I am an expert grocery shopper. I am always on a budget and always in search of great local products. The way that grocery corporations treat their employees and customers is also very important to me. I think it should be important to everyone. The company ethos trickles down to the employees and also the customer and the grocery store experience should be a positive one for everyone. I always bring Sweet P grocery shopping with me. It is always a learning experience and occasionally she gets a special treat out of it.
Stop #1 Trader Joe’s
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a HUGE fan of Mr. Joe. I have even considered being Trader Joe for Halloween. I will try to offer and unbiased opinion based on price, availability of fresh produce, and general ambiance.
I love the prices of their dried goods and their cheese. The cheese section is easily the most affordable option in Westchester and they carry a lot of variety. The only downside is that you cannot always count on a particular product being at a particular store at a particular time. Some old favorites are consistently there such as goat cheese logs, fresh mozzarella, whole milk ricotta, cream cheese, brie, vermont cheddar, and stilton. Some cheeses are seasonal like blueberry chevre, mushroom brie, etc. The quality of the cheeses is excellent and comparable to Whole Foods cheese monger.
The dried goods such as pasta, rice, oatmeal, and cereal are competitively priced. In fact, they are the cheapest in the area. Their lasagna noodles (no boil) are awesome and they are the only one I use. I like the double fiber bread and it is only $2.99, whereas most other grocery stores start at $3.49 and can go up to $6.99. They also carry great tortillas, naan, and pitas at great prices.
Trader Joe’s carries organic canned goods such as black beans, canned tomatoes, etc…all at great prices. They also carry specialty seasonal items such as pumpkin butter, cookie butter, christmas cookies, and much much more. The prices of the novelty items vary but generally they are affordable.
The dairy section abounds with organic milk, cage free eggs, and local butters. The eggs are the cheapest in the area and the flavor is great. They also carry egg nog seasonally. A half gallon of Organic milk is $3.49 compared to Stop and Shop’s $3.79 and Whole Foods’ $3.99. They carry coffee creamers and egg beaters as well although I cannot recommend them since I don’t use them.
If I can’t get to Whole Foods for their bulk section, the price of nuts at traders is decent. For a trail mix, they charge about $6.49. I love their slivered almonds for salads and their honey sesame cashews for snacks.
(sorry for the blur)
I don’t always buy their meat since I have a lamb and cow share but when necessary, I buy their pork loins and they are great. I buy the bacon ends for $2.99 to use for flavoring in sauces and soups. They sell ‘naked’ chicken which promises to be antibiotic free and humanely raised.
Below is a picture of my last shop and the receipt. That is at least 2 weeks worth of groceries for just over $140…not bad in this area.
The produce is fairly priced but that brings us to our next topic: fresh produce availability. This is the only downside to Trader Joe’s for some people. They carry seasonal produce like squash in the fall, watermelon in the summer but you cannot count on your staples to be there and fresh all the time. The prices are OK but they are not always the tastiest and freshest choices. The peppers have been known to be mushy and go bad really quickly. I love their teeny tiny baby potatoes (and so does sweet P) but if you are counting on a certain herb or green for your recipes, you may have to make 2 stops.
Personally, when I grocery shop I try not to have a recipe in mind. I would rather shop by seeing what produce is available and fresh and go from there. This is a smart way to shop since you can build your menu around a few great looking ingredients. Because I shop like this (and have a veggie CSA), and not based on recipes, I don’t mind the lack of produce at Trader Joe’s.
I love going in to Trader Joe’s because everyone is so helpful and friendly. They are all smiling and asking what they can do for you. My research indicates that the employees make well above minimum wage (typically between $18-$25/hour.) Trader Joe’s has been offering their employees health insurance up until a few months ago. They changed their plan to exclude employees who work less than 30 hrs/week. Their spokesperson asserts that this is to allow those employees to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act which aims to make insurance affordable to those who could not previously afford it. This is a quote from Trader Joe’s to the Washington Post which explains their actions.
“Thank you for writing to us. It’s possible you have been misled, at least to some degree, by the headlines in some articles regarding our reasons for implementing the [Affordable Care Act] in January. We’d like to take this opportunity to clarify some facts.
For over 77% of our Crew Members there is absolutely no change to their healthcare coverage provided by Trader Joe’s.
The ACA brings a new potential player into the arena for the acquisition of health care. Stated quite simply, the law is centered on providing low cost options to people who do not make a lot of money. Somewhat by definition, the law provides those people a pretty good deal for insurance … a deal that can’t be matched by us — or any company. However, an individual employee (we call them Crew Member) is only able to receive the tax credit from the exchanges under the act if we do not offer them insurance under our company plan.
Perhaps an example will help. A Crew Member called in the other day and was quite unhappy that she was being dropped from our coverage unless she worked more hours. She is a single mom with one child who makes $18 per hour and works about 25 hours per week. We ran the numbers for her. She currently pays $166.50 per month for her coverage with Trader Joe’s. Because of the tax credits under the ACA she can go to an exchange and purchase insurance that is almost identical to our plan for $69.59 per month. Accordingly, by going to the exchange she will save $1,175 each year … and that is before counting the $500 we will give her in January.”
Generally, I give Trader Joe’s a solid B+ for their company ethos, affordability, and great products. I think they are a crucial part of our Westchester community and my favorite place to shop (as of now.) They could use some work on their pre-packaged foods (sushi, sandwiches, etc) but otherwise carry great products. Go visit them on Central Ave in Hartsdale or Boston Post Rd in Mamaroneck. Try the cookie butter at your own risk…you may not be able to put it down.
xo, SW and Sweet P