Planning for Thanksgiving? 15 Secrets Trader Joe’s Shoppers Need to Know

If you’re always on the lookout for unique food, then you’re probably a fan of Trader Joe’s. It’s easy to get lost exploring all the store’s offerings. Some days of the week can be a madhouse at the popular store, but it’s worth it when you arrive home with amazing, low-cost finds. Before you plan your next shopping trip,  get the scoop on how to make your store experience even better.  Let’s look at the 15 secrets Trader Joe’s shoppers need to know.

1. Trader Joe’s are always overstaffed

Jason Baglin restocks chips.

Jason Baglin restocks chips. | Michael Nagle/Getty Images

You don’t have to hunt down an employee to get a question answered at Trader Joe’s. A former employee told PopSugar, “They totally overstaff so that you don’t feel like your stocking duties or your register duties trump interacting with customers – they encourage you to be nice to customers.”

Another employee told HealthyWay, “We’ve all had the experience of wandering around a store looking for an employee to assist you and getting more and more irritated the longer it takes. I can guarantee that this will rarely, if ever, happen at TJ’s.”

Next: Employees have a secret mode of communication. 

2. The employees use bells to communicate

A man pays for groceries at Trader Joe's in Virginia.

A man pays for groceries at Trader Joe’s in Virginia. | Paul Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Trader Joe’s is not a fan of using a traditional announcement system to communicate with employees. So, you’ll never hear someone on a speaker yelling, “Cleanup in aisle five.” Instead, the store prefers to use bells (sort of its version of Morse code) to let employees know when something needs to be done.

“Those blustery PA systems just didn’t feel right to us, so we came up with a simple system to communicate, à la our maritime (Trader’s on the culinary seas) association. One bell lets our crew know when to open another register. Two bells mean there are additional questions that need to be answered at the checkout. Three bells call over a manager-type person,” the Trader Joe’s reps said on the company website.

Next: The grocery store benefits your local food banks.

3. Trader Joe’s donates a ton of food

An assortment of grocery products bearing the Trader Joe's brand name

An assortment of grocery products bearing the Trader Joe’s brand name | iStock.com/PapaBear

Trader Joe’s is passionate about reducing food waste and providing hunger relief. On TJ’s website, the company states, “We are a grocery store. Thus, providing food for people in need is one of our most important giving priorities.” In 2016, Trader Joe’s donated more than $341 million worth of produce to food banks. What do they give away? Anything that is not fit for sale but safe for consumption. Every store has a Donation Coordinator who works daily with local food banks and soup kitchens.

Next: Every Trader Joe’s is literally a work of art.

4. Every store employs a local artist

Shoppers enjoy the grand opening of a Trader Joe's in Pinecrest, Florida. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Shoppers check out the dairy section below a depiction of a cow. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

At least one or two local artists create everything from the murals on the walls to the unique chalkboard signage throughout every Trader Joe’s store. One employee told Popsugar, “Literally all of the signage around the store is custom-made by two or three artists who hang out in the back and almost exclusively do that.” Occasionally they’ll work the register.

Next: Costco isn’t the only store with tons of delicious samples.

5. You can sample ANYTHING in the store — within reason

Trader Joe's Mac & Cheese Bites

You probably can’t cook up some mac & cheese bites to sample. | Trader Joe’s

If you like to eat while you shop, you’re in luck. Trader Joe’s lets customers sample their goods. One TJ’s manager, who hosted an Ask Me Anything forum on Reddit, said all you have to do is ask, and an employee will help you try your desired sample. However, there’s one catch. If your selection must to be cooked, it’s just not going to happen.

“[You can sample] anything within reason. We’re not gonna grill up a steak for you, but something that you can open up and taste, yeah go for it. They’ll be happy to open it and let you try (such as chips, candy, or snacks). Stuff you can just open and eat shouldn’t be an issue,” said Redditor sloth555.

Next: Avoid buying these items at Trader Joe’s.

6. Avoid the fresh produce; stick with frozen foods

shopping cart at Trader Joe's

The produce leaves a lot to be desired. | Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Most items at Trader Joe’s are of good quality. However, the produce leaves a lot to be desired. You’re better off looking elsewhere if you want to purchase fresh produce. Readers on Reddit complained TJ’s produce tends to be more expensive, and it’s not as fresh as similar offerings at other grocery stores. “Regardless of price (and it’s pretty good for some things, not good for others). I personally found TJ’s produce to be of generally inferior quality and avoided buying fresh veggies there with the exception of baby carrots and bagged salad,” a Redditor said.

However, if you’re looking to stock up on frozen foods, you can get some of the best deals at Trader Joe’s. Nutritionists recommend purchasing Trader Joe’s turkey meatballs, tuna burgers, or the roasted vegetable multigrain lasagna for those who want convenience but also desire a healthy dinner option.

In the end, you’ll still need to comparison shop when it comes to items, such as marinara sauce, shredded cheddar cheese, and almond butter, according to MarketWatch research. Target, Safeway, and Whole Foods were found to have the lowest prices when it came to these items.

Next: The ultimate offerings for your next party

7. Trader Joe’s has some of the best deals on alcohol

Trader Joe's beer is seen on the shelf during the grand opening of a Trader Joe's in Pinecrest, Florida.

Trader Joe’s beer is seen on the shelf during the grand opening of a Trader Joe’s in Pinecrest, Florida. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Are you looking to purchase a few alcoholic beverages for your next party? Then, Trader Joe’s is the place to go. You can find great deals on store-brand and name-brand beverages for under $20.

