Is Trader Joe’s Worth the Buzz?

Last month, the first Trader Joe’s in Florida opened within biking distance from my house. With a parent from New York who can’t stop raving about the chain, you can be sure that my interest was peaked.

The store’s opening was in the newspaper more times than I could count, and for a while, it seemed like everyone I met was talking about Trader Joe’s this and Trader Joe’s that.

After waiting a few weeks for the crowds to die down and the parking lot of clear out, I took a chance and browsed the aisles in search of hidden treasure. Since then, I have been back three times to try the various offerings.

Trader Joe’s in Brief

Trader Joe’s originated on the West Coast in the 50’s and is one of the most unusual supermarkets around.

Think of them as a curator of unusual, unique and hard-to-find food items. Other people have described it as a cheaper Whole Foods. They are, in fact, very competitive on their pricing. A very large chunk of their stock carries the Trader Joe’s brand label.

There are no weekly sales, membership cards, or any of the other typical things you would expect from a grocery store. If you go to the store looking for item X, you might be disappointed–Trader Joe’s does not carry everything, and what they do carry changes frequently.

Cool Stuff

Here are some of my favorites from the store so far:

  • Two Buck Chuck: Trader Joe’s started to sell Charles Shaw wine in 2002, and it’s become a sensation. The more-than-decent wine retails for $2.99 in Florida and even less in other states and comes in 5 or 6 different varieties that are sure to satisfy any casual wine drinker.
  • Olive Oil Popcorn: Organic, olive-oiled popcorn that’s simple, tasty, and sort-of good for you.
  • Seaweed Snacks: I admit, they’re definitely on the far end of unusual, but if you give them a try, they might just become your favorite snack.
  • PoundPlus Bars: The store sells pound-plus-sized bars of chocolate in a variety of flavors. They are big, tasty, and go well on their own or used for just about any type of cooking.
  • Raw Nuts: A huge selection of raw, unprocessed nuts like almonds and walnuts is available.
  • Chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds. While it’s not the only chocolate-covered thing they offer, it’s one of the most unusual things I’ve tasted.

My Overall Impression

Some of the things I wish I could buy at the local store are fresh meats and fish. I think Trader Joe’s would be awesome at sourcing and selecting good, local stuff.

Other than that, I’ve been really impressed with the selection. They have a good produce and pre-cut meats section, great wine, and lots of unusual and fun things to eat that make for great treats and snacks.

(Photo credit)