I started working at Trader Joe's in January 2021. My co-workers and I are diehard fans. We even make popular TikTok videos sharing our favorite items.
As employees, we sample a lot of the products so that we're well-prepared to answer customer questions and give recommendations. I also do 90% of my shopping at the chain because the prices work well with my "frugal college student" budget.
Here are the best Trader Joe's items that are actually worth the hype, according to employees (myself included):
1. Chicken-less Mandarin Orange Morsels
I was skeptical about this one at first because I usually don't go for plant-based meat substitutes, but it was surprisingly delicious!
The sauce tastes similar to the original Mandarin Orange Chicken, which is one of Trader Joe's most beloved products. And the vegan chicken looks and tastes like McNuggets.
Enjoy them with noodles or rice and your favorite green veggies for an easy, meat-free meal.
2. Pepperoni Pizza Mac and Cheese
A co-worker recommended this pizza during my first shift at the store. Now it's one of my most frequent purchases.
The mac and cheese comes frozen in a plastic bowl, topped with pepperoni and marinara sauce. It's microwavable, making it a convenient main dish to pair with a side of salad or steamed veggies.
3. Sparkling Water
The crew at my store loves these cans of flavored sparkling water. As one co-worker put it: "It doesn't have any sugar, tastes fire, and is way better than any of the bigger brands."
They're generally cheaper, too: In Los Angeles, an eight-pack costs about $0.60 less than an eight-pack of La Croix. I like to use it as a base for mixed drinks.
4. Scented Candles
I'm a huge candle person, and Trader Joe's candles go above and beyond. They smell amazing, and at $3.99, they're much less expensive than what you might find at other stores.
During the holiday season, the Honeycrisp Apple, Vanilla Pumpkin and Cedar Balsam scents make spending time at home super cozy. I buy at least a dozen every few months.
5. Seasoned Waffle Fries
These fries were released in June, but they sell out at my store all the time. You get a huge bag for only $3.49 and can easily cook them in an air fryer.
They're good as a side dish, late-night snack, or just stuffed in a burrito.
6. Mini Hold The Cone Peppermint Ice Cream Cones
These mini cones are popular in general, but we think there's not enough hype around the limited-time, holiday peppermint flavor.
They're like the ice cream version of thin mints. And at just under 90 calories a cone, it's a guilt-free sweet treat.
7. Jingle Jangle
This holiday treat is the perfect mix of chocolate-covered pretzels, chocolate-covered popcorn, candy-covered chocolates and peanut butter cups. It's great to bring to a family gathering or just to snack on.
The packaging also makes it a wonderful gift. My aunt is from Hawaii, where there are no Trader Joe's locations, so she bought a dozen on a recent trip to bring home to friends.
8. Diamond Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Trader Joe's has only released three diamond reserve wines, which are considered their best, and this one is an exclusive 2022 holiday edition. It's well-worth its price tag of $19.99 and pairs nicely with Parmesan cheese.
The Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from Oakville AVA (American Viticultural Area) of Napa Valley, which is home to some of the most prestigious Cabernet Sauvignon-focused wineries in the entire world.
Christian Beltran is a senior at the University of California, Los Angeles majoring in psychology. He works at a Trader Joe's nearby. In his free time, he likes to hang out with his friends, go to the gym and make TikToks. Follow him @christianfromtraderjoes.
*The opinions expressed here by CNBC Make It contributors are their own, not necessarily those of CNBC Make It or the contributors' employers.
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