While many shoppers feel like Trader Joe’s can do no wrong (and we agree, most of the time), we’ve frequented the store’s compact aisles enough to know that not everything’s a winner, no matter how quirky the packaging or inexpensive the price. No, we won’t tell you to stop buying your beloved Everything But the Bagel or Mandarin Orange Chicken, but here are some products you may want to consider skipping on your next Trader Joe’s run.
Prices and availability are subject to change. Raechel Conover contributed to this report.
Organic Ranch Dressing
For a store that does so well with condiments like hot sauce and salsa, TJ’s ranch dressing is a big miss. It has a weirdly thin consistency, which is particularly disappointing for any self-respecting ranch lover who knows it is as much a dip as it is a salad dressing. It’s not a favorite of The Kitchn, either, which notes its herb-happy flavor is off-putting.
Charles Shaw White Zinfandel
No one expects "two-buck Chuck" to please the wine snobs of the world, but some of it is surprisingly drinkable (for the price, anyway). Not in that category: the white zinfandel, which is perennially at the bottom of the barrel during expert tastings like this one from Thrillist.
Broccoli and Kale Pizza Crust
Look, we’d rather not have pizza than have pizza crust that tastes like broccoli and kale, or as TJ’s reviewer Become Betty puts it, a product that lets you "taste the sadness." If you must defile pizza, we begrudgingly approve of Trader Joe’s less-offensive Cauliflower Pizza Crust, which is the same price.
Macaroni and Cheese Wisconsin Cheddar
The bad news: Trader Joe’s basic boxed mac and cheese earned a resounding "meh" in Cheapism’s recent taste test of 13 store brands. The good news: Our favorite was actually TJ’s higher-brow Organic Shells and White Cheddar, so as long as you’re not feeding kids who will turn their noses up at anything unlike Kraft, choose wisely.
This should be a dish TJ’s has on lock, much like its other tasty frozen Asian fare. But what should be an addictively sweet, filling dish with a satisfying crunch instead is saddled by a sauce that tastes overwhelmingly like pineapple if you’re feeling charitable, like the folks at What’s Good at Trader Joe’s, or like "toxic cheese fume" if you’re not, like prolific TJ’s reviewer Mantou Joe.
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If you are eco-conscious, you might like TJ’s toilet paper. It’s made from 100% recycled paper and doesn’t have chlorine bleach to give it that whiter-than-white appearance. But if you’re more concerned with softness, run away: This stuff is just a little more coarse than our tender behinds are used to.
Maybe, just maybe, these things are an acceptable alternative for vegans who don’t remember what cheesecake tastes like: rich, creamy, and indulgent. For those of us who’ve had the real thing lately, they are a pale substitute at best. (Also, they’re made with lima beans, which is just … wrong.)
Bay Blend Coffee
Trader Joe’s has a wide-ranging and surprisingly sophisticated selection of coffee, but unless you are committed to the darkest of dark roasts, there are better choices than Bay Blend. It’s not just us: Thrillist says "you’re better off steeping some pennies in a cup of hot water." Mmmmmm.
Queso Cheese Dip
Chipotle was widely panned for its first attempt at queso, but something even worse has been lurking on the shelves all this time: Trader Joe’s version. It’s thin, it has too much lime, and it’s simply unworthy of your tortilla chip. One Amazon reviewer even says it "tastes like sour vomit." We’ll stick with Velveeta, thanks.
Meat substitutes are all the rage, and Trader Joe’s has hopped on the bandwagon with several products, including its soy chorizo, a well-loved classic. But these? Well, we wanted something beefy tasting, and we got beets. And peas. And some other nebulous flavors that try to taste like meat but fail. In other words: A veggie burger, yes. But nothing that will make the executives at Beyond Burger fear for their day jobs.
Baked Cheese Crunchies
Our issue here is mostly value: It’s just hard to stomach paying $4 for a measly 2-ounce package of spiced-up crunchy greens. And taste-wise … they’re just kinda "meh." Unless you are among the kale connoisseurs of the world, we recommend almost anything else in the snack aisle.
Honestly, just skip the paper products at TJ’s. We have no doubt that you can wipe up a mess with these, and like their toilet-paper counterparts, they’re made from 100% recycled paper and contain no bleach. But at $3.99 for three rolls, they’re kinda pricey. As one Redditor puts it, "Only for emergencies when I don’t want to go to Target."
Matcha Green Tea Powder
We’re well aware matcha is rarely cheap, but $7 for seven single-serve packets totaling just over a third of an ounce? Ouch, indeed. Amazon is packed with much cheaper, well-reviewed matcha options that are probably a better bet unless you must have the convenience of packets.
We’re not sure we’re as offended by Joe’s O’s as Real Simple, which calls this cereal out for "a stale, dry texture and excessively bland flavor." But we can agree they’re definitely not great (and we’d go so far as to say that about most TJ’s cereals). They cost about 13 cents an ounce, but savvy shoppers can combine sales and coupons at other stores to get real, honest-to-goodness Cheerios for close to that price, too.
We’d be here for awhile if we called out everything at TJ’s that’s unhealthy, but the Broccoli and Cheese Quiche deserves a special shout-out, especially as shoppers look for protein-dense dishes like this one. But this seemingly healthy meal totals more than 900 mg of sodium. Each quiche also has 30 grams of fat, including 15 grams of saturated fat — 75% of your recommended daily value.