What the Philly Grocery Store Boom Is Really About

Photography by Jeff Fusco

Photography by Jeff Fusco

In early 2008, not long after I came out of a not-excellent relationship, landed a new job and moved to Philadelphia, I found my soul mate at the supermarket. Okay, my soul mate was the supermarket — specifically, the Trader Joe’s around the corner from my apartment.

Like most affairs, this one didn’t really start with love. I just felt lucky that I had such a decent place to shop so close by, even if the cramped store always felt like blizzard shopping, all bumper-carts and panicked grabs for the last box of Puffins. (I once watched a man in the middle of a line so long it wrapped around the store heave a sigh, abandon his basket on the floor — milk and all! — and stomp out the door. As one friend says: “The lines and the parking lot there are like you’re on Candid Camera.”)

But as time went on, I found that it wasn’t just about the convenience of geography: I adored the happy-go-lucky vibe and the friendly (stoned?) dudes in Hawaiian shirts, the punnily named products (“Hold the Cone” mini-ice creams! Adorable!), the famously well-edited selection of frozen meals, the planet’s most addictive chocolate-pistachio toffees. So what if Trader Joe’s didn’t carry fresh shrimp or Ben & Jerry’s or contact solution? The whole store felt like me, or the person I fancied myself to be. Organically inclined, but not overly crunchy. A little more special than Acme, but not as upmarket as Di Bruno’s. Good-humored, not terribly experimental, disinclined to excess and preciousness, with a tendency to overdo it on the snacks and the avocados.

When I moved across town to Fairmount a few years later, I bravely tried to transfer my loyalties to the Whole Foods, which was much closer to my new place and boasted a cult of followers (many of them my friends) so staunch, they made the Scientologists look like Brownies. Somehow, though, it just never took. Sure, the place was gorgeous, the bakery’s cakes were light as air, and the olive selection was basically the eighth wonder of the world. And I was happy enough to pop in for the pre-formed grass-fed burger patties (the best in the city). But I never really felt like I fully belonged amongst its gluten-aware, multi-tattooed denizens. I mean. These people actually remembered to bring their own bags.

“Whole Foods is bullshit,” offers a colleague of mine. “All that effort going into feeling authentic and romanticizing food shopping when the place is all about Ayn Rand-style capitalism.” He prefers Aldi, where “you’re shopping in a gray box with no music; they barely even have shelves. What they have is great stuff, cheap, for which you trade money. That, my friend, is a pure experience.” Read more »

The Checkup: The New Trader Joe’s Items to Throw In Your Shopping Cart

Photo via Flickr user Mark Nockleby

Photo via Flickr user Mark Nockleby

Trader Joe’s lovers, rejoice! The store’s got some sweet new items on its shelves, including Hass avocado oil for a pretty cheap $8.99 (Spectrum’s will run you $12.99 for a bottle half the size), vegetable spring rolls loaded with goodies like kale and edamame, and sweetened dried orange slices — because we all need dessert. Now you know what to keep your eyes peeled for when you’re waiting in the wrap-around-the-store line this weekend. [Real Simple]

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If You Have These Trader Joe’s Items in Your Freezer, Throw Them Away 

Photo courtesy Trader Joe's

Photo courtesy Trader Joe’s

Last week, CRF Frozen Foods recalled over 350 products, including some Trader Joe’s frozen veggies, due to potential listeria contamination. And now we have more bad news for frozen-foods lovers of the world: Trader Joe’s has expanded the earlier recall (which included their brand-name frozen organic peas, petite peas, organic whole green beans, organic broccoli florettes and organic foursome) to include all Trader Joe’s Vegetable Fried Rice and Trader Joe’s Chicken Fried Rice due to potential listeria contamination. Read more »

CRF Frozen Foods Expands Recall to Include 358 Products (Including Frozen Trader Joe’s Veggies!)

Last week, Pasco, Washington-based CRF Frozen Foods recalled 15 of its frozen vegetable products due to a risk of listeria contamination. And now, that count of recalled products has gone up — a lot. This week, the company announced in a press release that they’ve voluntarily recalled all of the frozen fruit and vegetable products manufactured or processed at their Pasco facility since May 1st, 2014. That comes out to a total of 358 frozen food products sold under 42 brand names, sold across the country. And because we know you all love your frozen Trader Joe’s products, it’s worth noting that the recall includes six frozen food products sold under Trader Joe’s brand name. Read more »

There’s Plenty of Bread at Trader Joe’s (You’ll Just Have to Wait in Line For It)

Trader Joe's line

The line at Trader Joe’s wraps around the store several times. (Photo: Dan McQuade)

The good news: There’s lots of bread at Trader Joe’s. The bad news: You’ll have to wait about a half-hour for it.

The scene at Trader Joe’s right now is what we might call organized chaos. The line starts near the coffee bar, snakes around three aisles, goes back to the aisle near the coffee bar, and eventually makes its way to the registers at the front of the store. An employee says the wait is about 40 minutes.

Or maybe less! “The staff at Trader Joe’s is amazing,” says Suchita Fiorillo, wife of Philly Mag reporter Victor Fiorillo. She stopped by Trader Joe’s just after 9 a.m. to pick up supplies, deciding to opt for street parking after she saw the parking lot nightmare, which included one car hitting another. “The line was wrapped all around the store, but I got into the store and through checkout in 30 minutes with two bags of groceries.” Read more »

How I, a Die-Hard Whole Foods Shopper, Became a Trader Joe’s Convert

Photo by Flickr user Christopher Long

Photo by Flickr user Christopher Long

My love affair with Trader Joe’s began innocently enough: I was walking back to our offices in Center City from West Philly after checking out the new Herban Quality Eats, and I realized I needed some honey for the next morning’s tea. I was passing by Trader Joe’s at 22nd and Market, so I stopped in. 10 minutes later, I walked out with not just honey — raw organic honey that cost me an impressive $4.99, by the way — but three avocados (99 cents each), some organic dog treats ($2.99!) and a ginger kombucha ($2.79, I believe). My total for all of these items came out to around $15 and my first thought was: This would never happen at Whole Foods.

I was hooked. Read more »

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