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Trader Joe’s vs. Safeway – a Price Smackdown!

2

July 31, 2013 by Dan

Trader Joes
I do a bunch of my shopping at Trader Joe’s; it has that (less-pain-in-the-ass) + (kinda-hippie-organic) vibe that middle-aging urbanites like me enjoy. I’ve been shopping there for well over ten years, since I lived in Boston and used to go to the branch in Cambridge near the river. When I lived in Chicago, I was incredibly excited when a branch opened on the north side of the river. TJs was, I figured, going to be a cheaper way to live-while-broke than bargain-hunting at the Jewel near my apartment.

What I didn’t know, and what I’ve never bothered to calculate, is exactly how much cheaper TJs is than your average grocery store. Inspired by this post, I hopped on my bike today and went up to the store for a bit of staples buying. When I got home I hopped online and compared my trip today to the list prices at Safeway. I was shocked.

Item
Trader Joe's
Safeway
Comments
Woven Wheats Wafers$2.49$5.49You can occasionally get Triscuits on big sales, and I'm very aware that Triscuits taste better, but…still.
Indian fare$1.99$3.34Walmart Tasty Bite
Grana Padano (price per pound)$11.99$19.99Vs. Primo Taglio Parmigiano Reggiano. At TJs Reggiano is about $13.99/lb, but where we are here they're about the same. Really good Parm Reg is a different story. Also - a can of Kraft Parmesan Cheese at Safeway works out to $13.12 per pound. More than real Grana. I'm floored.
Prosciutto$3.99$8.80TJs Prosciutto vs. Primo Taglio. Obs, we're a step down from Parma ham here, but it's a fair comparison
Chocolate$1.99$3.00Select w/ Salt + Nougat
Dish Detergent$3.99$1.99Safeway detergent vs. all-natural stuff (7th Gen is about $5 for 45 oz)
Goat's Milk Cheddar Cheese$9.99$7.20Price per pound here. I compared the TJs cheese with Tillamook Special Reserve Extra Sharp, which is not really as good.
Tofu$1.99$2.79Comparing O Organics again - there was a club card deal for Azumaya tofu at $1.50
Organic Tomato Paste$1.78$2.78Compare w/ O Organics; regular is even at $0.89
Shampoo$2.49$1.95Club Card price - may be more expensive
Joe's O's$1.99$5.58And I'm comparing the bigger 18 oz Safeway box here…
Pepper Jack$4.49$4.39A bit of apples/oranges here - only bought 0.57 lbs of pepperjack at TJs, and compared with 16 oz of Lucerne Pepperjack.
Mac N Cheese$5.96$13.204 boxes vs. Annie's Organics
Spicy Brown Mustard$0.99$2.59
Flour$2.99$3.69
Cashews - Roasted, Salted$6.99$13.98
Fresh Mozzarella Cigliene$3.49$4.39
Butter$2.99$3.29
Israeli Couscous$1.99$2.24
Avocado (bag o' four, unripe)$3.49$4.39
Totals$78.06$115.08

Crazy, huh? One shopping trip, on a bike, and it’s nearly $40 cheaper! And it’s not including some other stuff which would really exacerbate the difference (booze, olive oil, maple syrup, coffee, laundry detergent, etc.). This data won’t change my life much, as I do most of my non-vegetable shopping at Trader Joe’s. But it sure does make me feel validated.

Some explanations for objections:

  1. “You didn’t use a Club Card!” Yes, I know that Safeway sometimes has better deals if you use a club card. Some of the prices above are with a club card, and I’m certainly not above going down there and taking advantage of such deals when I run into them. However, I’m not going to waste time by checking club card deals and delaying my shopping on the hope that the store puts something that I want on discount. I needed stuff; I went and bought it. That’s how most of us shop.
  2. “They don’t have (x) brand that I absolutely like.” If you’re saying this about Triscuits, I get it. Triscuits are amazing. But they’re not $3/box amazing. And for most of the stuff I buy, it’s either interchangeable, or TJs is actually better. Especially on the cheese front.
  3. “You can’t buy fresh vegetables at TJs because their vegetables are terrible.” Arguably, Safeway’s are worse. I buy veggies either at our local farmer’s markets or at a couple of little vegetable markets. Don’t have a vegetable market? Well, I feel sorry for you – they’re always going to be better than the mass-produced supermarket stuff.
  4. “Their meat isn’t what I want.” Can’t help you here – again, because I’m a Certified Urban Snob, I get what meat I buy at one of three different small-market butcher counters, where things I order are wrapped in paper in real-time. For meat-in-cellophane, I see no difference between TJs and Safeway.
  5. “What about dried beans?” Dude, I love dried beans. TJs doesn’t have ‘em. Feel free to buy them at Safeway or (even better) a Latino market. Cheap, delicious, etc. The point of this exercise is that, for things you can get at TJs, it’s marketdly less expensive.
  6. “I don’t like their (Hawaiian shirts/cheerful tattooed checkers/non-union-yet-fairly-paid employees/German ownership/whatever).” Can’t help you here. Maybe you should calm down.

2 comments »

  1. tina says:

    Thanks for the nicely written info;) I’m moving to sf soon and will have a safeway, tjs and wholefoods within equal distance of me. Ill check out tjs first then make my rounds! :) All the best, tina

  2. Deitra Pawley says:

    I like Trader Joe’s and my only regret is they don’t have one in Madera where I live so I have to wait until I am in L.A. A lot of people including my sister thinks Trader Joe’s is expensive but your side by side price comparison shows that you save more at Trader Joe’s. I like the Hawaiian shirts.

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