Or, as my mother would say, what, are they filled with diamonds?
Last week, I got a little note in my mailbox from a neighbor. Actually it was an email chain printout in which a handful of people on our block recounted stories of prowlers and break-ins. There was one legit break-in (and, from the sounds of it, the victims knew the perpetrator), but most the stories were of kids lurking in the bushes with crowbars. They wait until we leave then pry our doors open and rifle through our freezer and medicine cabinet looking for drugs or cash or drugs for cash. (Hey kid, you really want my hormone-blocking cancer drugs? Help yourself. Welcome to the world of hot flashes and night sweats. Enjoy your stay.)
You’d think this news would scare me. I mean, I stay up at night thinking about flame retardants and dry cleaning chemicals (stay tuned). And sure it creeps me out, but nothing incites more dread and terror than…. Wait for it, wait for it… The urban Trader Joe’s parking lot. Gasp!
Some of you who are lucky enough to have a nice big suburban TJ’s may not know what I’m talking about. Trust me. You’ve never encountered such a tightly packed, poorly planned, small, exhaust filled, impossible-to-get-through-even-if-you’re-done-and-just-want-to-go-home, parking lot. And once you find a spot, don’t even think of opening your door to get your kid out. There. Is. No. Room.
I really resisted the whole Trader Joe’s movement. Partly because of the lots but also because I didn’t want to add another grocery store to my list and there isn’t really a store close to my house. But, you know, I have a few friends who are die-hard TJ’s fans so I decided to do a little price comparison. Here’s what I found:
|½ gallon organic whole milk||3.99||3.89||2.99||3.99|
|Pacific organic almond milk||2.59||2.59||1.69||2.99|
|Organic grass-fed ground beef||6.99||5.99||5.99||5.49***|
|Organic extra virgin olive oil (per oz)||.65||.60||.38||.78|
|Organic Fuji apples (per lb)||1.99||1.99||2.07*||2.49|
|Organic red peppers (per lb)||3.99||3.99||3.52*||8.00*|
*This produce was priced per piece instead of per pound. So I made some estimates and created some complex equations to come up with these numbers. I like to think Mrs. Runyan would be proud, but probably not.
**QFC overcharges you retail then makes you give them all your personal information in exchange for one of their bullshit loyalty cards that gives you “discounts” at the register. The rates listed here are what their price tags say and do not include their “discounts.”
***QFC did not have any organic grass-fed ground beef. The closest I could find was “natural.”
Seriously? $8.00 per pound for red peppers? Before this, I would have guessed that QFC would be the cheapest of the stores. Perhaps they don’t buy enough organic or natural products to get volume discounts.
As you can see, in most cases, TJ’s is WAY cheaper. I mean way. Look at almond milk. (For those of you dairy-free-ers, I really think that almond is the best of the alternative milks. I actually feel better when I drink it than when I don’t.) Anyway, the brand, size, everything is the same. How can TJ’s sell it for 40% less?
My experience with Trader Joe’s produce is inconsistent at best. I’ve heard that sometimes they have great watermelons and mangoes, but frequently their fruits and veggies lack flavor and substance. Limes without juice. Soft apples. Tasteless peaches.
So, now I do fight with TJ’s parking lot on occasion. I shop there like I would Costco. I buy a gallon of milk, 10 cartons of almond milk (it lasts forever), 7 boxes of Paul’s favorite cereal, etc. I load up on prepared food but save my produce purchases for the co-op.
And in the last post about grocery stores some of you brought up farmers markets. On the Neighborhood Farmer’s Market Alliance site they have a nice little article about produce price comparison studies conducted from 2003-2008. They all find that farmer’s market produce is cheaper than their grocery store competitors. Here’s one interesting example:
Spring 2008: study by Stacy Jones’ SU statistics students found that the average cost per pound of all organic produce at QFC was $2.98, at Whole Foods is was $2.53, and at the Broadway Farmers Market is was $2.36. A few items were more expensive at the Farmers Market, but most items were more expensive at the grocery stores, so the total average was less at the Farmers Market – which means that a shopper’s grocery bill would average lowest at the Farmers Market.
Now that we know how much cheaper TJ’s is, perhaps we should encourage them to charge us more and use the extra revenue to make their parking garage slightly less horrific. But then, what would be the point? If it’s not cheap, it’s just another grocery store.
Perhaps the miserable parking lot is the price, or the penance, we pay for the luxury of inexpensive ground beef. Maybe that’s why they give out free samples, to soften the blow. Oh Honey, they say when you burst through the front door waving your crow bar like a sword, after using it to pry open your door and scare away the criminals lurking in dark corners. Here, they say, have a chocolate covered strawberry on a stick and a tiny cup of coffee. Then they press a bottle of olive oil into your hand. Now here, they say, take this. Take home some of our cheap packaged goods. There, now the world doesn’t seem like such a scary place, does it? Don’t you feel better already?