Saturday, March 25, 2006

An Insider's Guide To Trader Joe's

Wow there have been so many articles about Trader Joe's lately I have hardly had any time to blog about the Trader Joe's food, or even shop there, or Heat Up™ my Trader Joe's food, because I'm spending so much time reading those articles.

Of course I'm overjoyed at all the wonderful press that Trader Joe's is getting over opening a grocery store in New York. But seriously you would think that this was the second coming of grocery stores, the way that the New York Times and Slate has been covering it. While three or four articles isn't too excessive, it's the tone of the articles, the excitement over Trader Joe's, the spreading of the TJvolution! I guess it's always a little suprising when something that I'm really excited about other people are excited about too... a little suprising and weird...

The recent Slate article is filled to the brim with fantastic Trader Joe's tips, but I thought that I would share the best of them:
Adopt a Soviet Mentality. This is the first thing nearly every regular TJ's shopper mentions: Products appear suddenly, work their way into your daily routine, and then disappear with no warning. Example: no-boil lasagna noodles. Here one day, gone for months. If you really like something, hoard it. You never know when it will vanish.

The Shopping-List Guarantee. If you go to TJ's with a shopping list for a dinner party or even a moderately complex recipe, you are guaranteed to leave the store without finding at least one item on the list. Just accept the fact that you will have to hit one or two other stores on the way home. This raises a bigger issue: TJ's has great prices on many staples, and it's easy to forget that its selection is tiny compared to a real supermarket. It is not a one-stop shopping solution.

Health Food. Trader Joe's is mindful of the ingredients it allows in its products, and the number of organic items has increased noticeably in recent years. However, good ingredients do not a healthy diet make. TJ's offers a bodacious and promiscuously displayed selection of sweets—big tubs of cookies, myriad frozen desserts, and chocolate-covered everything (blueberries, for example). It takes a strong-willed shopper to leave the store without a few thousand empty calories hidden at the bottom of the bag.

More Bags Per Dollar. Here's a fun one, New Yorkers. I'll be surprised if, within your first few shops at TJ's, you don't find yourself at the register thinking, Wow, that was cheaper than I expected. How often does that happen at Whole Foods?

Produce Roulette. Most of the fresh fruit comes packaged in plastic containers. You can't buy just one apple—you buy a box of four, preselected by TJ's. While the fruits are often quite good, it won't shock you to learn that, in the experience of my panel, packages of four tend to include at least one clinker.

Weird Products. To TJ's credit, it stocks many unusual and intriguing products, but if you're not careful you'll need to build an extra cabinet to hold all the stuff you toss in the cart and never use. My wife is sure she had a plan for that big bag of rice flour when she bought it, but damned if she can remember what it was …

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have been very busy blogging TJ stuff. It will take me a whole weekend to catch up. I love the I heart banner, yours and Glaser's.

Love Mom