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All Contents © 2018The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Cameron Huddleston, Online Editor
| June 10, 2014
There are plenty of reasons to like Trader Joe’s: helpful employees in Hawaiian shirts, a no-questions-asked return policy, unusual items such as cookie butter and rosemary marcona almonds, and -- best of all -- low prices.
However, not everything is a good deal at Trader Joe’s. We compared its regular prices on a variety of items with the regular (non-sale) prices of similar items at Harris Teeter, Kroger, Walmart and Whole Foods. While we found that it’s tough to beat Trader Joe’s everyday prices, there are a few things that are better bargains at other stores.
Take a look at the eight items you can get for less elsewhere -- and in some cases we're talking dollars less, not just pennies. For each one, we’ve suggested related items you might want to purchase instead at Trader Joe’s because the regular prices are better than you’ll find on competitors’ shelves. Plus, we identified five additional items that are notable bargains at Trader Joe's.
An alternative to peanut butter, almond butter is one of Trader Joe’s most popular items but it isn’t one of the chain’s best deals. We found that Walmart was selling the Maranatha brand of almond butter for about $1.40 less than a jar of Trader Joe’s almond butter.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe’s: organic peanut butter. If you stick with good ol’ peanut butter, the organic variety is a good buy at Trader Joe’s. The price on a 16-ounce jar at Trader Joe’s was the same or lower than the prices on organic peanut butter at the other stores we checked.
Milk is a regular item on most grocery lists, and the organic variety in particular can be a big expense for big families. Whole Foods beat Trader Joe’s price on a gallon of organic milk by a whopping $2.30.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe’s: almond and soy milks. If you want an alternative to cow’s milk, Trader Joe’s has low prices on its almond and soy milks. At $2.99 for a half-gallon carton, the price on both almond milk and soy milk was about the same or lower than at the other stores we checked.
With the exception of bananas, we found that Walmart beat Trader Joe’s prices on a variety of non-organic fruits and vegetables including avocados, grapes and strawberries.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe’s: organic fruits and vegetables. If you shop at Trader Joe’s, there’s a good chance that you’re picky about what you consume. So if you prefer organic fruits and vegetables, know that you’re getting a lower price on them at Trader Joe’s than at most other stores.
Whole Foods has the lower price on a 16-ounce package of mozzarella -- $3.99 versus $4.49 at Trader Joe’s. Other conventional cheeses also were more expensive at Trader Joe’s. For example, a 12-ounce package of sliced provolone cost 61 cents more at Trader Joe’s than at Walmart.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe’s: specialty cheeses. If you like imported and artisan cheeses, you can find a good selection at low prices at Trader Joe’s. We compared two common varieties: French brie and goat cheese. We found that brie was between 50 cents and $4 cheaper per pound at Trader Joe’s that at competitors; a 4-ounce package of goat cheese was at least $2 less.
When it comes to organic chicken, both Kroger and Walmart beat Trader Joe’s price per pound on breasts. The savings was 50 cents per pound on organic chicken breasts at Kroger but a more substantial $2 per pound at Walmart.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe’s: organic ground beef. At $5.99 per pound, Trader Joe’s organic ground beef is $1 less per pound than its organic chicken breasts and between 50 cents and $2 less per pound than organic ground beef at the other stores we checked.
The popularity of Greek yogurt has exploded in recent years, all the more reason to be thrifty when shopping for the protein-rich snack. A 32-ounce container of Greek Gods brand yogurt was almost 70 cents less at Whole Foods than the Trader Joe’s brand.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe’s: organic plain yogurt. Trader Joe’s price on a 32-ounce container bests other retailers’ regular prices by at least 50 cents.
Trader Joe's sells small packages of frozen fruit. So you'll pay nearly three times as much per ounce at Trader Joe’s than if you buy a 64-ounce package of strawberries, blueberries or other frozen fruit at Walmart.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe’s: frozen meals. Although frozen fruits aren’t the best deal at Trader Joe’s, the chain’s frozen meals are a bargain for those who don’t have the time or talent to cook from scratch. For example, the price on its individual serving of pesto tortellini beat the prices other stores had on Amy’s brand pesto tortellini by 50 cents. And Trader Joe’s paneer palak -- an Indian dish with spinach and cheese -- was about $2 less than the Amy’s brand version sold at the other stores we checked.
If you prefer phosphate-free dishwasher and laundry detergents, you’ll find a better deal on them at Walmart. A 128-fluid-ounce container of Ecos laundry detergent was $8.97 at Walmart, versus $9.99 for Trader Joe’s natural detergent. And a 75-liquid-ounce container of Palmolive Eco+ dishwasher detergent was $2.97 at Walmart, which beat the price of Trader Joe’s 50-ounce container by $1.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe’s: natural toothpaste. At $2.99, a 6-ounce tube of Trader Joe’s natural toothpaste was almost $2 less than the Tom’s brand natural toothpaste sold at other stores.
At $4.99, this grain-like seed was $2 less per pound at Trader Joe’s than at Whole Foods and 50 cents less than Walmart’s smaller 12-ounce package. Quinoa has grown in popularity in recent years due to its purported health benefits, according to the Whole Grains Council and other sources. It's high in protein, which is beneficial to vegetarians, and it's gluten-free, making quinoa a popular alternative to common grains.
This leafy green is just one of the many organic vegetables that are great buys at Trader Joe's. In fact, the savings are significant. A 6-ounce package of organic spinach was $2 less at Trader Joe's than at most of the stores we checked. It was $1.29 less than a smaller 5-ounce package at Walmart.
Buying good coffee doesn't have to break your budget. For just $6.99, Trader Joe’s 13-ounce canister of whole-bean organic French roast coffee costs about $2 less than a smaller 12-ounce canister at Whole Foods and Harris Teeter.
The per-pound price on a variety of nuts and seeds -- including almonds, cashews, pine nuts, walnuts and sunflower seeds -- was lower at Trader Joe’s. Only Whole Foods matched the price on whole almonds, at $5.99 for a pound. And Trader Joe’s had the best price by far on its 8-ounce package of pine nuts, which were between $2 and $6 more at other stores.
We compared the prices on three types of crackers and found the best deals on all three at Trader Joe’s. At $1.39 for a 4.4-ounce package, Trader Joe’s water crackers were between 80 cents and $2.80 less than water crackers at other stores. Its savory crackers were at least $1 less. And only Whole Foods' club crackers beat the price (by 20 cents) of Trader Joe’s Social Snackers club crackers.
Courtesy Matt Long via Flickr/Creative Commons
You can't beat the price on Trader Joe’s low-priced Charles Shaw wines, known as "Two-Buck Chuck" because a bottle can cost as little as $2. However, not all of the chain's stores sell the wine due to state or local restrictions. Also, wine enthusiasts often say you get what you pay for with this cheap label. But, hey, if you’re using it to make sangria, you might not even notice. We'll let you be the judge.
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