Eating Well noted how the store’s low-price alcohol quickly caught on among shoppers. “Perhaps the deal that Trader Joe’s is best known for? Cheap wine — so cheap in fact that when California stores began selling Charles Shaw wines at $1.99 a bottle, the brand earned the nickname Two-Buck Chuck,” according to Eating Well.

Next: Don’t miss out on this free money.

8. You can win prizes and gift cards

Kimberly Davison and Elena Evans pay for their groceries.

Kimberly Davison (L) and Elena Evans pay for their groceries. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Trader Joe’s stores often hold contests. If you win, you could get a Trader Joe’s bag stuffed with store goodies. Some recent contests include the Customer Choice Award, Strut Your Stuffed Recipe Contest, and October Recipe Contest. Another way to win? Bring your own reusable bags. Not only is it good for the environment, but it could help you score store perks. Some locations hold a raffle for a $25 gift card when you use your own bags. All you have to do is get a raffle ticket during checkout. If you don’t see tickets, just ask the cashier.

Next: You can keep the kids occupied.

9. Look for the hidden lobster

Trader Joe's

If you are absolutely in love with a particular product, you might want to stock up while you can. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Every single Trader Joe’s location hides either a plastic lobster or toy somewhere in the store, according to MSN. (Do you see it in the picture above?) If your kids are going crazy and you have more shopping to do, keep them busy with a scavenger hunt for the toy. FYI: No one knows why TJ’s chose a plastic lobster.

Next: Don’t be afraid to return something. 

10. They have a great return policy

Shopping cart in a supermarket

You won’t get stuck with a product you don’t want. | iStock.com/Kwangmoozaa

If you’re unhappy with your purchase, you can return it to the store (along with your receipt) for a full refund — no questions asked. Here’s what the folks at Trader Joe’s said on their website:

Try out that exotic-sounding dish you’ve never tried before — we think you’re going to like it. But if you don’t, you’re covered. Just bring back whatever you haven’t eaten and we’ll refund your money, no questions asked. It might sound like a food-lover’s fantasy, but for us it’s just the way we do business.

Next: The best time to shop at Trader Joe’s

11. Shop during off-peak hours

Shoppers enter a Trader Joe's in Florida.

Shoppers enter a Trader Joe’s in Florida. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Shoppers come in droves during popular days and times of the week, such as Saturday afternoons. An editor from culinary website Kitchn had this to say: “As for the best days to shop, the pricing remains the same from day to day, so look for the days or times when the store is least crowded. My local store is a war zone from Saturday to Monday, so I try to avoid those days.”

Next: Don’t take your favorite TJ’s product for granted.

12. Stock up fast on your favorite products

Mercy Weaver looks in the dairy section.

Mercy Weaver enjoys the grand opening of a Trader Joe’s in Florida. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The good news: Trader Joe’s sells unique products. The bad news: These unique products are often removed from store shelves due to limited space, low demand, high production cost, or a combination of the three. Because most Trader Joe’s stores are smaller, there’s a battle for product space. Low-performing products, though they may be your favorites, won’t stay around long.

A writer for the blog Trader Joe’s Rants & Raves shared how he felt when he found out almonds in the shell was discontinued.

We all know this scenario. This sinking feeling. That oh-so-Trader Joe’s feeling you get at the pit of your stomach when you realize, ‘Oh no! Maybe this is not just out of stock! Maybe this is (gulp!) a DISCONTINUED ITEM! If you’re a TJ regular, you know this feeling. It’s a bad feeling.

So if you absolutely love a particular product, you may want to stock up while you can.

Next: You can still be an extreme couponer.

13. They DO accept manufacturer’s coupons

woman at supermarket

Contrary to popular belief, you can use manufacturer’s coupons at Trader Joe’s. | iStock.com/Cathy Yeulet

If you’re a serious couponer, you might avoid Trader Joe’s. However, contrary to popular belief, you can use manufacturer’s coupons during your TJ’s shopping trips.

Bethany, founder of personal finance site All Natural Savings, said on her blog shoppers can use their coupons at any Trader Joe’s location. “According to their corporate office, there is no official coupon policy available; however, they will accept manufacturer coupons and abide by any limits printed on the coupon,” she said. The store does not offer its own store coupons, so this little tidbit will help you save some money.

Next: Do your research for the best deals.

14. Read the Fearless Flyer

hands of a young woman using mobile phone

The store’s circular lists the latest featured products. | iStock.com/imtmphoto

Fearless Flyer may sound like an action-packed book or the latest summer movie, but it’s actually the name of Trader Joe’s circular. Fearless Flyer is not only entertaining, but also a good source of news on the latest store deals. You can find the flyer in the store, or you can sign up to receive it by email.

Next: Make a Trader Joe’s happen in your community.

15. Ask for a Trader Joe’s to come to your neighborhood

trader joe's

If you speak up, you might shorten your commute to your nearest Trader Joe’s. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Just ask if you want a Trader Joe’s in your neighborhood. The store has a handy online form customers can fill out, asking you to recommend a location and leaving room for additional comments. If you don’t think the company cares about your request, you’re wrong. “There are no guarantees, but being wanted matters to us,” according to the website.

Follow Sheiresa on Twitter @SheiresaNgo.

Ali Harrison also contributed to this article.

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