Food and Nutrition

Trader Joe's Groceries Really a Good Deal?

| by Kate Wharmby Seldman

Want a good deal at Trader Joe's? Pass on the produce and the meat, and head to the center of the store for olive oil, frozen food, and hard-to-resist sweet treats.

Since small grocery chain Trader Joe's became popular in the late 1990s, people have been analyzing the store's low-priced products to see if they're really the great deals they seem to be. In August 2010, Forbes magazine published an article titled "Inside the secret world of Trader Joe's," which detailed the inner workings of the grocery store and its low-priced, high-quality products.

The most recent of these investigations comes from Yahoo's Shine section. It advises skipping the produce section: quality isn't always great, and prices can be lower at other markets. Meat is also a no-no: again, the quality is often better at other stores, especially if they have an in-house butcher, which Trader Joe doesn't.

The Yahoo! Shine article calls the Trader Joe's prepared-foods section "hit or miss" in terms of quality and price - it varies, because each store's stock and selection also varies. The quality of the cookies and candy isn't in question: Trader Joe's has some of the yummiest and most unique dessert options around.

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However, because they're such a draw, it can be hard to save money on them - you end up buying far more than you intended. Some may be good deals, others not so much; either way, they add extra impulse-buy dollars to your grocery bill.

Great deals at Trader Joe's include frozen food, especially fish, and pre-prepared frozen meals and appetizers. You can't lose in the cheese section: there are delicious options for low prices. Staples like olive oil are cheap and good. And don't forget the flowers - $9.99 for a dozen roses is hard to beat.