trader Joe’s nay.”

I’m curious as to whether or not you’ve shopped in a Trader Joe’s. For people who are ‘serious’ cooks (do most of their cooking from scratch) your take would seem to have some relevance. But, for busy people who don’t cook that way, most of the prepared or semi-prepared products are an easy way to eat things they’d never make themselves. It’s not ‘gourmet’ quality but it’s generally quite good.

I live n the area of the country where the chain started so I have many years of familiarity with it. The stores carry basic staples as a convenience but that’s not their strength. In today’s world I’m making food shopping a one stop thing wherever possible so TJ’s is pretty perfect. Judging by the lines stretching all the eastbound the block at times here, many agree. JMHO. YMMV.

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I’ve been in Trader Joe’s twice to my recollection.

I think your point about prepared and semi-prepared foods is well taken. It’s pretty clear from the shopping patterns in the pandemic that many (most?) Americans don’t cook well if at all.

However, as far as prepared and semi-prepared foods are concerned I don’t see a big difference between what Trader Joe’s offers and what you can get from Giant, Safeway, Publix, Albertsons, Whole Foods etc. Certainly a little better than Rite-Aid and 7-11.

At the risk of being bull-headed I think people should learn to cook. sigh

Your point about today’s world makes my case at least in terms of the pandemic. The TJ corporate refusal to support online shopping and curbside pickup is simply inexcusable. One-stop shopping is not enough. We need contactless shopping. TJ is not in the game.

My wife and I shop at Trader Joes for a short list of items every few months. When road traveling, they are one guidepost for well priced, convenience items we already know we like when not at home cooking. There have been fail products, we just don’t rebuy. Same could be said of grocery items you take a shot at anywhere…and often at a higher convenience price.

As for safety shopping, TJ’s has been very strict on how many shoppers can be in the store, masked at one time. In the beginning of restriction shopping, a Mgr took my temperature (which i still find a poor way to check a virus) but given the limited options to handle a busy market, I do feel they are careful.

TJs gets ridiculed a lot imho. Often for not sharing which brands they are actually selling but their decades old following and growth, resales fromCanadians eager to buy product…well, there’s no denying their appeal is vast.

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I’d be so bold as to suggest that the reason major supermarket chains card much of this is related to the success of Trader Joe’s with such products. At least here, TJ’s does a much better job at it.

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as ‘serious cook’ who does most of my cooking from scratch (albeit, a city-dweller), i depend on tj’s for raw materials — nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, cheese, pasta, eggs, butter, oils. also love their hummus, garlic spread, and fresh ravioli.

yes, i could get some of that stuff at my supermarket, but tj’s prices are so good for so many things, it’s easier for me to get the basics when i’m there.

in fact, the only prepared meal i get is their original mac and cheese when i don’t have the time to make my own.

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Hi Dave! I went to TJ’s twice in 2020 for stockups, fully prepared to turn around and go home if I did not like what I saw.

While I take your point about TJ’s (and do I remember you’re doing your grocery shopping curbside?), I have to say that the one near us has been excellent about in-store precautions during the pandemic. The location closest to us had a worker posted outside to strictly limit the number of customers inside. That meant super quick shopping and checkout for me. I was in and out in 15 minutes or fewer, and you might guess that I was double-masked.

Normally I might go to TJ’s several times a year for specific items that we use but that’s not happening now.

ETA: We live in a suburban location but like @wonderwoman notes above, TJ’s stocks a number of ingredients at attractive prices. Very helpful to have certain basics such as their nuts and dried fruits in your pantry.

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I’ll be the first to admit, that I’m not much of a cook. One of the things I do like about much of tj’s prepared and semi-prepared foods, is that much of it has already been “curated” it may not be excellent but it is very likely to be good and most of the pricing is reasonable, they seem to have few bombs in the bunch. As to your reference other markets, I’m located close to NYC and of the markets listed, only Whole Foods operates in this area. Competition was stifled here years ago by many of the existing chains merging rather than improving. Tbh, I don’t think of TJ"s so much as a supermarket, but a successful food hybrid (and a welcome one).

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Indeed. I do just about everything curbside. Groceries (Giant and Sam’s Club), hardware (TrueValue and Home Depot), chandleries (West Marine and Fawcett), pharmacy (CVS and Giant), local restaurants, liquor stores (no wine or beer in groceries here in Maryland), and of course Amazon (Prime). Shopping from Whole Foods to our local cheese shop supports curbside pickup.

Inside and masked is still a risk. Why take it? For TJ to come out and say they won’t support online shopping and curbside pickup is societally irresponsible. To me that puts them firmly in the category of convenience food outlets like 7-11 and Piggly Wiggly. Why does TJ refuse? I question the judgment of their management.

This thread led me to check Google reviews of TJ to see if I was missing anything. It doesn’t appear that I am. Limited selection, low price leaders with basics like chicken and beef a bit pricey. Staples are expensive.

I’ll repeat myself that I can see the appeal if you can walk but even then having to go inside during a pandemic as a matter of corporate policy is ill-advised. Am I correct they don’t even have aisles marked one way? The local Nextdoor group seems to indicate that is the case.

Trader Joe’s is an overall nay for me in the best of times and certainly in our current time.

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Pathmark? Shop-Rite?

