If you live in one of the forty-two states Trader Joe’s is located in or the district of Washington, chances are you’ve been to the specialty grocery store. It’s widely appreciated for its array of unique foods and affordable prices. Plus, walking in gives you the sense that maybe Mr. Rogers would shop there. Probably something about being a good neighbour… Join us as we count down 10 shopping secrets Trader Joe’s doesn’t want you to know!
10. Bring your own reusable bags!
Not only is bringing your own bags a good way to help the environment, Trader Joe’s rewards shoppers who do! If you spend a minimum of $25 and bring your reusable bags, you’ll be entered in a weekly raffle where you can win a bunch of prizes, including a $25 gift card to the store. And, bringing your bags isn’t the only way you can win a Trader Joe’s gift card. They often hold naming contests for new products or voting polls for private-label foods, where customers can vote on their favorite. Winners are awarded with Trader Joe’s gift cards, so keep an eye on the grocery store’s website for any current competitions or promotions. In addition to encouraging customers to go green by reusing bags, Trader Joe’s also donates unsold products to local food banks. Even during the pandemic, the chain has found ways honor its Neighborhood Shares Program. The store’s policy is to safely donate all of its products that went unsold but are still good for consumption to those in need. In 2019, they donated nearly $384 million dollars’ worth of food and beverages, which is the equivalent of about 65 million meals. If there’s one thing that Trader Joe’s knows how to do, it’s be a good neighbor: to the environment, its community, and its shoppers.
9. Fearless Flyer
Trader Joe’s is constantly switching up products on its shelves and replaces them with others that are better-received. This is because the store doesn’t charge suppliers fees to secure a place on its shelves, which means that you can find up to fifteen new or replaced products every week! They’ve also got a lot of seasonal products. But if you want to be in-the-know about what items are currently taking up shelf room, grab one of their Fearless Fliers at your local store or browse online! Keeping up to date with the Flyer can mean stocking up on pumpkin-spiced everything before it sells out – or gets swapped out with something else, come holiday season. Do be aware that this isn’t a sales flyer. Trader Joe’s doesn’t offer discounts on its private label products; however, they will accept any manufacturer’s coupons for their mainstream brands. Even so, you may not actually need to use a coupon! They sometimes sell these products for less than other grocery stores and, if not, they often sell comparable merchandise. For example, Trader Joe’s O’s are pretty much a replica of Cheerios and are less expensive! Like all of the store’s other private label products, they’re made by well-known manufacturers but they cut out the middleman. this means Trader Joe’s saves money and so do you! Because TJ’s isn’t a public chain, it doesn’t have the same pressure to please shareholders and continue growing as other supermarkets might. This means they can afford to keep stores stocked with high-quality but budget-friendly specialty items.
8. Trader Joe’s Samples
Trader Joe’s is also well-known for its super lenient “try before you buy” policy. In addition to the free sample stations around the store, where you can try bite-sized portions of seasonal private-label products, you can also try any other food you want before buying it. Just ask an employee to cut you a slice of fresh produce or open up a packaged product for you. Of course, there are a few restrictions to this policy. They can’t let you try any hard liquor, but if you’re of age, feel free to ask for a wine sample. Additionally, anything that needs to be prepared or cooked is off-limits. According to one online source, the most popular foods that customers ask to sample are fruits, cheese, and cookie butter (which, for anyone who doesn’t know, is kind of like nut butter except, well, it’s cookie). Free coffee and tea are also offered at Trader Joe’s! For kids who may be in the mood for a sweeter treat, spotting the store’s hiding mascot will get them a free lollipop. Once the kids spot the stuffed animal, they can tell an employee where it’s located to earn their prize. Every location has its own different mascot, so don’t go looking for the same stuffed friend at a different store! Sending your kids off on this quest will probably make grocery shopping a little easier (and a little cheaper). Plus, if they do locate the hidden mascot, you’ll get to skip the line! Winnings all around!
