Trader Joe's and 365 (Whole Foods' younger sibling) have a lot in common. They both advertise quality ingredients and good values; lean heavily on their respective house brands; pre-package all meat, fish, and poultry; and are a go-to source for on-trend products like flax seeds and coconut flour.
Of course, there are some differences between the two. Trader Joe's has all those delicious frozen specialties (think: bite-sized spanakopita and mac and cheese balls), plus a ridiculous selection of nuts (there are 20 different types of almonds at my local store!). And 365s have a huge salad bar, hot-food steam tables, rotisserie chickens, and a more robust range of household necessities (like baby food, baking needs, ice, and trash bags).
Both offer much to gourmands and enterprising home cooks. But all differences aside, where will you get more bananas for your buck?
I went to the 365 in Silver Lake and a nearby Trader Joe's in Los Angeles and randomly priced 46 items — from cereal to toilet paper to frozen cod. I pitted the 365 brand against Trader Joe's and here's what I found.
1. Trader Joe's wins in general.
More than half the products (26!) were less expensive at Trader Joe's. For instance, Trader Joe's prices on organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts beat 365's by 50 cents a pound ($6.49 versus $6.99). T.J.'s frozen cod was $1.50 less than 365's ($7.49 versus $8.99 per pound), and while both sell versions of bulgogi, beef short ribs vacuum packed in a Korean marinade, Trader Joe's were again 50 cents less per pound ($9.49 compared to $9.99).
Also among the best deals at Trader Joe's were small watermelons, almond butter, and round-oat cereal (aka fake Cheerios).
2. Trader Joe's is also the Big Cheese in the cheese department.
Bonus points: Trader Joe's remains the cheese king. Besides having a large selection of various brands and types, their prices were consistently lower. One-pound bags of shredded mozzarella came out cheaper at TJ's (Trader's was $3.79 versus 365's $3.99), as did bricks of Dubliner brand cheddar cheese, which Trader Joe's had priced at $5.99, while 365 was selling the same thing, albeit in different packaging, for $8.43 per pound.
More Things to Buy at Trader Joe's
3. It's really important to check packaging size.
In a few instances, Trader Joe's and 365's prices seemed the same, but there was a discrepancy in volume. Both stores sell frozen multigrain waffles for $1.99, but Trader's package contains eight waffles to 365's six, which add 4.4 ounces, or one more breakfast, to the product. Both stores were selling a bag of mixed lettuces for $1.99, but the 365 bag weighed three fewer ounces, or a whole side salad's worth of green, leafy vegetables.
4. It's not a total runaway win for TJ's.
Although Trader Joe's has a far mightier presence across the country with, at last count, 465 stores in 41 states, the good Trader might see a tiny speck in his rearview mirror. That speck is 365, which has four stores open and some 18 more in the works. One quarter of my grocery staples were priced exactly the same at each store. (I am including small avocados because the price per pound evened out at around a penny.)
Among the identically priced products were bananas, regular (19 cents each), and organic (29 cents), a half-gallon of organic milk ($3.49), all-purpose flour ($2.99), white sandwich bread ($2.99), 33.8-ounce bottles of basic olive oil ($5.99), and five-ounce cans of Albacore tuna packed in water ($1.69). The list goes on to include peanut butter ($2.99), small corn tortillas (99 cents for 12), 16-ounce bags of almonds ($5.99), and one-pound boxes of organic butter ($4.99.)
5. 365 has some bargains and very nice produce.
In broad strokes, 365's old-school produce department far outstripped Trader Joe's in variety and scope — allowing customers to choose their own amounts, as opposed to Trader Joe's, which typically packages their produce, especially the vegetables, in predetermined amounts.
The eight 365 items that rang up less than Trader Joe's included organic cherries on special for $3 per pound (compared to Trader's $4.49), organic cashews ($6.99 versus $8.99 for a pound), whole-wheat spaghetti ($1.29 to $1.49), comparable all-natural ground beef ($5.49 versus $5.99), whole-wheat bread ($1.99 to $2.99), a two-pound tub of whole-milk yogurt ($2.99 compared to $3.99), and one pound of regular butter ($3.19 versus $3.29).
More on 365
Bonus: One final comparison
Both stores sell 12-packs of toilet paper made from recycled paper for $4.99, but according to the labels, 365's provides 50 square feet more of environmentally correct softness.
Do you have a 365 near you? If so, which one do you prefer?