Trader Joe’s now officially exists: They’ve opened a store in New York City. And Slate has a story to clue in the Most Important People in the World.
The “Insider’s guide to Trader Joe’s” offers a set of “tips and warnings,” generally worthwhile. Including two sets of “fan favorites,” stuff that TJ does particularly well. (About 80% of what’s sold at a typical Trader Joe’s is exclusive to Trader Joe’s, according to one story I’ve read–and I believe it, since other than booze, wine, and beer, there are few national brands on display).
Reading those lists of favorites, I was struck by what I call the “Word paradox”: That is, “only ten features in Word really matter”–but your list of ten may have zero in common with my list of ten. That is, of the six categories I care most about at TJ, only two are mentioned among the sixteen categories mentioned in the Slate lists.
Here’s what we rely on TJ for, noting that we do most of our grocery shopping at two other stores, a medium-size Safeway and Andronico’s (a tiny little chain):
- Dried fruit, e.g. three different varieties of dried cherries, three different kinds of dried cranberries…and dozens more that I don’t buy. Nobody does it better. Yes, TJ’s even has unsulphered dried apricots, if you don’t mind the looks.
- Vitamins & supplements, the purest around (“vitamins” are mentioned in the article).
- Nuts and sunflower seeds in a staggering range of varieties (including the world’s largest cashews) at very good prices.
- Kauai coffee (yes, 100% coffee grown on Kauai), similar to Kona (which TJ’s also sells in a 100%-pure version), but about 1/3 the price–I’ve never seen Kauai coffee elsewhere, and TJ doesn’t roast the heck out of their coffee (except for their special blends designed for Starbucks/Peets customers)–“coffee and tea” are also mentioned–and, oh yes, unbleached #4 filters at 100 for $1.60 or so
- Chocolate–in my case, the three-packs of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate 1.75oz bars (58% cocoa solids, just the right balance for my taste), from Belgium, for a staggering $1.29 for three bars. There are, to be sure, many other varieties.
- Clif bars at reasonable prices ($1/bar), although that’s becoming a little more common.
But that’s us–the things we want that either aren’t available elsewhere, are done better by TJ, or are a lot cheaper for the same quality. (I don’t think anything we buy except coffee filters and Clif bars falls into the third category.)
Oh, sometimes TJ’s own wine label (or set of labels) is excellent for the money (not two-buck-chuck, but stuff under the Trader Joe’s label). Sometimes not. Frequently it’s not available, because they can’t get the quality they want at the price they want.
I respect TJ’s commitment to avoiding additives and fillers where feasible, and to using reasonably minimal packaging (except for some produce, and we don’t buy fresh produce there). It is a strange place to shop; no question there.
In passing, I note that Slate also had a slightly snarky take on Whole Foods and the whole question of “organic” food when you’re not in an area that grows it locally. We don’t shop at Whole Foods, but the points in the article are very well taken. We do pay attention to where our produce comes from–and even in California, that’s an issue–and increasingly to whether “organic” is an overriding concern. Safeway’s introduced a huge range of organics under its O brand, and apparently plans to beef up the organic fresh produce selection in the future; right now, most of the organic produce we get is at Andronico’s (which has a nasty tendency to overchill its produce). Given the choice between organic produce from Chile and non-organic from 50 miles away? For fruit known to retain a lot of pesticides, we’d probably wait for the California season to emerge; otherwise, we’d take the non-organic. But, as the Whole Foods article notes, most organic food in the U.S. comes from California anyway, so we don’t often have to make that choice.
Now, if California only produced ruby grapefruit…but I guess we’ll keep buying that from Texas, transportation and all.