7. Trader Joe’s Products
In addition to the store’s samples, they also have a selection of prepared foods such as ready-made salads, pre-marinated meat, frozen dinners, and jarred sauces, so you can have dinner ready in minutes when you’re in a bit of a time-crunch. Or, if you’re not in the mood to prepare, TJ’s also has a range of sandwiches, salads, and soups that you can eat on the spot. Freshly prepared items in the deli, bakery, dairy, or juice categories are sourced as close to their stores as possible, which means great quality and freshness, but limited options. So, if you saw a product on one of the grocery chain’s social media platforms that you really wanted to try, it might not always be available at your local TJ’s. State laws, taxes, deposit requirements, and distribution costs are all factors that contribute to the variation in items, prices, and recipes at individual locations. While Trader Joe’s is obviously known for their food, they’ve also got great bath & body and pet food options, so make sure to stop by those sections if you’re in need of a new skincare product or some special treats for your furry friend!
6. Trader Joe’s Label
Many die-hard Trader Joe’s shoppers will tell you they love the store for its 0wn line of high-quality, budget-friendly products, and there’s actually a reason for that. The California-based store has most of its own brand-label products made by third-party manufacturers, many of which are well-known giants like PepsiCo. and Snyder’s-Lance. This means that products under Trader Joe’s label are either completely unique or near-replicas of other popular products you already love, at a more affordable price. Of course, suppliers aren’t allowed to disclose if their items are sold under the Trader Joe’s label, but there has been some speculation. By comparing ingredient lists of similar foods, one article suggested that Trader Joe’s Pretzel Slims are essentially the Snack Factory’s Pretzel Crisps, their pistachios might be supplied by Wonderful Pistachios, their mango smoothie is pretty much Naked’s mango smoothie, and Smart Puffs are super similar to Pirate’s Booty, among other product similarities. Although ingredient lists might not be identical, this doesn’t mean they aren’t supplied by the same manufacturer. Often, retailers will work with the suppliers to customize a product’s ingredients to better suit the needs of their brand or clientele. Or the suppliers might simply have different formulas for the same item which they alternate between under different private or brand labels. All products under Trader Joe’s label are free of preservatives, artificial flavors, genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), artificial trans-fats and MSG. TJ’s works diligently with these third party suppliers to ensure that you can find healthier and cheaper versions of popular foods you’ve grown to love! Do be mindful of the expiration dates on their fresh foods, though! No preservatives means a shorter shelf-life, which, as most of us can probably agree, is a small sacrifice for a healthier choice.
5. Two Buck Chuck
One thing that Trader Joe’s takes to a whole new level is alcohol. As with most items in its store, the grocer offers a cheaper, great quality version of products commonly sold by other stores. Wine is no exception. Their Charles Shaw wine originally retailed for $1.99, earning its famous nickname “Two Buck Chuck”. The price has since risen to $3 or a little over, although it was actually repriced to $2 at California locations. Unfortunately, this price point is pretty exclusive to California because the cost of shipping the wine anywhere out of the state is too high to justify selling it at $1.99. Regardless of whether its Two or Three Buck Chuck, Charles Shaw wine is super affordable and great tasting. And, don’t take our word for it; the numbers speak for themselves. Eight hundred million bottles were sold between 2002 and 2003, and nearly one billion have been sold since 2002, when it was first introduced. It has also won a few awards! In 2004, a 2002 Charles Shaw Shiraz was awarded a double gold medal at the 28th Annual International Eastern Wine Competition, and in 2007, the Charles Shaw 2005 Chardonnay was voted the best-tasting California Chardonnay at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition. If you’re looking for an organic wine option, you’re in luck. In April of 2018, Trader Joe’s began offering them for only a dollar more than their standard ones.
