Beyond the friendly employees, free samples and hand-designed signs, there's good value to be found at Trader Joe's.
The store has a good reputation in part because it's so different and has great customer service, says John Karolefski, grocery store analyst and editor of Grocery Stories: "There's no one quite like Trader Joe's: they're kind of quirky and they have all these unique products you don't see anywhere else."
It's also a great place to find deals on both pantry staples and specialty items, regular TJ's customer and frugal shopping expert Lauren Greutman reports.
Here's what these experts say they buy there and what they recommend others do too.
Trader Joe's sells incredibly inexpensive wine: The store is known for its "Two Buck Chuck." Sold under the Charles Shaw label, varieties like Cabernet and Pinot Grigio go for as little as $2.99 at many locations.
"If you're going to a party or something like that, it's always nice to not have to spend a ton of money," Greutman says. For example, you can drink the $2.99 Pinot Grigio by itself, or use it as cooking wine, or try it as the base for a white sangria.
The chain also boasts a wider, more expensive selection. Trader Joe's won for its Reserve North Coast Brut Sparkling Wine at the Private Label Manufacturers Association's 2018 International "Salute to Excellence Awards."
Trader Joe's stocks a wide variety of cheeses that you're not going to find in a typical grocery store at prices that provide a great value, Greutman says. For example, the chain's Unexpected Cheddar Cheese regularly earns praise and it's only $3.99 for a 7 oz package. The cheese was even voted a favorite in the chain's annual customer choice survey.
Goat cheese can also be had at a good value. The chain sells 8-oz package of specialty blueberry vanilla chèvre for $4.49 and a 5-oz herb variety for $2.99, according to local New York City prices analyzed by CNBC using Basket, a grocery price comparison app. Meanwhile, the app shows, Whole Foods sells a 4-oz organic goat cheese with garlic and herbs for $4.79.
Many of the chain's stores feature a robust and relatively affordable selection of nuts and seeds, according to both Greutman and Karolefski. Individual packs of almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds can be found cheaper here than at big box stores like Target.
For example, an 8 oz bag of raw pecan halves at Trader Joe's is $4.49 compared to $6.99 for a 7.5 oz bag at Target, according to Basket.
Another "good deal," according to Greutman, is Trader Joe's peanut butter and almond butter. "They're all natural and you're not going to pay a ridiculous amount of money," she says.
A 16-oz jar of creamy, unsalted organic peanut butter runs about $4.99, according to Basket. Plus, the chain's organic peanut butter does not contain any added sugars and oils, making it among the healthier peanut butters analyzed by the Daily Meal.
Quinoa is "really inexpensive" at Trader Joe's, Greutman says. Trader Joe's sells 16-oz packages of tricolored and organic white quinoa for $5.99, according to Basket, while a 16-oz bag of Bob's Red Mill organic whole grain quinoa sells for $8.94 at Walmart and $8.99 at Whole Foods.
Consider the chain's lentils and black beans, too. "Any kind of dried beans or grains is good," she says.
So are gluten-free pastas. The chain's organic brown rice & quinoa fusilli and other seasonal gluten-free pastas, such as the fresh gluten-free egg fettuccine pasta, have gotten repeated call-outs for their superior taste. Yet the fusilli costs $2.99 for a 16-oz package.
Rice is the exception when it comes to grains. It's on Greutman's "do not buy" list because it's actually pretty expensive there.
When it comes to olive oil, Karolefski says Trader Joe's has a proven track record.
Independent consumer testing organization ConsumerLabs analyzed 10 popular olive oils to see which provides the best quality and value. They named Trader Joe's $7.99 premium extra virgin olive oil as one of the top three, beating out more expensive brands like Colavita and Newman's Own.
The chain's fresh flowers and plants, available in the section that usually greets shoppers as soon as they walk in, are a great buy, Greutman says: "I love their eucalyptus. It's like three bucks and it smells my whole house up."
When food and grocery site Kitchn compared the fresh flower prices at Trader Joe's, Costco, Kroger, and Whole Foods in Louisville, Trader Joe's won hands down. A dozen roses at Trader Joe's cost $6.99. The Whole Foods price was $12.99 for a bunch.
The prepared foods section at Trader Joe's is tricky to navigate, since some of the items can be on the pricey side. But Greutman finds the chain's hummus and salsas to be a good value.
"If you compare it to jarred salsa in the regular inside aisles of the grocery store, for example, the price is not going to be comparable, but compared to other fresh salsas in the [typical] grocery store, you're going to spend a lot less money," she says.
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