There’s plenty to like about Trader Joe’s, the quirky grocery store chain that emphasizes good customer service, unique offerings and an eco-friendly mission. We at Money Talks News are Trader Joe’s fans for many purchases, like these “10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s.”
I go there for several grocery staples. But there are Trader Joe’s items I always say “no” to. Some are too unhealthy, too expensive or just unpalatable.
From the research I’ve done online and among friends, I hear a consensus about products to avoid at Trader Joe’s. Here’s what I never buy, and why.
1. Premade foods
At my local Trader Joe’s, the premade food section is shoved in a back corner, and possibly for good reason. The dips — hummus, salsa and guacamole — are solid picks. But if healthy choices are important to you, I recommend steering clear of Trader Joe’s premade sandwiches and wraps.
Take a look at the nutrition label on the Cubano Seasoned Wrap, for example: 710 calories, 37 grams of fat and about half the daily recommended allowance of sodium.
The same goes for many other prepackaged items, and they tended to look soggy and forlorn during my casual home-test.
For better ideas, check out “11 Simple Ways to Turn Trader Joe’s Staples Into Scrumptious Dishes.”
2. Fresh meat and seafood
Trader Joe’s typically charges higher prices on several meat and seafood products, according to Basket, a comparison app.
For example, chicken breasts recently sold for $2.69 per pound at Trader Joe’s. Fresh Atlantic salmon fillets were $11.99 per pound, higher even than expensive Whole Foods. Trader Joe’s pork chops were $6.17 per pound, and it charged one of the highest prices on boneless steak, at $13.99 per pound.
If price is most important to you, then discount grocery chain Aldi offers a good selection of meat and seafood products at a lower cost. For comparison, here are Aldi prices for the same purchases:
- $2.29/lb for chicken breasts
- $3.49/lb for pork chops
- $7.89/lb for fresh Atlantic salmon fillets
- $7.89/lb for boneless ribeye steak
For more tips, check out “7 Ways to Slice the Price of Red Meat, Pork and Poultry.”
3. Trader Joe’s Light Ice Cream
Trader Joe’s Light Ice Cream — the grocery chain’s take on a low-calorie, protein-packed treat — pretty much tastes like chalk.
You’ll need to give it about 15 minutes to thaw. Otherwise it’s impossible to dip your spoon. Both flavors — there are just two –have a crumbly texture that’s hard to ignore.
You can barely taste the flecks of Joe-Joe’s in the Cookies & Cream flavor, and I found the product overpowered by sweetener. The Chocolate Peanut Butter has a richer, chocolatey flavor, but there weren’t quite enough peanut butter ribbons for me.
Here’s a better idea: Make your own ice cream. We’ve got a recipe in “How I Make Homemade Ice Cream That’s Better Than Store-Bought.”
4. Charles Shaw White Zinfandel
Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw wine, which you can typically snag for $2.99 for a 750 milliliter bottle ($1.99 in California) is the one of the grocer’s most talked-about products. Among several comparisons online, tasters often liked the Charles Shaw Shiraz and Merlot varietals. The 2002 Charles Shaw Shiraz even won a gold medal at the 28th Annual International Eastern Wine Competition.
A handful of online reviewers were pretty much in agreement that the White Zinfandel is the worst of the bunch. “The strawberry patch that nature forgot about, then rained and hailed on. Pure liquefied, alcoholic Jolly Rancher,” said a sommelier upon tasting it.
5. Fresh fruits and vegetables
Some reviewers give Trader Joe’s produce section low marks for variety, unnecessary wrapping and bulk packaging. Plus, the pricing is based on units rather than weight, so you pay a set price for a piece of fruit no matter the size.
If you focus on freshness, these grocery chains received the highest marks for produce quality in a 2019 Consumer Reports survey:
- Central Market
- New Seasons Market
- Lunds & Byerlys
- Fresh Thyme Farmers Market
You may not live near one of these chains, but don’t despair: your local farmers market is a great source of fresh produce.
Vitamins can be expensive, no matter where you buy them. But they’re especially pricey at Trader Joe’s if you compare the price per tablet.
Target, for comparison, stocks NatureMade counterparts at lower prices:
- Daily multivitamin at $12.49 for a bottle of 300 (4 cents per tablet)
- Vitamin B complex at $17.49 for a bottle of 360 (4.8 cents per tablet)
If you’re looking to save money on vitamins, try buying generics — at Costco or Target, for instance.
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