4. Sold by the bananas at TJ’s
If their infinitesimal price increase on Two Buck Chuck is anything to go by, it’s obvious TJ’s isn’t too concerned about inflation. Whereas most grocery stores sell bananas by the pound, at Trader Joe’s you’ll find them for sale individually at $0.19 per banana. Before they sold the fruit individually, they used to weigh and pre-package them for their customers, as they do with many other fruits. The smallest bag you could get usually contained around four or five bananas and was in the two-pound vicinity. On a Trader Joe’s podcast episode, the CEO Dan Bane, actually explained the reason for the change in the way they sell bananas. He said that, one day, he was watching customers in a Trader Joe’s in Sun City, Arizona, near a retirement complex. An older lady was meandering around the bananas until finally, she didn’t take any. Bane, as a higher-up in the company, wondered why she hadn’t taken any and decided to politely ask her. She told him that she may not live to see that fourth banana – a pretty funny joke but a statement none the less. Since then, bananas at Trader Joe’s have been sold individually for shoppers who may only want one or fewer bananas, and at the affordable price of nineteen cents! Ultimately, the story came down to the company simply listening to its customers, something TJ’s is pretty well known for – and praised for doing so.
3. Skip the produce
Because Trader Joe’s is comparatively small to other food stores, it usually has a pretty limited selection of items per category. There actually aren’t even in any scales in the store, so most fresh produce is pre-packaged meaning that if you want that seventh apple, well too bad, you can really only get six or twelve (apples aren’t bananas you know). While Trader Joe’s has great prices and their produce is usually of fairly good quality, they’ve had to fit fresh produce into their store’s model, meaning it becomes kind of a secondary focus at TJ’s as opposed to a bigger chain’s commitment to it – like for example, Whole Foods. Most of their produce is shipped loose and unpacked and inspected individually, so you can rest assured that you’re getting the very best selection. The general consensus among shoppers seems to be that Trader Joe’s, as great as it is, is simply lacking when it comes to the produce and meat departments. This is because it only has one centralized supply chain in California where items are then distributed to the entire network of stores, usually in high volumes. You might begin to see where produce can get kind of complicated with this type of model. Depending on the location, the gems at Trader Joe’s lie primarily on the shelves, in packaged boxes or bags. So, in general, skip the fresh produce, and head directly to the aisles to find great deals on other great products!
2. You should shop in the mornings
Considering the wide range of one-of-a-kind products at Trader Joe’s, most customers like to take their time when shopping to make sure they don’t glance past any potential gems. This means that the store is often pretty crowded, with lines sometimes snaking in and around the aisles. To give yourself the best shopping experience where you can take your time and avoid the crowds, you might want to visit your local TJ’s at different hours of the day to get a sense of what traffic in the store is like. According to some employees online, the stores are emptiest on weekdays in the morning. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are ideal, as soon as the store opens, because they get fresh produce every morning so you can pick out the best of the best. Apparently, some products will actually sell out between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., so if you want to make sure you get everything on your grocery list, your best bet is to hit up Trader Joe’s in the mornings. You can also call and ask them to put a specific product aside for you that same day, if you’re worried about it selling out! They’ll even hold onto seasonal items for you, as long as they’re not flowers. Friday evenings, or weekday evenings in general, also makes for a pretty relaxed shopping trip, but make sure you avoid Saturdays and Sundays at all cost, as that’s when most other fellow customers make their rounds.
1. Trader Joe’s is a good neighbor
If it wasn’t obvious enough that Trader Joe’s puts their customers first, their lenient return policy says it all. If you happen to try out a new product, get home, and decide you dislike it, you can bring it back to the store for a full refund! Not only can you try out the item in store, but you don’t have to worry about wasting money on it if, ultimately, it’s just not your cup of tea. As long as you bring your receipt, whether the package is open or not isn’t a problem. Even during the pandemic, Trader Joe’s let shoppers return products they weren’t happy with, as long as they weren’t overbought. Basically meaning that if you panic-bought anything in bulk, you wouldn’t be issued a refund. Trader Joe’s also makes sure to look after their employees. Since March 2nd, they’ve offered their employees up to two weeks of paid sick-leave for any crew member who is exhibiting symptoms of illness. This encourages staff to stay home when they aren’t feeling well and minimizes the propagation of any virus in their stores. Crew members don’t have to worry about losing out on a paycheck and other staff and shoppers can feel safer, knowing those who are feeling under the weather aren’t in the store. TJ’s is also paying their employees an additional $2 per hour, as a “thank you” wage, as well as offering additional ways to qualify for and maintain health insurance. All this to say that Trader Joe’s really does care about being a good neighbor!