Trader Joe's - The Story Behind the Store
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Apr 13 2010

Trader Joe's – The Story Behind the Store

Trader Joe’s is one of my favorite places to shop for gluten-free groceries.  The prices are very reasonable & they are usually lower than any other store.  Trader Joe’s started out as a small chain of convenience stores back in the 1950s and was called “Pronto Markets” at the time.  In 1967, the founder, Trader Joe, changed the name to “Trader Joe’s”.  The stores were made bigger and the crew donned Hawaiian shirts, a practice still going on today.  Trader Joe’s buys direct from the suppliers when it is possible to offer the best price to customers.  If a product does not do well in the store, it is moved out to make room for something else.  A timeline of how things developed can be seen here.  Have you ever wondered why you hear a bell ringing at Trader Joe’s?  Instead of using an intercom system, the employees use the bell.  If the bell rings once, the crew knows to open another register; twice means additional questions need to be answered at the checkout; three times means the manager is needed.

Trader Joe’s has a gluten-free list available on their website with all of the products they carry that are free of gluten. Incidentally, they also have lists for vegan, vegetarian, fat free, kosher & low sodium diets.  Some of the products do vary by region and are noted on the list.  For example, I can’t get the brown rice tortillas or the English muffins here in Ohio, much to my dismay.

Here are some of our favorite gluten-free specialty products from Trader Joe’s:

  • Gluten-free Granola – This comes in 2 different flavors.
  • Brown Rice Pasta –  I have heard rumors that this is actually Tinkyada pasta, but have not been able to confirm it.  The pasta is very good and is $1.99/package. You really can’t beat that price.
  • Rice Macaroni & Cheese – This has been rumored to be Annie’s Rice Mac & Cheese.  I am going to go with this for sure, as the first time I bought it, the cheese packet inside said “Annie’s” on it.  This is $1.99, too.
  • Gluten-free French Rolls – I use these all the time for tuna melts or for mini-pizzas.  These must be toasted to be edible.  You will be very disappointed if you try to eat them un-toasted, just like I was the first time I tried them.  They resemble a hockey puck.  I promise they are great when toasted, though.
  • Gluten-free Gingersnaps – These are great cookies and taste close to my homemade ones.  The bag is $2 and they work great for crumb pie crusts, too.
  • Meringue Cookies – Excellent dessert to have on hand and low in calorie, too.
  • Frozen Homestyle Pancakes – These are really good and great to keep around for busy mornings.
  • Frozen Waffles - These cost less than Van’s or Nature’s Path Buckwheat at $1.99/box, and they have 8 in a box instead of 6.
  • Brownie MixThese brownies are excellent and are lower in price than some comparable tasting products, such as Pamela’s or Betty Crocker’s.
  • Organic Brown Rice Marshmallow Treat – These are much like Rice Krispies Treats.  Jon likes to take these in his packed lunch or in the car for a snack.  Great flavor.

Here are some other things that I buy at Trader Joe’s because they have the best price:

  • Blue Diamond Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Breeze – $1.99 all the time.
  • Goat Cheese or Feta Cheese – The crumbled variety is always under $3.
  • Wine – They have a great variety & low prices.  Have you ever heard of “2 Buck Chuck”?
  • Dried Fruit & Nuts – By far they have the best selection & prices in town.  Love the apricots, raisins, figs, almonds, pecans, etc.
  • Refried Beans – $.99/can – great price & no lard in the can.
  • Light Coconut Milk – I use this in many recipes & they have the best price in town.
  • Rice – There are many varieties & the price is always right.  I really like the brown basmati & brown jasmine.
  • Almond Butter – With as much almond butter as I eat, it is a good thing that it is only $4.99/jar at Trader Joe’s.
  • Peanut Butter - TJ’s is just peanuts & salt and is $1.79/jar.
  • Salad/Lettuce – We go through a lot of salad, so I always pick up more at Trader Joe’s.  I particularly like the bagged arugula that they sell.
  • Spices – These are really inexpensive compared to my regular grocery store.  I check the selection every time I go.

There are obviously many more products, as can be seen be viewing the list of gluten-free products.  A policy that I really like that Trader Joe’s offers is that if you buy something and are unhappy with it for any reason, just bring it back to the store for a refund or exchange.    If you are ever curious about tasting something, just ask.  An employee will do what they can to get you a sample to try.  I love how friendly the crew is and I really feel that the customers are top priority with Trader Joe’s.

