Trader Joes has a special place in my heart. When I was a kid, in southern California, we would shop there quite often, and I remember being excited to get items here that you couldn’t get anywhere else. European chocolate, greek yoghurts, frozen orange chicken, weird breads, mochi ball ice cream, Puffins cereal. Later on, in my 20′s, it was a great place to get micro beers and European beers before they were widely available. I remember telling people about TJ’s before they finally made it up to Portland (I am so old school). They always stocked cool, obscure, cheap items, creating a different grocery shopping experience than normal. The employees wore Hawaiian shirts!
Now here I am, mid 30′s, kid, job, house, etc etc…..shopping at only one store per week is intriguing to me. Most weeks, we go to one store for veggies and fruits, another for canned foods and kid food items, and maybe even another store for some bulk items. This is time consuming and annoying. I would much rather be doing anything other than shopping on weekends, which is when we mostly have time to go to the store. While we go to Trader Joes for some things (snacks, frozen items), I was curious if we could get everything we need for one week of eating there.
Fruits: Although well presented, I found the fruit to be very expensive at TJ’s. It is a small section that seems designed for people to grab one or two fruits and buy the rest at another store. Apples were 59cents each! 69cents for organic. So we bought a 2lb bag of Pink Lady apples for $2.49. And bananas are 19cents for a non-organic and 29cents for organic, FOR EACH BANANA. I wonder how many bananas is a pound, then we can figure out if this is a fair price or not. It might be, but it seems expensive pricing bananas individually. That is a turn off for me, makes me less likely to grab a bunch. But I am sure this is a calculated decision by TJ’s, they do not want you to buy all of your bananas here, just grab a few and get them somewhere else. Pineapples were reasonable, at $2.99 each. Nice looking grapefruits are 99cents each. 2lbs of Costco sized strawberries are $5.49. They are probably from the same farm! We skipped the grapes ($3.29 for a very small bag), pears and oranges (we still had some left from our last Costco shop).
Vegetables: Everything is wrapped in plastic or in a box. There are no loose vegetables. Even the broccoli and cauliflower heads ($1.29 each head) are wrapped in plastic. I did notice that eggplant was loose. They have bags of kale and spring mix bags and spinach bags, all for $1.99. We end up paying more for the bags, but it is nice to have the variety of mixing and matching with the kale and other mixed greens. Their peeled baby beets are pre cooked and really handy for salads, $2.99 each. Celery is $2.29 a bag for 2 hearts. A small bag of sugar snap peas is $2.69. They are super good though. We bought some heirloom tomatoes in a variety of colors for $2.99. Those are tasty. Regular small tomatoes are $2.49 per small container. Mushrooms were $1.69 for a small box. Bell peppers are $1.29 each, that’s about right. and cucumbers are $1.79 each.
Other stuff: Salad dressings are good here, there are a few low-calorie options, we like the hummus and cilantro dressings ($3.49 each). Banana chips are a good snack, although I go through a bag in 2 seconds flat. They are $3 each. TJ’s has a great selection of fruit bars, nuts and dried fruit, but of course you pay a premium here for a small bag. Tough when you eat like a gorilla (like me). The cheeses are great, those were hard to stay away from, I love me some goat cheese! For frozen health stuff, there isnt too much…normal frozen vegetables are here, but we tend to stay away from them. They have their 3 minute microwave brown rice, that is handy for right after work, $3.49 for 3 pouches. Our kid loves the roasted seaweed snack, super cheap and low calories…99cents a bag. Canned beans are available, all organic for $1.19, that’s a good deal. Not much else healthy food that I am aware of.
Cost: $95.67 for 3-4 days of groceries. This is mainly fruits and veggies. We will need to go to another store by thursday, I bet. For a full week of groceries, we would have needed to spend $150. Ouch!
Summary: So, I feel like Trader Joes is not the place for us if we are looking for a one store, buy all, situation. It is most certainly cheaper for them to stock boxed and frozen items than it is fresh produce. I get the feeling that they added the fruits and veggies after customer complaints rather than doing it to make money …the produce is there to tide you over until you make it to another store. So, for us, it is not a practical place to do a full weeks worth of shopping. More expensive and less fresh options. So we will stick to TJ’s for the occasional snack, steak, chocolate, and frozen item run.
See slideshow below for pictures of my visit April 22, 2012