29 April 2012

Is Trader Joe's Cheaper or More Expensive Than a Supermarket?

Comparing Trader Joe's Prices to Supermarket Prices

I've long been a Trader Joe's devotee and do most of my shopping there. I regularly get two bags of food for less than $50. At Ralph's, $50 buys less than a basketful.

Still, I run into people who think Trader Joe's is expensive. Why does it have this reputation? This is the place where you can get a case of wine for $24.99!

Sooooo, I decided to do a little research on the items I purchase most often and compare prices. I used my regular list and also threw in a few staples like milk and eggs (items I don't buy, but I figure most people do).

Altogether I looked at 20 items. Whenever possible I tried to compare products of the same size, if there was a difference I listed the grocery store first / then Trader Joe's.

I also deferred to the generic store brand (cheapest option) if offered. For example: the peanut butter is Ralph's Value brand - not Skippy or Jif. I also went with the cheapest (regular) supermarket price. If I found a sale item, it's noted.

Here are the results:
To buy all 20 items at a supermarket would cost $70.10.
To buy all 20 items at Trader Joe's would cost $49.80.

The 20 item count includes two different sizes of olive oil, so, if you take out the 500ml size it's:

Supermarket: $65.41
Trader Joe's $46.31

The complete results are below - email subscribers may need to click through to view the google doc. Out of 20 items, Trader Joe's was cheaper for all but three things: peanut butter, apples and single-serving greek yogurt cups.

If you don't think the list was comprehensive enough, I'd be willing to research some additional products that show up regularly on your grocery list. Please leave a comment below. You can also read this checkbook.org post comparing Trader Joe's prices to supermarkets in Chicago area. This writer did a more comprehensive survey including items I didn't (such as meat).



Unknown said...

Any store can be expensive if you buy the wrong stuff. Trader Joe's can be sort of expensive if you buy a bunch of packaged crap. Or don't look at the individual unit prices. We shop 90% of the time at New Seasons and while most people think it's WAY too expensive to shop that way, it's really not that bad. Especially if you consider the quality of food we're getting compared to Safeway or Fred Meyer. At the end of the day, it's a personal choice, but one I wish people would spend more time thinking about rather than just assuming. Thanks for dispelling the myth!

PNW Willy said...

I freak out if I have to go to a regular grocery store. TJ's has been our primary grocery source for 17+ years. Occasionally Whole foods is used for a splurge on special items and to for food porn. I don't like products, employees or patrons at regular grocery stores. Supermarkets are where I go to use an ATM and their bathroom, that it.

Unknown said...

Jeff's going to LOVE this! It's one of his favorite topics. I love TJ's - we had to move back from the Netherlands because the lack of TJs and Targets was driving us nuts.

Jeff H. said...

This is very cool. I wish grocery stores would let us download our receipts so we could more easily do these comparisons. That's another story...

Whenever I am at Trader Joe's, I always trying to figure out what are the things that they sucker me into buying because those of cheap bananas. I suspect it's bell peppers and mozzarella cheese.

Other good buys, not considered in your comparison are dried fruits and nuts and vanilla extract.

Leah Greenwood said...

One thing I've focused on is whether the TJ brand is better quality than what I buy at Fred Meyer. Sometimes it is, but surprisingly it isn't always. Some things I won't buy at TJs because the nutritional quality is lesser. I pay more attention when I'm buying things for the kids. I'm also a shopper of convenience. So, I won't drive across town to TJ if I can hop a few blocks away at Fred Meyer or Safeway.

Unknown said...


Is it possible that some goods in Trader Joe's are cheaper, but some are more expensive than Ralph? Maybe it is a kind of price discrimination strategy for Trader Joe's, which try to persuade consumers that it is really cheap.

Anonymous said...

It comes down to what you buy. TJ's is my favorite store. I can find lots of vegan options there. I find some items in Ralph's, Albertson's, or Fresh & Easy. Sometimes, I'll go out of my way to Whole Foods. Recently, I was unable to find organic apples in TJ's, Ralph's, or Albertson's. The apples were cheapest in TJ's, but not organic. I had to visit Whole Foods for them. WF did post a sign explaining that weather caused a shortage of organic apples. I normally don't trust the organic apples in Ralph's, or Albertson's.