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Honestly can’t remember about the aisle flow because I was in and out so fast. On a mission! Seriously, TJ’s was the fastest shop I have been able to manage thus far during the pandemic.

Also it’s interesting to read here about the use cases that folks have regarding TJ’s: both unmet (contactless shopping) and met (such as a curated selection of prepared foods and staple ingredients).

I do shop in-person largely because I get groceries for two households. There’s no way my wonderful elderly neighbor could manage online shopping. Me being able to source the foods she wants makes it easier for her to stick to her resolve to stay home. Plus I know my neighbor well enough to make educated guesses about acceptable substitutes for any out-of-stock items.

So as someone who mainly does in-store grocery runs at a mainstream grocery chain every 2 or 3 weeks, I also make a point of avoiding a grocery store near me—not TJ’s—that’s well-frequented by delivery shoppers who provide contactless service. The delivery shoppers slow me down as they look for items to fill their orders. Polite and professional people, but they might be searching for unfamiliar items to fulfill someone’s shopping list.

Many trade-offs during these times. Sigh.

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Denise, I think you have put your finger on the biggest downside of curbside pickup. In my perspective, the total balance of pros and cons definitely leans toward curbside. We rarely tick the box allowing the picker to make substitutions so sometimes we come up short. There is no substitute (ha!) for someone who knows needs and indeed what is in stock at home.

With that in mind I straddle the fence. Denise, you could shop online for your neighbor and make a quicker run in for the shortfalls. You could. I’m not saying you should. I hope you will as it will keep you safer and I like you.

I remain resolute that online shopping and curbside pickup should be the norm. Certainly for HOers - if you can post here you can shop online. For TJ to make a corporate statement that they won’t support curbside pickup is irresponsible. Who thinks they don’t make their numbers with an inventory control system they could plug into online shopping/curbside?

Yes, everything about it is trade-offs. And negotiating among all of us here about which benefit outweighs which disadvantage is tricky at best, partly because each of us knows a great deal of background information behind what we type on the screen, far too much to laboriously write out (for example, everyone can recognize that the story behind your elderly neighbour could be much more involved than what you said). And no matter how “absolute” we try to make certain requirements, there is almost always a good example of why they cannot be absolute. (I just thought of a no-visits restriction in a nursing home that was so tightly applied that someone’s mother ended up dying alone, even though her family kept asking for an exception.)

One of my trade-offs is I have no car and therefore no trunk to load things into, so I need to modify many recommendations in order to make them sensible for my situation.

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We’re on the same page about keeping safe, that’s for sure. Also the part about being Hungry Onion friends. :grinning:

My hypothesis is that I’m faster than any delivery service shopper is likely to be at covering the needs of our two households thus taking some amount of exposure risk out of the “system“—admittedly while moving some increment of that risk onto myself. I’m trying to keep as low-impact as I can for our situation.

P.S. Also I do use CSAs and other outdoor/low contact shopping to fulfill as much as I can.

I used to feel exactly like you. About 15 years ago, we visited Trader Joe’s a couple times. My family enjoyed the vibe, but I declared it a fraud and ignored it for 5 years. Why would I shop there when Whole Foods had so much more variety? (To be fair, Whole Foods was actually affordable back then.) Then, I ended up there by chance for random reasons. It grew on me and the rest is history. Now, we are Trader Joe’s. Once the pandemic is over, we should meet up and go. I cannot stress how invaluable TJ’s is when traveling. You can be guaranteed to have 85% of the same inventory no matter where you are in the country. I think TJ’s peaked around 2015, but they are still hands down my favorite grocery store.

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I wonder how much difference one-way aisles make. Is passing allowed? I mean, I try to follow the arrows, but if someone is standing there looking for the right kind of X, am I supposed to wait for them or can I pass them to get to what I need? If yes, then why does it matter which direction I came from? Isn’t it better if people spend less time in the store overall, rather than spend extra time walking around? And people go back and forth looking at all the chips, or produce. I think limiting capacity and group size is about all the stores can realistically do.

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Not saying their aren’t other markets, but of the ones listed only WF is in this area. The ones you mention would be included under “etc.”

Unless “no passing” is strictly policed and everyone patiently waits 6 feet behind those idiots like me who take forever to make up their mind (yes, I’m That Guy, sorry), then one-way aisles make no difference at all.

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Even with California being the new center of the Covid storm none of the markets here in South OC are controlling aisle direction any more. People seem to respect the distance guidance and pass by very quickly when they need to.

In the other side of the equation there was an incident in LA yesterday where anti-mask protestors ran through a market and a luxury department store confronting masked customers and employees. I just learned that a similar incident is expected in the OC tomorrow.

Good time to just stay home.

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This is exactly how I feel. I try to look at overall community risk and figure out how I can mitigate it without unduly increasing my personal risk. From my perspective, the folks who do the hunting and gathering for online/curbside pick up often don’t know the store layout and seem to often spend a while trying to find things. I sort my shopping list by location and get in and out pretty quickly. I even go to a store that’s a bit further away so there is less of a chance of running into anyone I know who may want to socialize.

Over the summer I was part of a CSA that delivered and got any missing produce from my local farmers’ market. Now I order from a former produce supplier who primarily services restaurants. They are a closed environment and need the business. I do the same for meat.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold