7 Things Trader Joe's Newbies Need to Know, According to Trader Joe's Biggest Fans

Even Trader Joe's veterans will likely learn a thing or two from these pro tips.

Although the average Trader Joe's is much smaller than the typical supermarket (Joe stocks about 2,000 products at a time compared to the typical American grocer that has about 28,000 products available), it can still be daunting to shop with Joe. That's because many things are different from your usual superstore, including the uber-friendly "crew members" (AKA Trader Joe's employees), limited-time-only seasonal products, and other insider secrets.

So we spoke exclusively with three of Trader Joe's biggest fans — so big, in fact, they've built entire blogs or social media accounts in honor of the brand — to snag those insider secrets. While we designed this roundup for Trader Joe's first-timers, we're pretty positive those who are well-versed in all things Everything-But-the-Bagel Seasoning Blend and Cauliflower Gnocchi might learn a thing or two as well.

7 Tips for Trader Joe's Newbies

1. Don't wait for sales.

Since the prices are already very low (especially on their private-label Trader Joe's products, all of which contain no artificial flavors or preservatives), Trader Joe's doesn't offer discounts, promotions, coupons or sales, explains Rachael Engelhardt, creator of Trader Joe's Kitchen in Poughkeepsie, New York.

"They keep prices low all year round by limiting products in their stores and operate out of fairly small storefronts compared to other chain grocery stores," Engelhardt says. "For instance, Trader Joe's doesn't carry 60 different types of cereal, they probably sell 10 to 15. This also creates a less overwhelming shopping experience, in my opinion."

2. Want to try something? Just say so.

Unsure of whether you'll like that Thai-Style Green Chili Sauce or Sesame-Crusted Hardwood Smoked Ahi Tuna?

"The employees will let you sample almost any product," says Natasha Fischer, creator of Trader Joe's List in Bakersfield, California. "Just ask!"

It's one of many things that makes them "the friendliest crew members of any store I've ever been to," according to Engelhardt. "In addition to letting you try any product in stores if you're weary about buying a new product, they will go out of their way to help you find anything in the store, recommend their favorite products or help you pick out ingredients for a meal."

3. Know that not every store sells the same items.

Not every store carries the same products, Fischer says, and your geographic location as well as demand can make a big difference.

"East and west coast stores may have slightly different offerings," Fischer adds.

But if you're lucky enough to spot the Dill Pickle Chips, Kunefe (a heat-and-eat Middle Eastern dessert), Garlic Naan, Dark Chocolate Coconut Almonds, Hashbrowns or the Caramelized Onion Cheddar Cheese, "buy them immediately, then thank me later," jokes Madeline Thomas, the Cherry Hill, New Jersey-based creator of the blog Trader Jolene.

Trader Joe's
Allrecipes Illustration

4. Stock up if you love something.

Since several products are offered seasonally or only for a few weeks ever, "if there is an item you are interested in, try it! It might be gone forever the next day," Fischer says. "Some products are very limited or seasonal and once they are sold out, they're gone; either forever or for a year."

Trader Joe's is a master in the art of FOMO (fear of missing out), Engelhardt believes.

"We never know which products will be permanent products, or only available for a few weeks, so it makes shopping at Trader Joe's an adventure," she says. Time your trip right for the best variety: "The new products will always be featured in the 'new' section of Trader Joe's [often on an end cap in the store] and new products are usually released on Tuesdays every week."

With that in mind, Thomas advises shopping with your heart and buying the things that excite you most since "you might never see that particular item again."

5. Seek out new and seasonal items.

New and seasonal products come and go in the blink of an eye, so grab them while you can, Engelhardt suggests.

"Trader Joe's seasonal items tend to sell out before the actual holiday arrives," Thomas says. For example, if you're shopping for Irish soda bread on the morning of St. Patrick's Day or Jingle Jangle snack mix just before Christmas, there might not be any left. Try to grab seasonal items before the last minute."

6. Invest in the best high-quality steals — especially when entertaining.

In addition to being home to many incredible value-price wines, Trader Joe's sells a wide variety of affordable, crowd-pleasing party snacks.

"Trader Joe's is my go-to spot to shop before I entertain friends and family. They sell so many unique and delicious frozen appetizers that make entertaining totally stress-free," Engelhardt says.

If you can find them, consider adding her 10 favorite appetizers and cheese board fixings to your cart:

  1. Vegetable Bird's Nests
  2. Scallion Pancakes
  3. Spanakopita
  4. Mac and Cheese Bites
  5. Creamy Spinach and Artichoke Dip
  6. Brazilian-Style Cheese Bread
  7. Parmesan Pastry Pups
  8. Chicken Gyoza Potstickers
  9. Unexpected Cheddar Cheese
  10. Manchego Anejo Cheese

7. Utilize the generous return policy as needed.

At most stores, once a product is opened you have to finish or toss it. But not with Trader Joe's.

"Trader Joe's has the best return policy which helps you take the leap if you're weary about buying a new product you've never tried before," Engelhardt says. "They'll let you bring back opened containers with no receipts or questions asked — within reason."

Study up on this guide to Trader Joe's returns courtesy of our pals at Southern Living.

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