6 Things You Should Do Every Time You Shop at Trader Joe’s, According to a Former Employee

published Sep 10, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: The Kitchn

You’d be surprised what you can learn while working at a grocery store. While working at Trader Joe’s for two years, I learned loads of useful tips and fun facts, including which wines are actually secretly name brands, how coconuts are harvested, and why Super Bowl Sunday after 2:30 p.m. is the best time to go grocery shopping.

I might be just a regular ol’ customer now, but there are plenty of TJ’s tips that I still use today. Here are just some of my tried-and-true tips on how to navigate Trader Joe’s like a pro!

Credit: Cassiohabib

1. Make the frozen section your last stop.

One thing that surprised me most from working for Trader Joe’s is just how quickly a grocery bill can go up from frozen items alone. Sure, I love frozen pizzas and Brazilian cheese bread as much as the next person, but now I hit this section last. Why? Well, it helps to cut down on my impulse spending when it’s my final stretch. (Have you noticed that often cookies are also near the frozen items?)

Also, it’s a logistical tool for me too: If I hit frozen last, I’m literally getting the coldest product possible, meaning there’s less time for things to melt on the ride home. Also, you’ll avoid that produce-to-frozen bottleneck of customers that seems to plague most Trader Joe’s locations. 

Credit: Lauren Masur

2. Grab an unfamiliar cheese.

When I worked at Trader Joe’s, I ordered both wine and cheese for my store (maybe the most fun tasks ever). What I noticed most often? Repeat purchases of the same three cheeses: Unexpected Cheddar, Syrah Toscano, Shredded Mozzarella. Those three cheeses are delicious, of course, but there are so many amazing seasonal and year-round cheeses that are worthy of your attention.

Here are some cheeses I’d suggest you add to your cart: Any and all of the Toscanos (Rosé, Chardonnay, Black Pepper) and/or swap in your triple-crème Brie for the Saint André Triple Crème Brie. And you just might find yourself shocked at how different a fatty, crumbly, decadent English-style cheddar can be compared to your normal Wisconsin sharp. 

Credit: Lauren Masur

3. Know the best times to shop at your store. (The answer might surprise you!)

Depending on school schedules, the weather, and even awards shows, the times to shop at your local TJ’s can vary widely. At my store in North Carolina, the quietest it ever got was during the following: college basketball games, any rainstorm, and the Super Bowl. Outside of that, mornings and post-7 p.m. are usually safe bets (at that point most sections have been restocked, too). Ask your local crew member what they find to be the quietest time to shop there.

Credit: Lauren Masur

4. Keep your wine bottles (or anything in a glass bottle) out of the baby seat.

I know this might seem obvious, but it sadly just isn’t. Resist the urge to put those precious bottles of wine in the baby seat area of your cart. Or, if anything, get into the habit of flipping up the plastic barrier near the leg area of the cart so your bottle doesn’t slip through. I’ve seen way too many wine bottles fall onto customers’ feet and there’s nothing sadder than the sight of spilled wine, as far as I’m concerned. 

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

5. Ask a crew member what they like. (We’ve eaten everything and we’re experts!)

I also wish this was more obvious: Ask your crew member what they’ve been liking lately! Many of the crew members will gladly nerd out with you about truffle seasonings and $6 Spanish wines, so ask away! They just might also tell you about the newest ice cream that just came off the truck — the one they’re all eating way too quickly in the back room. 

Credit: Dana McMahan

6. Stock up on those seasonal coffees (and not just pumpkin spice).

You’re likely already familiar with the more well-known seasonal coffees at Trader Joe’s, like the Wintry Blend, Gingerbread, and Pumpkin Spice, but did you know that there’s pretty much always a new seasonal coffee on the shelves? It might have become a habit to grab your regular bag of Medium Joe, but those seasonally curated coffees are all guaranteed 12/10 coffee-drinking experiences, and come from Mt. Kilimanjaro, Kona, Hawaii, and more.

One last tip: These seasonal coffees often come in bags (rather than canisters) and can be very “blink and you’ll miss it” experiences (as TJ’s products often are). So forgive my pun here, but do not sleep on those coffees!

Do you have a tip for shopping at Trader Joe’s? Tell us in the comments below!