There are plenty of reasons to like Trader Joe's: helpful employees in Hawaiian shirts, a no-questions-asked return policy, unusual items such as cookie butter and rosemary marcona almonds, and -- best of all -- low prices.
However, not everything is a good deal at Trader Joe's. We compared non-sale prices on a variety of items with similar items at Harris Teeter, Kroger (KR), Walmart (WMT) and Whole Foods (WFM). While we found that it's tough to beat Trader Joe's everyday prices, there are a few things that are better bargains at other stores.
Here are eight items you can get for less elsewhere -- and in some cases we're talking dollars less, not just pennies. For each one, we've suggested related items you might want to purchase instead at Trader Joe's because the regular prices are better than you'll find on competitors' shelves. And we end this slide show with a bonus item that's cheap at Trader Joe's -- but you have to judge if it's worth it.
8 Bad Buys at Trader Joe's - and What to Get Instead
8 Bad Buys at Trader Joe's - and What to Get Instead
An alternative to peanut butter, almond butter is one of Trader Joe's most popular items but isn't one of the chain's best deals. We found that Walmart was selling the Maranatha brand of almond butter for about $1.40 less than a jar of Trader Joe's almond butter.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe's: Organic peanut butter. If you stick with good ol' peanut butter, the organic variety is a good buy at Trader Joe's. The price on a 16-ounce jar at Trader Joe's was the same or lower than the prices on organic peanut butter at the other stores we checked.
Milk is a regular item on most grocery lists, and the organic variety in particular can be a big expense for big families. Whole Foods beat Trader Joe's price on a gallon of organic milk by a whopping $2.30.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe's: Almond and soy milks. If you want an alternative to cow's milk, Trader Joe's has low prices on its almond and soy milks. At $2.99 for a half-gallon carton, the price on both almond milk and soy milk was about the same or lower than at the other stores we checked.
With the exception of bananas, we found that Walmart beat Trader Joe's prices on a variety of non-organic fruits and vegetables including avocados, grapes and strawberries.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe's: Organic fruits and vegetables. If you shop at Trader Joe's, there's a good chance that you're picky about what you consume. So if you prefer organic fruits and vegetables, know that you're getting a lower price on them at Trader Joe's than at most other stores.
Whole Foods has the lower price on a 16-ounce package of mozzarella -- $3.99 versus $4.49 at Trader Joe's. Other conventional cheeses also were more expensive at Trader Joe's. For example, a 12-ounce package of sliced provolone cost 61 cents more at Trader Joe's than at Walmart.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe's: Specialty cheeses. If you like imported and artisan cheeses, you can find a good selection at low prices at Trader Joe's. We compared two common varieties: French brie and goat cheese. We found that brie was between 50 cents and $4 cheaper per pound at Trader Joe's that at competitors; a 4-ounce package of goat cheese was at least $2 less.
When it comes to organic chicken, both Kroger and Walmart beat Trader Joe's price per pound on breasts. The savings was 50 cents per pound on organic chicken breasts at Kroger but a more substantial $2 per pound at Walmart.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe's: Organic ground beef. At $5.99 per pound, Trader Joe's organic ground beef is $1 less per pound than its organic chicken breasts and between 50 cents and $2 less per pound than organic ground beef at the other stores we checked.
The popularity of Greek yogurt has exploded in recent years, all the more reason to be thrifty when shopping for the protein-rich snack. A 32-ounce container of Greek Gods brand yogurt was almost 70 cents less at Whole Foods than the Trader Joe's brand.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe's: Organic plain yogurt. Trader Joe's price on a 32-ounce container bests other retailers' regular prices by at least 50 cents.
Trader Joe's sells small packages of frozen fruit. So you'll pay nearly three times as much per ounce at Trader Joe's than if you buy a 64-ounce package of strawberries, blueberries or other frozen fruit at Walmart.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe's: Frozen meals are a bargain for those who don't have the time or talent to cook from scratch. For example, the price on its individual serving of pesto tortellini beat the prices other stores had on Amy's brand pesto tortellini by 50 cents. And Trader Joe's paneer palak -- an Indian dish with spinach and cheese -- was about $2 less than the Amy's brand version sold at the other stores we checked.
If you prefer phosphate-free dishwasher and laundry detergents, you'll find a better deal on them at Walmart. A 128-fluid-ounce container of Ecos laundry detergent was $8.97 at Walmart, versus $9.99 for Trader Joe's natural detergent. And a 75-liquid-ounce container of Palmolive Eco+ dishwasher detergent was $2.97 at Walmart, which beat the price of Trader Joe's 50-ounce container by $1.
What to buy instead at Trader Joe's: Natural toothpaste. At $2.99, a 6-ounce tube of Trader Joe's natural toothpaste was almost $2 less than the Tom's brand natural toothpaste sold at other stores.
You can't beat the price on Trader Joe's Charles Shaw wines, known as "Two-Buck Chuck" because a bottle can cost as little as $2. However, not all of the chain's stores sell the wine due to state or local restrictions. Also, wine enthusiasts often say you get what you pay for with this cheap label. But, hey, if you're using it to make sangria, you might not even notice. Sample a glass or two and decide.