Skip to content

Trader Joe’s Tradeoffs

April 4, 2017

Without a doubt the existence of a Trader Joe’s in the Capital Region makes my life better. Granted, it would be better still if our local TJ’s was allowed to sell wine and spirits. But that’s life in New York. At least for now.

Call me naive, but I’m still hopeful that one day the will of the people might convince our elected officials to loosen regulations on the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Unlike most people, I shop everywhere. And I mean everywhere. From little ethnic markets to the biggest of the big box retailers. Part of this is because I’m always looking for the best deal on household staples. It’s all about price to value ratios. Sometimes a $30+ bottle of olive oil can be a great value if the oil itself is knock-you-socks-off delicious, like the last one I found at The Cheese Traveler.

That said, most of our groceries come from Trader Joe’s. But TJ’s has one significant drawback.

Perhaps you saw my tweet this weekend about one of the great beer specials that our local Trader Joe’s was featuring on its shelves. Lost Nation Mosaic IPA for the fantastic price of $10.99 per four-pack of sixteen ounce cans.

Well, I went back yesterday to replenish my stock to find them all gone. Sniff.

Whereas some grocery stores stock the same merchandise day in and day out, Trader Joe’s is an opportunistic buyer. And that means the store may purchase entire close-out lots of a product, or surplus from a large production run. The goal is to keep prices low, and that could result in discontinuing a product if its costs rise beyond a certain threshold.

The flip side of this is that when buyers are able to get a better price, consumers see this too. Recently, the walnuts I’ve been getting from Trader Joe’s have been less expensive. Woo hoo!

Now, for the past couple of weeks, every time I went to TJ’s the store was out of our favorite organic 100% whole grain pasta. I can understand why this doesn’t seem like a big deal to some people. But let me assure you, in the Fussy household this instilled a significant panic.

For the most part, 100% whole wheat pasta is awful. It’s grainy, course, or gummy. It may have a strong flavor, cook up unevenly, or be generally a far inferior substitute to the real deal. And those are fair criticisms of the category. But we’ve found the Trader Joe’s brand to be quite good. Not all shapes are created equal. The spaghetti is the best, followed by the rotini.

Once a week, I’ll generally make a pasta dinner for the family. Pulling pasta out of the weekly dinner rotation would create a huge hole in my meal planning. And the prospect of going back to the whole grain pasta aisle and looking for a replacement brand, when so many of them are so unpleasant, was a dreadful notion.

Thankfully, yesterday the missing pasta made a triumphant return to the shelves. So I bought six pounds.

Trader Joe’s may not have turned me into a hoarder, but it certainly stokes my hoarding tendencies. The frozen mango sold at the store is the best I’ve found anywhere. Whole Foods and Wegmans are tied at a distant second. But a couple of years ago, TJs ran out and we had to wait for months until the next mango harvest. Today, more cubic feet of our chest freezer at home are dedicated to frozen mango than I care to admit.

I spoke to the cashier yesterday about this, and she told me that it’s smart to stock up on favorite items, especially if they have long shelf lives. Because you never know when things are going to disappear from the shelves at TJs.

On the flip side, there are always new and delightful products to try. Young Master Fussy loves mango juice, but we don’t drink that much as a family. So I was excited to find 100% mango juice without any added sugars, or other sneaky sweeteners, in four-pack cans.

We’ll have to see whether or not he actually likes the stuff, but if not I also picked up the TJs Tropical Carrot juice blend that scratches his mango itches. And while I couldn’t get my Lost Nation Mosaic IPA, I was able to grab a few 12-ounce bottles of  Road 2 Ruin from Two Roads Brewing Company.

Now the hard thing is just resisting the urge to go back to the store and buying even more pasta. But I’ll try to stay strong. Passover is coming soon anyhow, and maybe a week without any pasta at all will help put this in perspective. Although a week without this easy source of whole grains, might drive me mad with desire for gorging on the stuff once the holiday is over.

Of course, I shouldn’t be gorging on anything. I’m on a diet, dammit.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2017 10:11 am

    My favorite, after years of searching, was based on a recommendation from Cook’s Illustratedl. Better yet I can always find it at Hannaford. (:

    Bionaturae Organic 100% Whole Wheat Spaghetti
    Tasters lauded this 100 percent whole-wheat spaghetti for its “earthy,” “wheaty,” “nutty,” “full” flavor, which was “heartier than white pasta, without being too wheaty.” It also boasted a “pleasantly chewy,’ “firm” texture. Its “good blend of whole-wheat flavor and regular-pasta texture” complemented the pesto and didn’t overwhelm the marinara.

  2. -R. permalink
    April 4, 2017 10:46 am

    Rotini. The bane of my pasta universe. Has anyone discovered a method of cooking rotini that doesn’t leave the tiny wheels all soggy and overcooked, while leaving the axis barely al dente? It seems as if there’s no perfect middle ground to be had with rotini, despite my giggly enthusiasm at its shape and sauce clinging abilities.

  3. KingOfBeacon permalink
    April 4, 2017 11:42 am

    I learned to horde TJ’s products many years ago. I still have a shelf full of pumpkin items in my basement.

    Somewhat related, I’m glad to see Two Roads Brewing making their way into this area. Years ago I did a tasting menu at a restaurant I was cheffing at. Made ribs with their woefully underrated Road Jam raspberry wheat. So damn good.

  4. EPT permalink
    April 4, 2017 12:34 pm

    Yes there are some things TJ has that are sourced well. Their British Muffins are very good. They have good quality well priced cheese but they need a bigger display. Take their pita bread, slice it in half along the circumference, brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with your choice of seed mixture and a bit of salt, just great pita chips. Veggies can be hit or miss but we are at the end of winter, so things should be better. I don’t buy meats/poultry there, easily purchased elsewhere at a lower cost. Oh, their lightly salted nuts are great and fairly priced. And their dried cherries, nothing added, when soaked in sweet vermouth are perfect in a cocktail like a Manhattan. I don’t buy beer there, I’m a diehard fan of Olivers (Brew Crew). TJ is a destination spot.

  5. Ray permalink
    April 4, 2017 5:54 pm

    TJs is our go to grocery store too. Haven’t tried the whole wheat pasta there for many of the reasons you cited regarding whole wheat pasta in general, but will give it a shot next time. For folks who don’t eat gluten, the other types of pastas (rice, bean, lentil) are decent too for the price. Overall we’ve been happy with the prices and quality. Though you have to say a few prayers before navigating their parking lot…

  6. April 5, 2017 7:40 am

    I go there probably once a month-I get staples and stuff like dried fruit/nuts and chocolate for my hairdresser. I like their soy creamer and caramelized onion cheddar.

  7. Darren Shupe permalink
    April 5, 2017 7:11 pm

    You need to think of Trader Joe’s as you would a discount retailer – you go there, and you sometimes have luck. It’s not a normal grocery store where you expect to go and find the exact same thing you found last time. Think of it more as a Ross or TJ Maxx… if you get lucky, you get lucky, but it’s not a standard place to get staples.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: