15 Things You Should Never Buy at Trader Joe's

Make the most of your grocery budget and skip these Trader Joe’s product picks.
Updated April 18, 2024
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You stalk the store for the rare Kimbap sighting and could feast all day long on the magically mini Hold the Cones. While Trader Joe’s is known for its frozen delights and viral foodie finds, if you want to save money on groceries, there are some things that you just shouldn’t buy there.

Sorry TJ’s, but you can’t have a winner every time. From the occasional over-priced item to products that won’t stay fresh long enough to enjoy, here are a few things you might want to skip on your next Trader Joe’s shopping trip.

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Elena Medoks/Adobe a glass of milk

While Trader Joe’s has some pretty creative products, milk isn’t one of them. Like every other grocery store, Trader Joe’s carries regular whole and reduced-fat organic milk. But, the cost won’t undercut some of the bulk buy or value chains.

If you’re shopping for plain cow’s milk, you might want to save your money and spend it on one of TJ’s seasonal sensations instead.

Paper towels

Africa Studio/Adobe rolls of paper towels

Specialty foods? Yes. Basic paper towels to wipe off your kitchen counter? No. Unlike some warehouse clubs and big box stores, TJ’s doesn’t have a bulk-buy paper towel option — or many options at all, for that matter.

Even though the store’s paper towels will do an okay-ish job at cleaning up your next mess, they may not offer the value you’re searching for.

Facial tissues

Mouse family/Adobe box with paper tissues

The adorable box with cute sayings like, “I’ll be there when you’re sad” and “I’m there when you run out of toilet paper” may get your attention. But the rough texture rules out a realistic TP-from-TJ’s swap.

While the price is right, your sensitive skin may not handle the tissue’s texture well enough to make the purchase worth it.

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Pre-made wraps and sandwiches

xander21/Adobe sandwiches with bacon

Where are these veggie, bread, and lunch meat-packed picks put together? That’s unclear. But it's likely that you could put together a similar sammy selection for a lower overall cost. Compared to other TJ’s favorites, these pre-made products are on the pricier side and not as likely to go the distance (in terms of overall freshness).

If you want a tasty lunchtime or dinner treat that won’t go bad quickly, the frozen finds are better options.

Cauliflower pizza crust

Maren Winter/Adobe raw pizza base from cauliflower

Not a fave among Trader Joe’s aficionados, the cauliflower crust may not have the taste or texture you expect from a traditional pizza. Unless you’re a superfan of the cruciferous vegetable, you may not enjoy this product pick enough to make it worth the price.

For pizza fans searching for a Trader Joe’s crust, consider the under $2 refrigerated dough instead!

Fresh berries

Anna_Anny/Adobe fresh berries close up

Trader Joe’s isn’t known for its produce deals, and fresh berries are no exception. For the price, you might find blueberries, raspberries, and other berries at a better value somewhere else.

If you’re shopping for a few of your favorite berries or a blend to mix into a smoothie, top your waffles, or just snack on, skip the fresh ones and try TJ’s frozen selection. Available in an organic (or not) option, these berries are tasty and budget-friendly.

Bakery bread

Pineapple studio/Adobe assortment of baked bread

Yes, some of the bread options at TJ’s are delish, but while the bread may feel soft and fresh when you buy it, your purchase may not last for as long as you want.

If you need to make sandwiches all week long, you might have better luck with a more shelf-stable loaf from your local grocer.

Peas and carrots sour gummies

eliosdnepr/Adobe colorful fruit gum candies

Veggie-shaped candy? If you can’t get the kiddos to eat their vegetables, this sweet (but possibly misguided) option won’t help.

Shoppers with a sweet tooth or a candy craving may not get everything they want from the peas and carrots gummies. Whether you just can’t stomach the idea of vegetable-shaped goodies or you prefer a bulk buy option, save your money and skip this seasonal selection in favor of a time-tested standard such as TJ’s Scandinavian Swimmers.

Hand sanitizer spray

maxbelchenko/Adobe hands with sanitizer antiseptic

TJ’s hand sanitizer spray does exactly what it should: It keeps your hands clean. While the spritz has a fresh, beloved scent, the size is the problem.

Shoppers who need bulk sanitizer for a class of kiddos or just use this type of product daily may find that the mini purse-sized bottle goes way too quickly. And, speaking of putting it in your purse — the wrong angle or a loose lid could leave your bag drenched in sanitizer.

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Ready-cooked chicken

Marcos/Adobe shredded chicken ingredient

Yes, this Trader Joe’s product offers all the convenience your busy life needs. Toss it into a salad, add it to your pasta sauce, or roll it into a burrito in seconds flat. But, you may notice that the price is higher than a comparable quantity of uncooked poultry.

Provided you have enough time to cook your chicken thoroughly, skip the ready-prepped product and go for uncooked options.

Vanilla ice cream

gtranquillity/Adobe A closeup of ice cream

TJ’s freezer section is packed with products like Hold the Cone mini ice cream cones, mochi in many flavors, apple blossoms, and more. Why choose a quart of plain vanilla when you could have any of the other delish desserts?

While the vanilla might add to another frozen treat, on its own, Trader Joe’s vanilla ice cream might cost you more than it’s worth.

Frozen meatless products

uckyo/Adobe frozen vegetable slices

You’re a vegetarian for a reason. If you wanted to taste steak, chicken, or burgers, you’d eat meat. Even though TJ’s gets pretty creative with its meatless options, vegetarians (or anyone looking to eat less meat) may want to check out the store’s vegetable options.

Instead of a meat-flavored substitute, try Trader Joe’s quinoa, couscous, or red lentil pasta, or just buy one of their budget-priced bags of salad.

Refrigerated salad dressing

Pixel-Shot/Adobe pouring tahini onto salad bowl

Yes, you eventually have to move the dressing into the fridge. However, this dressing starts there. While TJ’s refrigerated dressings taste good, they aren’t shelf-stable enough to be considered a true value.

If you don’t plan on using the dressing right away, keep shopping and choose one of the store’s bottled options.

Organic juice

olgasun/Adobe fruit juice collection

From orange to cold-pressed green juice, Trader Joe’s has more than a few healthy beverage products to pick from. While it doesn’t seem like anyone is debating the taste, these refrigerated items aren’t the most budget-friendly finds from TJ’s.

Families (or individuals) who go through a lot of juice may find themselves spending more than they counted on here. A bulk buy from a bigger store may give you more juice for your buck.

Reusable sponge cloths

Elena/Adobe cleaning products on wooden table

Trader Joe’s Reusable Sponge Cloths are an eco-friendly alternative to paper towels. And yes, you can wash these in the sink or machine-wash them between each use. But this doesn’t mean they’re the best value for your money.

Instead of spending on new sponge cloths, cutting apart your stash of old beach towels or even a well-worn sweatshirt are upcycled options that are completely free!

Bottom line

refrina/Adobe Trader Joe's store front

Trader Joe’s is packed with fresh finds that are budget-friendly and will help you save money shopping. But some of the top trendy picks aren’t worth the price tag. 

Before you shop the store, think about which items will go the distance, feed your family for more than a few days, or come in at a lower price-point than bulk buy warehouse stores.

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Author Details

Erica Loop With more than a decade of experience writing about everything from e-commerce to pets and parenting, Erica Loop has written for sites such as BuzzFeed, Brit+Co, Tinybeans, Family Education, and Care.com. Erica has a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and an MS in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh.

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