Friday, October 3, 2008

Trader Joe's 101

(NOTE: I do not work at Trader Joe’s, nor do I hold any stock in their company because they don’t sell it. I’m just a really big fan. Please do not take this as an advertisement for their store, but as a lesson in how to shop well for less. – K. A. M.)

Few places in this world make me as happy as Trader Joe’s. For those of you who don’t know about this fabulous place, it’s technically a grocery store but not the type you’re used to. Rather than being a huge supermarket that becomes almost overwhelming in choices and brands, Trader Joe’s is a nice user-friendly, foodie-friendly store that no proper cook should ignore. For me it’s my little food mecca: affordable, beautiful, chock full of all sorts of things you can’t find at the big food giants, most of it geared towards health conscious folks. Sure, you’ll find things like ice cream and potato chips, but you’ll find that their “junk food” is surprisingly not that awful for you. About the only thing I find lacking at Trader Joe’s would be their produce department: there is not a very large selection and most of their produce is already pre-packaged – great for things like baby spinach and other salad mixes, but not so much for other vegetables and fruits that you might like to choose yourself. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a produce snob, so I do prefer to pick it myself. If you don’t care as much and like to save time, then TJ’s produce would work well for you.

I could probably write an entire book about this place. But this is a blog, so what I’ll do instead is post different blogs on each department’s best features in the coming months. Trader Joe’s carries some fine wines & cheeses; a wonderful array of nuts, dried fruits, and other natural snacks; great deals on fresh, organic cruelty-free meats, fish, and poultry; quite a variety of pasta and other cooking and dipping sauces (stuff that makes even the most cooking-challenged person appear like a gourmet chef); a variety of vitamins and other health & beauty aids; and a rather nice selection of conventional and unconventional breads and grain products. They also cater to the typical American who is rushed for time, by offering excellent pre-made salads (the Fiesta Chicken & Vegetable or the Roasted Beet & Gorgonzola are always winners) and other pre-packaged lunches & meals in their refrigerated section. And Trader Joe’s frozen food section alone is worth a trip and the eternal fight for a parking space.

Now, there is a common misconception that Trader Joe’s is a very expensive place to shop. I’m afraid folks that think this might be confusing it with Whole Foods and other natural grocers whose prices are quite a bit higher (no offense to these establishments at all; I adore Whole Foods, it just takes up my whole paycheck to shop there). It’s true that one does pay a price for wanting to eat well, but as a very poor girl who does do so, I can guarantee you that you will save quite a bit of money if you are able to do most of your shopping at TJ’s. In the next few weeks I will do some comparison shopping at both Trader Joe’s and Safeway so that you can see the difference in prices. I would be willing to bet that you can save about 40% on the exact same shopping list, so stay tuned for that. For now, here’s an example of one of my recent jaunts to Trader Joe’s, with a bunch of “splurge” items that I probably didn’t need. It’ll give you an idea of what I mean about this place:

2 bags of baby spinach salad (18 oz., not 8 oz like you get at regular stores) - $1.99/ea
2 bottles of “2 Buck Chuck” (Charles Shaw wine, great for wine drinkers on a budget): $1.99/ea
Box of Roasted Gorgonzola Crackers - $1.99
1 bag frozen Marinated Teriyaki Chicken Breast - $5.09
Box of Vegetable Samosas - $3.49
TJ’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray - $2.99
Alfredo Pasta Sauce - $2.99
“Mangolicious” frozen fruit blend (mango, blueberries, raspberries – SO good in a smoothie!) - $2.69
Sweet Chili cooking/dipping sauce - $1.29
TJ’s Lobster Ravioli - $2.99
Roma tomatoes - $1.99 for 5
Loaf of Complete Protein Sprouted Bread - $2.99
Block of mild California Cheddar - $3.09
Organic Vegetable Foursome (frozen) - $1.69
Dozen large eggs - $1.79
4 assorted cups of nonfat yogurt - $0.79/ea
Hummus - $2.19
5 Bananas (which they sell individually at only $0.19/ea, not by the pound – genius) - $0.95

Very yummy stuff and I spent around $45 after tax. Not bad, eh? I don’t even want to know how much this list would have cost me at a regular grocery store, not to mention the fact that they wouldn’t sell a lot of this stuff anyway.

Stay tuned for the next Trader Joe’s 101!

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I know this post is a few years old, but it's really true: many Trader Joe's items are cheaper than their equivalents at Safeway, let alone Whole Foods. (The main exceptions are certain Asian and Mexican items, which are usually--but not always!--cheaper at Asian and Mexican stores, and some produce, which is usually cheaper and definitely fresher at a farmers' market.) Even boxed cereals are cheaper at TJ's than at Safeway, especially over many weeks (since it's not always on sale at Safeway and I don't have a huge house where I can store 10 boxes!). And although I still check the ingredients, because not EVERYTHING at TJ's is made of pure goodness and light, overall I feel better about the ingredients at TJ's compared to Safeway. I also appreciate not having to play the sale or coupon game (although they DO take coupons on things like Laughing Cow!).



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