7 Things That Fuel My Love/Hate Relationship With Trader Joe’s

The Trader Joe’s experience is unlike that of any other grocery store. Between the artsy, bold packaging, the extremely cheery staff, and the excitement you feel when a new item drops in-store, it truly is its own world—its own world filled with its own problems. The very things I love about shopping there are often the same things that make me question my life choices. Shopping at TJ’s is wonderful and horrible at the same time, and I am here to tell you why.

Why I Love It: Seasonal Items

Trader Joe’s seasonal items add a burst of joy to every shopping trip. Across Trader Joe’s stores, seasonal and holiday-themed items such as Christmas’s Jingle Jangle and autumn’s Pumpkin Brioche Twist liven up the aisles of the store just as much as they excite the shoppers who come to retrieve them. This is an experience that is unique to TJ’s. In other grocery stores, the only items that seem to be seasonal are fresh produce such as strawberries or crab legs or extremely basic Halloween candy. As much as I am sure we all love a nice, ripe strawberry, the hype for fresh berries never quite seems to match up with the hype for Trader’s Apple Cider Donuts. Without a doubt, there are always new items and cherished favorites to look forward to each season at Trader Joe’s.

Why I Hate It: Seasonal Items…Again

Who’s to say when I’m done eating these?? I thought we trusted each other, Trader Joe’s! By the time I realize that my favorite seasonal products are back in stock, they’ve come and gone, because everyone beat me to them, or I remembered to get to TJ’s too late, or some unfortunate combination of the two. In any regard, the treats that I’ve so fallen in love with are always gone far before their time, and I have to suffer for months on end before (maybe) seeing them again.

Why I Love It: Super Friendly/Helpful Staff

Always there when you need them, always happy to help, Trader Joe’s staff goes above and beyond. Their employees are very personable and are happy to share their recommendations for both popular and lesser known products. I’ve never felt out of place at a Trader Joe’s, nor have I ever been made to feel as if my request for help was too big an ask to fulfill. Back when free samples still existed, I remember an instance in which one employee working the desk kindly set out a soy-free alternative to what she was sampling after learning that I have a soy allergy–top tier consideration! I can safely say Trader’s is somewhere I shall continue to shop if only for the pleasant vibes I pick up while I’m there.

Why I Hate It: Lack of Self-Checkout

There are some days when I truly appreciate the genuine conversation that Trader Joe’s employees bring to the checkout line, which can otherwise be a bit awkward as I fumble for my wallet. However, there are other days where I want to buy an inappropriate amount of Chocolate Coconut Almonds or White Corn Tortilla Chips, and I do not need anyone commenting on the “huge party” I’m not having. This is where self-checkout comes into play. Becoming my own cashier creates the freedom I require as a customer to purchase whatever groceries I need without any possible judgment. I’m here to purchase my basket full of mac n’ cheese in silence.

Why I Love It: Wide Range of Specialty (Alcoholic) Drinks

Trader Joe’s is home to a reliable section of specialty drinks and was ahead of the game in stocking drinks like hard rosé cider and, my personal favorite, hard kombucha. Other grocery stores are beginning to follow suit, but they’ll have to catch up because TJ’s is picking up the pace. In as recent as the past two years, the overall amount and variety with which Trader Joe’s stocks their specialty drinks has substantially grown. Their shelves are now home to a myriad of brands that cater to seasoned alcohol connoisseurs and lightweights alike. Trader Joe’s even has their own brand of hard cider that’s pleasantly sweet and equally suitable for day drinking as it is for pregaming. Trader Joe’s, keep doing your thing, otherwise I’m not sure where else I can reliably source all of my hard kombucha needs.

Why I Hate It: Shopping Experience (Crowded and Rushed)

At this point, too many people know about Trader Joe’s. This affects the TJ’s shopping experience in a number of ways: parking is almost always akin to navigating a busy football field, aisles are often packed and hard to navigate, and stock seems to run out fairly quickly. And somehow there never seems to be any downtime. Showing up early gets you about as far as showing up in the middle of the day because their store is always bustling. This makes for a very rushed shopping experience as you’re worried that someone will grab the last of an item or, like me, you’d rather not spend too much time in large crowds (my patience is as thin as I am small and I would rather avoid being pin-balled around the aisles).

Why I Love It: Shopping Experience (Unique)

One reason everyone is so drawn to Trader Joe’s is that the atmosphere is incredibly welcoming. The info desk is called the “Captain’s Desk,” for gosh sakes. Talk about folksy whimsy. And what about the signs? Trader Joe’s puts a lot of care and attention into the signs its employees create, allowing them to be fun and attention-grabbing while also offering useful information. I didn’t even want any corn coming into the store, but the buff Kernel Crusader on their sign is saying I do, and who can argue with him? The packaging and overall branding of their products can also be quite fun in that you can tell their design team has a blast coming up with the names and art for their products. And when I shop, I want to know (or at least believe) that people had fun creating the things I’m buying. I can’t say I get the same feeling from the shelf-talkers at a big-box store.

The efficiency in the layout, the signage, the fun branding, the prices—all these things will keep me a reliable shopper at Trader Joe’s. But, I’d really appreciate it if I could just buy my Jingle Jangle through self-checkout year round AND make it through the parking lot unscathed.

About the Author

Naajia Shukri

Naajia Shukri is the legit biggest fan of candy corn. She is interested in all things food, art, and beauty. After living in Korea for the past two years, she has gotten back to her L.A. roots, frequenting thrift stores and art museums.

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  • Hate: Lack of non-fruity mixers for drinks. They need some ginger ale (not ginger beer), lemon-lime soda, and cola.
    Love: Good selection of cooking oils in reasonable sizes. (But they need to replace canola oil with peanut oil.)