I am a big fan of Trader Joe’s. It’s my go-to store when I go shopping. Why? Because they have great values, no sale prices to worry about, have an increasing inventory of organic foods at excellent prices, and amazing variety for a store of its size. Furthermore, very few of their products have artificial ingredients. Trader Joe’s has a business model that works, high-quality and hard-to-find products at very fair prices. When I go grocery shopping at several stores during the day, I make it a point to go to TJ’s first because I will save a good deal of money.
That being said, there are some issues that have bugged me over the years.
When a new item is introduced—and each month brings new products—other things have to go. If those things include one of your favorites, you’re out of luck. With very limited shelf space, products that don’t sell well will be removed from stock, simple as that. Can I really blame them for that?
But, to me the most annoying problem is the tendency for some items not to be as fresh as they could be, so far confined to produce and food products that could go stale. Take, for example, their raspberries. I seek out organic berries whenever possible, since they are highly susceptible to pesticide contamination. Without chemicals, it’s pretty important that the time from farm to store be as brief as possible. I get the feeling that TJ’s sometimes gets their raspberries, a delicately soft fruit, toward the end of their freshness cycle in order to pass along good prices to shoppers. More than once, I’ve had to return raspberries that have spoiled within a day or two of purchase. By way of comparison, I’ve never had to do that for berries bought at Whole Foods or PCC. To be clear, I’m not saying this always happens, but it has enough times that I now closely examine all highly perishable groceries. (Tip: I’ve discovered that berries last much longer when removed to Mason jars than when left in their plastic clamshells.) Molding is not as much a problem with strawberries and blueberries.
Their organic Persian cucumbers are very prone to molding and organic onions to mildewing faster than when bought elsewhere.
On more than one occasion, I’ve bought avocados from TJ’s that absolutely refused to ripen.
In short, when it comes to produce at Trader Joe’s, while most of it is just fine, it does pay to be vigilant. To their credit, they will take back anything you don’t like.
I mentioned staleness. I no longer buy raw nuts from TJ’s. I’ve had to return many because they tasted stale straight out of the cellophane bag, a sign that the oils have gone rancid. One jar of an Egyptian-inspired mix called dukkah, consisting of fennel, anise, coriander and sesame seeds, ground almonds and kosher salt, a great accompaniment with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping bread, has also tasted stale even though it was eaten well before the pull date.
Lately, I’ve noticed a lack of freshness in some of TJ’s packaged snacks. A bag each of sea salt and pepper lentil chips and of soy sauce-flavored savory thins were likewise stale, again opened before their pull dates.
So what gives with Trader Joe’s? With over 400 stores nationwide, one would think that the chain would exert its clout to ensure more stringent food safety. Low prices doesn’t have to mean relaxed standards. I’m not alone in my concern, as any search on the internet will show. Complaints have been posted for many years now, which seems to suggest that TJ’s doesn’t care. Could that be?
Regardless, I still love TJ’s. Along with countless other fans, I would be genuinely bummed if they were ever to go out of business.