So What’s Up Trader Joe’s?

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I had never been to Trader Joe’s in my life until recently when they opened their first store in Denver. I’d heard great things about amazing products that are healthy and affordable. I was excited to check it out and try some new vittles.  Here’s what I came away with.

Trader Joe’s is not a health food store-Now before everyone starts berating me about this, I understand that Trader Joe’s has never marketed themselves as a health food store. So why does everyone think it’s a health food store? They do have some healthy products, but let’s be realistic here, aisle after aisle of packaged goods, organic or not, doesn’t scream healthy to me.

The store was packed and the checkout line was a mile long so I had some time to do a little investigating. I’d heard their nuts were the bomb so I went there first.  Nice, raw organic almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts. Chocolate covered, spiced, salted and unsalted, you get the picture they have a nice nut selection.  What’s next.

They had a massive frozen food section.  Tubs of organic mac & cheese, neatly packaged ethnic dishes, thai, italian, indian. It all looked pretty damn good and I’ll have to admit you couldn’t find this stuff in your regular grocery store. I started looking at the ingredients and that’s when the health question came back to me.  Lot’s of soy, canola, dyes, flavorings and things I couldn’t pronounce.  Oh wait! It’s organic! Phew! What a relief, I thought the food might not be healthy.

I moved on.  Chips and crackers. things I never eat anyway.  I didn’t bother to look at the ingredients.  I already knew.

Ah, the produce and meat section.  I found this most interesting.  They had your usual selection of organic and non-organic choices. Again with the packaging. Kale in a bag? The packages all had cool names like “Happy Cow Beef” and “Morning glory farms asparagus.”  Again, I looked closer at the packaging. Responsibly farmed, antibiotic and hormone free, cage free. I smiled, “good for you Trader Joe’s” but something was missing.  Where was the local flavor? Where exactly, did this food come from? I looked at more labels, California mainly, it seems that all the food is created at their home office. I really wanted to see something from the neighborhood.  I’ve always held the belief that the best food is closest to the source. From the local garden or farm delivered fresh and nutritious to your local store. I saw none of this and this bothered me.  Trader Joe’s needs to be more local.

My research was done. I’d shopped at Trader Joe’s and I was left wondering, “What’s up Trader Joe’s?”  I turned to the massive check out line to await the fate of my wallet.

I’m not writing this to trash Trader Joe’s in any way.  Hell, I spent $80 while I was there.  These are just mere observances and a little disappointment that I took away from my first visit.

So what do you think? Am I totally off base?  I would love to hear from the Trader Joe’s supporters and also from those of you that may agree with me.

I’m always up for a good discussion and if you’re ever interested in discussing better ways to a healthy lifestyle, why not contact me for a free health consultation.  We’ll discuss what’s bothering you.

Have a great week and namaste,

Bruce

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14 Comments

  1. Great article, and it’s nice to hear another point of view. I am in Australia and we don’t have Trader Jo’s here but you wouldn’t believe how many people I hear talking about it online. I thought it was the Heaven for Health Guru’s. Hmm packaged foods and nothing local doesn’t sound too cool for my liking.

    • ‘Spot on old bean, wot, wot’ ___ sorry but I couldnae help but throw in a wee dig at ‘them’ over the other side o’ Hadrian’s fence.
      But to the point; I’m a Scotsman, yes another hooligan from Glasgow living in Northern California and am studying Nutritional Science and wot an eye opener it has been !!!
      Bottom line ___ it’s all in the details so pay attention.
      I work up in Canada sometimes in -45 degrees Centigrade and yes quite ‘invigorating’ AND I wear a kilt in my off work time
      _____ it’s all in the ‘tude man ( like that wee bit o’ local lingo ?)
      Check out ‘I AM’ on Google or get the dvd . . . it’s brill.
      Anybody wants to contact me then give me a shout at
      lfbtmnow@gmail.com
      Let Food Be Thy Medicine

      Aye, ’tis a grand life if ye dinna weaken.

      T.T.F.N.

      p.s. I’ve been in N.S.W. a few times . . . too bloody hot Jimmy !!!

  2. I just have a few comments about misinformation presented here.first, there are no artificial dyes or flavors in Trader Joe’s foods. Or artificial preservatives, MSG, gmo ingredients, hfcs, and most of their cans are bpa free, all of their plastic bottles are bpa free and all the dairy is rbgh free. At least not in their private label products (including produce). This is a huge leap up from your typical grocery stores. I agree that there is too much processed junk and don’t like that there is so much veg oil, but at least they offer items without either for people who are trapped in the convenience food mentality (whole grains and veggies frozen w no additives). You would be hard pressed to find an item without veg oil at any store. Even Whole Foods, (and their processed foods section is far more extensive than Trader Joe’s by the way). Tj’s has olive oil popcorn and potato chips, and they have great deals on 100% olive oil and coconut oil. I am not saying that they are perfect. I prefer local, ethically raised foods. But they are better that the conventional products at other stores and cheaper, too. Their produce is not local, but you can buy organic fruit and veg for cheaper at tj’s than wholesale prices at a distributor. They make organic way more accessible to the masses and I do love them for that. They also have very ethical business practices, buying their merchandise all in cash which vendors LOVE and therefore give them great deals which get passed onto consumers. While I only buy select things at Trader Joe’s, there have been times in my life where the convenience, prices, and quality have made it so I could shop a little healthier for my family than I otherwise could have. (2.69 for a head of broccoli at tj’s versus 8.00 at whole foods- ouch!) I love that it is there as an option, and I do believe that even if people are eating the typical SAD, they are still doing much better buying Trader Joe’s and avoiding the mess of gmo, MSG,artificialness that you can’t anywhere else. They may still be malnourished, but at least not riddled with chemicals and neurotoxins…