Article Written by:

Kimberly Bouldin is a gluten-free wife, runner & blogger with two children in Columbus, Ohio. After her celiac diagnosis in 2006, she has made it her mission to embrace an entirely new approach to nutrition in a gluten-free world, exploring options that run the gamut from "made from scratch" homemade bread to sampling and reviewing the gluten-free prepared foods that are continuously being introduced to the market. While navigating the waters of becoming gluten-free, Kim shares her experiences and passes along valuable product reviews in addition to helping other moms of celiac kids develop healthy menus that are kid-friendly and palatable. Kimberly is a valuable resource for those who are newly diagnosed, as well as for the more seasoned gluten-free veterans. Follow Kim on Twitter!

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  • http://www.glutenfreemusings.com Anne Steib

    I love Trader Joe’s, and it has been a weekly stop for me for years. I get many of my staples there because they are so much cheaper than the regular grocery stores and they have more unique choices.

    I will admit, I am not crazy about their pancake mix, it has a strong rice gluten-free rice flavor, and I could just not eat them, but I do like their French rolls, and everything else.

    This past weekend, I was at the check out, and I saw a peanut butter and jelly chocolate bar and it has a ‘G’ on it for gluten-free, so I had to try it, and wow…yummy!! It even had potato chip crumbs in it!

    I definitely agree about the ginger snaps being great for a crust. I like dipping them in my morning tea as well.

  • http://www.glutenfreepromotions.com Tiffany Janes

    Great info Kim! I love TJ’s too and wish there was one closer to us. When I go I stock up on their great deals. They sell the gf Rosenburg blue cheese there for almost half of what WF sells it for.

    Before we had Udi’s, I used the thawed TJ mini pancakes to make pb&j sandwiches….quite tasty! Don’t care for the waffles though.

    They sell a lemon curd that is only $2.99 for a large jar – best deal in town. Also their black olive tampenade is quite cheap and excellent!

    We had friends over for dinner recently and they brought salad and dessert. The crust for the coconut cream pie was made with TJ ginger snaps. We use those all the time but would not have thought they would work for coconut cream pie. It was heavenly! Like Anne, I like the cookies with hot tea!

  • http://glutenfreeislife.com/ Kimberly Bouldin

    I will have to try the lemon curd! That sounds amazing!

    The coconut cream pie, OMG! Great crust idea!

    Anne – that bars sounds great! I have seen those, but never picked one up.

    Kim

  • Pingback: Weekly Menu Plan – April 18, 2010 « Gluten-free is Life

  • beth

    I LOVE TJ!! By the way, I was there the other night, and there is a new product called “Tortilla Chips with an Identity Crisis.” They are rice, corn, potato flour, gluten-free and have a sweet taste to them. They are only $1.49 for a large bag, and not too bad in terms of fat/calories. 1 serving of 10 chips is 7g of fat–similar to Tostito’s. They are so cheap!

  • edee

    I was just wondering if any of you had any issues with the TJ products that are gluten free but manufactured on machinary that also manufactures wheat products? I have a daughter with celiac so the cross contamination issue is serious.

  • http://www.glutenfreepromotions.com Tiffany Janes

    Beth – thanks for telling us about those chips. They sure sound tasty!

    Edee – I don’t have a problem with such products from TJ’s and use many such items from them. Every company has different policies regarding how they treat allergens in their facilities and every consumer has to choose which products they feel safe consuming. The new Snyder’s gf pretzels tested gluten-free by GIG’s strict standards. That proves that items run on wheat processing lines can truly be gluten-free, if proper protocol is followed.

    • http://google.com Homer

      Hi,

      I wouldn’t suggest Trader Joe’s as a good place to buy rice. The rice is not priced well, and you can get better rice for your buck at other places. The best places, in my opinion, are any local Indian (east Indian) or Asian grocery stores (most large urban areas in the US will have at least one), where you will find a dizzying range of short and long grained, white and brown, sticky to non-sticky rice.

      Other than that, TJs is fantastic for a great range of affordable ready-to-eat products!

  • http://glutenfreeislife.com Kim

    Beth – I just saw those chips there today! Thanks for letting us know how they were!

    Edee – I have never had any issues with TJ’s & CC issues. I am very sensitive, as is my son.

    Homer – TJ’s has always been the least $$ for rice in my area, but I have not tried the Indian or Asian grocery stores. Perhaps on my next grocery outing! Thanks!