The folks at TJ’s have their heads and hearts in exactly the right place. Their business model represents a much-needed return to simplicity: cut out all the fat. Trader Joe’s makes a concerted effort to buy most of their products directly from producers themselves. This means that your vegetables haven’t changed hands five times before they end up on your plate—and it also means that you’re not paying each of those hands to pass them along the chain. Buyers are an elite group, with well-trained eyes for the best stuff out there, be it wine, cheese, coffee, tea, olive oil, chocolate; the list goes on and on. The best deals of all are usually the private label (TJ’s brand) products.
The wine sections at Trader Joe’s are like playgrounds for wine geeks. Carefully chosen bottles come from tiny estates the world over. But you’ll also find quite a few of the big names. And we can’t forget about Charles Shaw (“Two-Buck Chuck”—we know that no one on a budget possibly could). The value wine to beat all value wines, it’s made from surplus juice, so it’s bought at a very low cost. In a series of blind tastings conducted in 2007-2008, one batch of Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon was actually preferred by tasters to a $40 bottle of Beringer Founder’s Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. (For more on this, see The Wine Trials, another Fearless Critic Media title.) In fact, Trader Joe’s features a remarkable number of winning bottles from The Wine Trials. Beer is chosen with an equally keen eye. Microbrews from all corners of the earth converge on the shelves here, and staff are über-knowledgeable.
There’s a definite focus on organic goods, and all products have slickly designed and super-easy-to-understand labels. Low-sodium, heart-healthy, and kosher are just a few of the indications you might run into. Stores are well laid out and easy to navigate. The aesthetic is nice, with natural woods set against bright colors. It’s a visual wonderland.
It’s no wonder the place has such a cult following. We can’t thank Trader Joe’s enough for all it does to bring some of the world’s best products to our fingertips at great prices. But we’ll try anyway.
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