I do most of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s because they offer crazy low prices on everything from coffee and organic yogurt, to a large selection of meat-free entrees, and wacky tastebud tinglers like Guacamame Spicy Edamame Dip, Thai Lime and Chili Almonds, and Cookie Butter. But there are a few items I will not buy there simply because they are overpriced. So when I came across Kiplinger’s list of the Best and Worst Buys at Trader Joe’s, I knew I had to share my favorites – and of course, add my own commentary!
Top 5 Best and Worst Buys at Trader Joe’s
1. Conventional fruits and vegetables. With the exception of bananas, Walmart beat Trader Joe’s prices on a variety of non-organic fruits and vegetables including avocados, grapes and strawberries. I only buy produce at TJ’s in a pinch – but I always browse the aisles hoping to find love over a cantaloupe. Just me?
2. Frozen fruit. Trader Joe’s sells only small packages of frozen fruit. You’ll pay nearly three times as much per ounce there than if you buy a 64-ounce package of strawberries, blueberries or other fruit at Walmart. And depending on how you are using it, frozen fruit tends to be a better option than fresh because it keeps longer and is cheaper.
3. Natural detergents. If you prefer phosphate-free dishwasher and laundry detergents, you’ll find a better deal on them at Walmart. A 128-fluid-ounce container of Ecos laundry detergent was $8.97 at Walmart, versus $9.99 for Trader Joe’s natural detergent. And a 75-liquid-ounce container of Palmolive Eco+ dishwasher detergent was $2.97 at Walmart, which beat the price of Trader Joe’s 50-ounce container by $1. Of course, you can make your own 180 load batch of homemade laundry detergent for $12.62.
4. Organic milk. Whole Foods beat Trader Joe’s price on a gallon of organic milk by a whopping $2.30. This blows me away, because I am convinced that everything from “Whole Paycheck” is more expensive.
5. Cheese. Again, Whole Foods has the lower price on a 16-ounce package of shredded mozzarella — $3.99 versus $4.49. Other conventional cheeses also were more expensive at Trader Joe’s. For example, a 12-ounce package of sliced provolone cost 61 cents more at Trader Joe’s than at Walmart. Considering my diet is cheese on cheese on cheese, I’m skipping it at TJ’s. Except for their Creamy Toscano Cheese Soaked in Syrah – that’s a slice of heaven. See below for speciality cheeses.
Best buys at Trader Joe’s
1. Frozen meals. The price on Trader Joe’s pesto tortellini beat the prices other stores had on Amy’s brand pesto tortellini by 50 cents. And TJ’s paneer palak — an Indian dish with spinach and cheese — was about $2 less than the Amy’s brand version sold at the other stores we checked. I love me some Amy’s, but that TJ’s tortellini is LEGIT.
2. Natural toothpaste. At $2.99, a 6-ounce tube of Trader Joe’s natural toothpaste was almost $2 less than the Tom’s brand natural toothpaste sold at other stores. And it doesn’t taste like old chalk.
3. Nuts and seeds. The per-pound price on a variety of nuts and seeds — including almonds, cashews, pine nuts, walnuts and sunflower seeds — was lower at Trader Joe’s. Only Whole Foods matched the price on whole almonds, at $5.99 for a pound. And Trader Joe’s had the best price by far on its 8-ounce package of pine nuts, which were between $2 and $6 more at other stores. Trader Joe’s nuts are nuts with flavor. They always have something new and nutty!
4. Organic ground beef. Trader Joe’s organic ground beef was between 50 cents and $2 less per pound than at the other stores we checked. I hear people like beef. And I guess if you are going to eat Bessie, it should be organic.
5. Specialty cheeses. Trader Joe’s carries a good selection of imported and artisan cheeses. We checked the prices on two more common varieties: French brie and goat cheese. We found that brie was between 50 cents and $4 cheaper per pound at Trader Joe’s that at competitors and a 4-ounce package of goat cheese was at least $2 less. Mmmmm. Cheese.
Of course, there are always exceptions to these prices, like sales, coupons and other grocery strategies to save money.