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.
I was glad to see you included the specialty cheeses on your “buy” list – we like the fancy stuff sometimes, and Trader Joe’s has great variety and prices.
The other must-buy item at TJs is fresh flowers. You can live like Oprah and have them in your home all the time for just a few dollars.
@Debi, their cheeses are INSANELY good!!! And they have the best sunflowers in town!
Staples like milk, yogurt, cheese, all great at Trader Joe’s. I buy their Indian lentils, chicken broth, chicken sausages, olives stuffed with jalapenos, greeting cards – all less than at the markets. Our closest Walmart is a nightmare inside and out and you would have to pay me a vast sum to voluntarily go there for groceries. Trader Joe’s is always so willing to refund or exchange anything that isn’t perfect, try doing that at Walmart.
@Diana, I too, hesitate to shop at Walmart for the same reasons you mentioned. Their customer service and shopping experience is lacking. But…if you are on a tight budget, sometimes that overrides pleasantries!
It’s weird. Whenever I have gone to Walmart, I find the fresh fruit and veggies is more than Trader Joe’s! I find Costco is the cheapest for fruits and veggies but I’m a single person and don’t have much space in my freezer to keep things.
Bargain Babe says
@Jamie Are you interested in a food dehydrator? You could preserve a lot of foods – strawberry fruit leather, banana chips – with a dehydrator. Here’s a post with 7 reasons to snag a dehydrator – you can often find them on Craigslist or on sale. http://bargainbabe.com/7-reasons-need-food-dehydrator/
Barbain Babe, are you sponsored by Walmart or something? Seriously! And recommending a dehydrator as a rationale for buying more fruit than a person can use seems a bit inconvenient, and certainly does not replace the delights or nutrition of fresh fruit.
Swapna Krishnan says
I love buying frozen food – especially indian food at Trader Joe’s. My husband and I love their “Channa Masala” – it’s the best and coming from an Indian who loves home-cooked food, that’s a major compliment.
Bargain Babe says
@Swapna Krishnam You’re making me hungry! The nearest TJ’s is 35 minutes away so I NEVER shop there. 🙁 Maybe I should make a big run and stock up.
I do a TJ run about every month and a half or so. I live an hour from the nearest one!
I like their milk and butter prices also their brand of greek (honey is my personal fav) yogurt my staples + my dogs logs their their dog treats as well.
Bargain Babe says
@Mary It’s been years since I regularly shopped at Trader Joe’s, but back then they had the best prices on daily and cheese and butter.
Megan Thode says
Their honey greek yogurt is sinful!!
Michelle Ventresca says
I also find that their veggies are overpriced and do not stay fresh as long and sometimes when you get them home they really don’t hold up . I agree their frozen meals are yummy. And you can but bacon ends and pieces for waay less than at supermarkets.
I have the best luck with their bagged veggies, like green beans and kale, @Michelle. I’ll have to keep an eye on the fresh veggies and their shelf life. Thanks for the tip!
I love buying their basil plants. They only cost $3 or $4 and there is so much basil on them.
I second buying flowers there too! They also have good prices on wines.
Bargain Babe says
@Robin Have you ever planted one of their basil plants? You’ll get even more basil that way!
@Robin, don’t even get me STARTED with how much I love their wine! I didn’t include it in my list because it isn’t available everywhere. For example, I live in Kansas City and the TJ’s on the Missouri side of the line has wine, while the Kansas side doesn’t. And “technically”, it would be bootlegging to buy it in MO and take it to KS! Can you believe that?!
Bargain Babe says
@Megan Our nearest TJ’s (about 35 minutes drive) also does not sell wine or beer. How I miss their excellent booze and prices! Instead, we stock up at the local liquor store 2 blocks away. It is owned by our neighbor, so at least I know the profits are going to a local business and family we are friends with!
The Frugal Exerciser says
There isn’t one in my area but there is one near my husband’s job and I like their plantain chips the best. I have only shopped there twice.
Bargain Babe says
@The Frugal Exerciser I love the plantain chips, but unfortunately they are so unhealthy. Palm oil, which is what plantain chips are typically friend in, is super bad for you. I wonder if they taste as good fried in canola oil?
Their plantain chips are fried in sunflower oil. They only have 3 ingredients plantains, sunflower oil, salt! I buy the ones in the small purple packages and eat them with guacamole and hummus! Healthy and yummy!
Really you go to WALMART? That make me not believe anything you say. They are such a horrible company please look them up.. Buy from a smaller company like trader joes that pays their employees better also, so yes some product may be more expensive, but then again the employees at Trader Joes aren’t collecting govt assistance as well as the measly paycheck Walmart pays.. Plus how many mom and pop business have they run out.
Please be vigilant and not buy from Walmart.. Even Costco pays better then Sams’s club…
I find that shopping at Trader Joes is cheaper than most. Even if you buy the more expensive products, the price difference evens out in the end when you aren’t using time and gas to travel to 3 different stores! I buy mostly organic and I’ve loved all of their products except the avocados.
Mara Sweet says
Yes, I think produce can be hit or miss at TJ’s, although even that has improved a lot in the last few years.
Walmart Hater says
Please follow the comments above and boycott Walmart. They are an evil company that treats their employees like dirt…DO NOT GIVE THEM YOUR HARD EARNED MONEY. Go to TJ’s or Costco before ever going to Wally World!
I was so happy to learn lately that nuts DON’T make you fat! After a recent study was done on nut consumption, I was less guilty eating all of those great nuts from Trader Joe’s. I get a large ziplock bag and mix a Happy Trekking bag with a bag of pistachios, blueberries, cashews. If I get hungry I take a handful, a lot better for you than most snacks.
I agree that Walmart should be avoided at all costs. I also think comparing TJ to Walmart is ridiculous, as they are not comparable in any way, nor is the shopping experience. I would compare to Aldi, which is cheaper than Walmart but similar to TJ’s in store size and philosophy—not surprising given they are run by brothers. We buy almost everything from those two stores, primarily Aldi, and have done so for 12 years. Excellent quality and shopping experience. I would also add that TJ’s organic canned beans are a fantastic bargain,,,,black, canneloni, garbanzo, etc. Also, salad dressings. And cruelty-free shampoo, lotion, etc. I know other stores like Walmart now sell those products, but TJ’s sells ONLY those products, and always has. Thus, it’s a store I feel good about shopping in, even if I pay a bit more. And this is coming from a serious bargain shopper.