Friday, July 27, 2012

The adventure continues: Trader Joe's

Part 2 of my answer to Allie's cry for help when shopping Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

I have very mixed feelings about Trader Joe's. Once upon a time, I shopped there much more frequently. My problem with Trader Joe's is two fold-- their produce just isn't that great and their handling of gluten free information and manufacturing practices has been known to be suspect. When I ate nuts--  I was there alot, but now less so.

That said I do like their store. I do shop there. I think they are a great boutique grocery store.

1. They have some real hits and some real misses. In terms of the price to quality ratio, I think they fantastic. There is real value to be found at Trader Joe's.  For rice and soups and other interesting sauces, I think you can do well at Trader Joe's. Interesting cookies, crackers and chips-- wonderful. I go there specifically for their plantain chips and crunchy green beans. Both gluten free and yummy and reasonably healthy. L likes their seaweed snacks. E likes their nuts. In terms of dried fruit and nuts and mixtures, their selection is impressive and competitively priced. In terms of gluten free goodies-- well the selection is hit and miss.

2. Wine selection. For inexpensive, drinkable wine I think they have a respectable variety. One of my favorite Proseccos is at Trader Joe's. You can also but single bottles of beer, which is nice if you just want to try something new. Charles Shaw is very drinkable (aka 2 buck Chuck and is great for sangria.)

3. Hands down they have a great cheese and cured meat selection. High quality and tasty.It is prepackaged, but competitively priced.

4. Quality food and focused on convenience.(They have improved their shelf tags. It is easier to find what is Kosher, Vegan and No Gluten Ingredients. This is a major improvement, which I have noticed recently.)

5. Dairy products and soymilk-- a nice selection and a reasonable price.
I think this is what sets them apart and makes them worth the trip. They promise if it carries their label-- it is free chemicals and is NGM. This is important to me. Sometimes I want a Dosa. And let's face it, I am just not always up for the process that is DOSA making. Their dosas are free of weirdness and very tasty. The kids like to have "snack" items in their lunches from time to time. I can feel good about what I buy at Trader Joe's. L likes some of their frozen Mexican and Asian items-- like burritos and pot stickers. Their frozen veggies are always tasty and high quality.

Given my food restrictions, when we travel we often look for a place with a kitchen or kitchenette. We also google the nearest Trader Joe's. I am not always up for cooking on vacation, so Trader Joe's is a good place to get healthier than average convenience items.

6. The coffee is decent and reasonably priced. Want fun flavored beverages for a party, their selections is nice. (H and I were big fans of their coffee back in the day when we were drinking coffee.)

My advice is to go at an off time and just look around. The stores are small and cramped. They cram in as much as possible. I don't think of Trader Joe's as a grocery store per se. You can get interesting things there. For example-- some of their spices are fun and different. You cannot get cumin there. They are a great place to go, to find something different to spice up your packed lunch routine. Write down the items that appeal to you or surf their website and create your own list template. I think this will make the trip to Trader Joe's less overwhelming. Also, do check out their taste testing center. They do a great job of feature their items and giving you practical how-tos. New products will be featured on end caps-- look there first.

Having a party, they have some great frozen items which make great party foods.

Have a chocolate addiction? Let me say they have a impressive variety of chocolate covered yumminess.

My latest addiction-- the bag of fruit leather end pieces-- the leftover bits from those perfect rectangles you get in single serving packages. Yummy. Great pared with dark chocolate.

And their all purpose spray cleanser. Non-toxic and it works. I have used that for years.

I think the trick is-- don't think of them as a grocery store, they are more of a foodie adventure playground.


Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen) said...

We buy frozen fish there because the quality is great, it is mostly wild caught, and prices are fantastic.

I also like the little carts and games they have for kids. They usually limit these to weekdays only.

Susan said...

I agree, the fish is great. We don't eat a lot of fish. I think what Trader Joe's does well is the price to value ratio. You get what you pay for at Trader Joe's.