  3. Hi Bruce,

    I too have mixed feelings about Trader Joe’s and wish they were more local, but that’s not their business model (unless you happen to live in California). However, in my area their brand is incredibly popular and they have enough “healthy” foods to have a reputation as something that is sort of a cross between a gourmet store and a “poor man’s Whole Foods.” That’s significant, because Whole Foods is directly across the parking lot and both stores are booming.

    On the other hand, Whole Foods isn’t a “local” store either. The locally grown health food store they took over bought mostly from local farmers, but when Whole Foods first came in, some 15 years ago, they stopped buying from them. It was not pretty, and they’re doing better now – many more local offerings than in the past. Being locovore-minded, I usually buy things either at one of the farmers markets or local foods co-op (also thriving, in spite of whole Foods, TJ’s, and at least a dozen farmers markets), but not everyone can or wants to do that. My opinion though, is that anything we can do to get people eating more organic, veggies, fruits and non-factory farmed meat is a good thing, and anyone who can provide that at a reasonable price should keep doing it, regardless of where the food comes from!

  4. I like Trader Joe’s but yes you are right that a lot of what they sell are not healthy foods. At the store where I live, most of the fresh produce comes from Mexico. I don’t understand this at all but I won’t be buying it. I think you need to read labels no matter where you like to shop.

  5. When talking with one of the workers at Trader Joe’s, he was telling me that they depend on their suppliers to conduct the audits of their own ingredients in the products they sell at Trader Joe’s.

    Whole Foods on the other hand requires independent auditors to verify what is sold there.

    It’s a subtle difference, but do we really trust all these companies to verify their own products? I only have to think of the baby formula sold a few years back from china, and the drug companies, and I could go on & on.

    There are some good things about Trader Joe’s. But if I can afford it, I’m sticking with Whole Foods. By the way, I have never seen broccoli priced at $8.00 at Whole Foods. If you can, shop sales, and their store brands.

  6. You make some great points. I think TJ’s has a lot of excellent healthy options that you might not find at a “regular” grocery store. For example, it’s the only store where I’ve been able to find raw unsalted almond butter with just the one ingredient – raw almonds. That being said, I think people get sucked in thinking it’s a health food store and that therefore everything IN the store must be good for you so no need to read labels. They definitely have a lot of unhealthy products. I agree I wish they had somewhat of a local focus. (PS I love Denver. My husband is originally from there and his family still lives there.)

  7. Thanks for this Bruce! I agree that Trader Joe’s is more hype than anything else. I call it the “Bachelor’s Grocery Store” — the one-meal-at-a-time frozen burritos, frozen mac and cheese, tubs of nut butter, and prepacked produce. I too and completely confused by the packaged produce. Being a CA resident, I know what’s at the local Trader Joe’s is more local for me than it is for you, but it’s still not great IMO. Also, a lot of their meat has additives like salt, spices, or natural preservatives. The last time I tried to shop there (over a year ago), I was not able to find ground turkey that didn’t have preservatives in it (natural or otherwise)

    • Like Toni, I too live in CA and am not a fan of Tj’s. Many people out here do love it and talk about it as if it were a health food store. I have gone in there many times to try to see it that way, but I just can’t. I refer to Trader Joe’s as the party store. It is perfect for quick throw in the oven appetizers. I will grab raw nuts on occasion if I’m in a “food emergency.”

  8. I do 80% of my shopping at Trader Joe’s and, while I find it easier to locate less disgusting items than at a regular grocer, I have never thought it to be a health-food store – nor does TJs consider itself to be so. It’s more responsible in its ingredient choices and what I hear is that it strives to provide healthier options for the label-reading consumer. For example, for a long time TJs would not allow GMOs in its TJs brand foods because that’s something its shoppers cared about (I don’t know where they stand on that now – the new CEO has been quoted as saying he doesn’t know how that’s possible to sustain) and I feel a little better that even the non-organics I buy there are ‘probably’ not GMO–who can know without labeling. I can get organic options of many foods not available in reg stores; packaged foods never have hydrogenated oils or HFCS. But I do still read labels and have to be careful to pick through the produce b/c I’ve gotten near-rotten foods there many a time. (More local produce would be awesome.) I stick with it because I’ve come to love many of their products and trust that those products are made at a higher standard than, say, Kraft/Nabisco/Gen Mills, etc.; the store is tiny so I can do 2-wks worth of shopping in 30 minutes; and a loaded shopping cart for a family of 4 usually costs me only about $170. What they don’t have, I get at Whole Foods or a supermarket. Unfortunately, no store has it *all*, so for now, TJs is my 80% place.

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