15 Things We All Hate About Trader Joe's

NEWS & TRENDING - SHOPPING & DEALS NEWS
Come for the chocolate hummus. Stay for the Victorian-tiki decor.
Updated May 13, 2024
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trader joe's retail location

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Trader Joe’s has a die-hard following. Who can blame them, with all the tasty, ready-heat foods, friendly cashiers who seemingly like their jobs, and endless novelty foods in hipster-friendly packaging?

I love a good Trader Joe’s. Stepping through a store’s doors is like entering a grocery store version of Willie Wonka’s factory. Plus, you get to save money on groceries you literally can’t get anywhere else.

But Trader Joe’s isn’t perfect. The store has quirks and foibles that can be downright annoying. Here are 15 things that shoppers love to hate about Trader Joe’s.

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Teeny rickety carts

Syda Productions/Adobe girl with food in cart

Maybe they’re Uncle Joe’s subtle way of telling parents to leave the kids at home, but their carts are atrocious — super narrow and wobbly.

My 5-year-old daughter tried to ride on the back of one, and it flipped over. Of course, kids shouldn’t climb them, but the desire is irresistible for littles. Carts at Whole Foods, Kroger, Costco, and Aldi are much scrappier, built for the rough and tumble of kids.

No soda

monticellllo/Adobe bottles of carbonated soft drink

I love a good glass bottle of Coke. Or even a silver 12-pack of diet soda. Sadly, Trader Joe’s doesn’t stock mass-brand soda pops, which are (I confess) staples in my home. If we are out of soda, we can’t do a grocery run at Trader Joe’s.

No curbside pick-up

Andriy Blokhin/Adobe northern virginia whole foods grocery

Everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon with car-side delivery, but Trader Joe’s has (deliberately) missed the memo. Admittedly, the store’s special brand of magic may not translate to curbside orders.

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No home delivery

Odua Images/Adobe delivering some groceries to woman

Trader Joe’s, alas, is not on Shipt and does not offer home delivery. The retail giant knows it’s got a good thing going. Seventy-nine percent of consumers admit to making at least one impulse purchase when they shop in-store versus only 58% of the time online.

In-the-aisle road rage

VK Studio/Adobe angry shopper with furrowed brow

While not specific to Trader Joe’s, the road rage shoppers feel in grocery store aisles is very real. And for me, Trader Joe’s hippie vibes make me way more annoyed than I’d be at Sam’s Club or Publix.

They stop making your favorite goods

jcalvera/Adobe man wearing sad paper bag

“Literally all the time,” according to my engineer husband, who is not prone to hyperbole. Reddit comments are up in arms against Trader Joe’s for its frequent merchandise change-ups. You try a new item, fall in love, and two months later, they cease production. Forever.

Hoarders

Kristina Blokhin/Adobe sold-out-empty-shelf-racks

Well before hoarding became de rigueur during COVID-19, many Trader Joe’s shoppers were thoughtlessly overindulging — especially on frozen entrees. When I asked a clerk why certain goods were never in stock, he said some shoppers come in and buy out the entire selection of their favorite item, emptying entire shelves and freezer bins.

They try to “look” organic

Lewis Tse Pui Lung/Adobe trader joe's store

As many Redditors note, Trader Joe’s gives off an organic, healthy-food, fair-trade sort of glow — with its earth-toned packaging and tropical decor. Most produce and food products, however, are not organic.

For me, the store experience feels so granola I don’t care. I love my vibe when I’m at Trader Joe’s. I feel like I’m getting all the organic food virtual signaling points.

Food isn’t that healthy

Corinna Haselmayer/Adobe cracker and biscuits

Or so say many shoppers on Reddit. As one shopper puts it, Trader Joe’s “is where vegans go to get fat.”

While I observe Trader Joe’s shoppers to be less rotund, if anything, it’s true that Trader Joe’s sells a lot of high-sugar, high-salt, and high-fat foods. (Corn syrup is a top-three ingredient on more of my go-to buys than I would care to admit.)

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Excess packaging

Martin Bergsma/Adobe plastic wrapped bell peppers

Many shoppers on Reddit have grumbled that Trader Joe’s items have too much packaging — like using a plastic wrapper and tray to sell a trio of multi-color bell peppers.

Ethnic foods

Brent Hofacker/Adobe homemade chocolate dessert hummus dip

Customers have mixed feelings about Trader Joe’s assortment of ethnic foods. For flavor, there are major fans and major foes. But opinions really heat up on how its international cuisine gets branded.

Shoppers on Reddit have commented that the retailer blanket-labels many food items as “Mediterranean” when a more specific location should be indicated or that it creates offensive hybrid products like its range of “exotic” hummus flavors. As one Arab shopper says, “GTFO with your chocolate hummus.”

No coupon apps

Tada Images/Adobe assorted cash back rewards apps

Trader Joe’s produces tons of generic-label foods and stocks almost no third-party labels. While this is part of the store’s particular brand of charm, it’s disappointing for bargain lovers and coupon-app aficionados.

Trader Joe’s does accept manufacturer coupons, but they apply to a fraction of its inventory. You won’t find the retailer in Ibotta, Shopkick, Checkout 51, or other popular savings apps.

Stores are too small

jetcityimage/Adobe trader joes retail location

Most Trader Joe’s stores occupy a tight footprint, and some find the floor design weirdly laid out with narrow aisles prone to traffic jams. The overcrowding prompts many customers to get in and out as fast as possible

More of a convenience food store than a regular grocery store

Corinna Haselmayer/Adobe cookies and sweet candy treats

As one shopper puts it, “Trader Joe’s is a snack and convenience food store and should not be relied upon as a regular grocery store.” This comment hits home for many shoppers, as it’s been upvoted 543 times on Reddit.

Personally, this may be why I love Trader Joe’s. It is a lot like a snack shop-convenience store, but for grown-ups. It’s where to go when you’ve graduated from packaged M&M; cookies and frozen pizza rolls and now want Danish Kringle, Korean bulgogi in a box, and frozen mini quiche.

Weird branding

mdurson/Adobe advertising specialty products

Love it or loathe it, Trader Joe’s branding aesthetic is a little off.

One former Trader Joe’s brand designer writes the store’s faux Victorian look “felt fake to me, and goes against the sustainable and local feel you get from the chalkboards.”

Another adds, “The pseudo-Victoriana is a weird mix with the tropical/tiki theme already, and neither really fits the market niche TJs is going for. Truly an incoherent brand identity.”

Bottom line

Walter Cicchetti/Adobe trader joes grocery store hollywood

Trader Joe’s isn’t an organic supermarket but somehow manages to deliver that organic aura and make you feel more wholesome and earth-loving just for being there. And while the store takes virtually no coupons and isn’t on discount apps, it just feels bargain-forward, like you’re saving money and using some super secret savvy shopping hack.

Somehow all the incongruencies work. They’re delightful. Where else can you get chocolate hummus, frozen Korean bulgogi, and refrigerated sfogliatella pastry — all within fifty feet — and then claim a free, Victorian-tiki sticker at checkout?

The Trader Joe’s shopping experience is steeped in contradictions, which can be jarring and off-putting — and also part of the brand’s delightful quirk appeal.

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Author Details

Stacy Garrels Stacy enjoys writing about fintech, consumer deals, the side hustle economy, and random tomfoolery. She's personally tried more than 100 different gigs, including being an Uber driver for one afternoon.

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