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6 Warnings to Shoppers From Ex-Trader Joe's Employees

Here's what you should know before you make your next grocery shopping trip.

Very few grocery stores can boast a committed fan base quite like Trader Joe's can. The supermarket chain is beloved for its high-quality in-house branded items sold for surprisingly low prices, covering everything from produce and prepared foods to fresh flowers and frozen meals. But beneath all the popular products and bargain buys, there are still some things the Hawaiian shirt-bedecked staff want you to keep in mind. Read on for the warnings ex-Trader Joe's employees have for shoppers.

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No amount of pleading can bring back a discontinued product.

Trader Joe's customer trolley shopping basket carrying carts by store entrance doors outside women, winter flower pots, gardening plants, pineapple in Virginia

Arguably the biggest draw of Trader Joe's is the store-brand products that you simply can't buy anywhere else. But if you ever notice one of your favorite items missing from shelves for a long time, there's a good chance you'll never be able to buy it again—no matter how much you beg staff.

"No petition will bring a product back. Almost always it's because we lose that vender and can't find a replacement, be it a supply issue or over money," 82MacReady, a Trader Joe's employee of 10 years, explained in a Reddit discussion thread.

They add that discontinued products have come back months or years later unexpectedly, but it's not common. "Unfortunately, you're gonna have to find a replacement or something similar," they write.

You should carefully time your visits to avoid the store's infamous parking chaos.

people lined up outside a trader joe's store

Trader Joe's smaller store footprint makes them a more manageable shopping experience that can help customers get in and out relatively quickly. However, employees warn that the same thing can't be said for the chain's parking lots.

"Every store I've worked at has had a nightmare of a parking lot," 82MacReady warned on the Reddit thread. "I don't know why: It's some unspoken rule or maybe a curse. But [California], East Coast stores, [and] even down south lots are terrible."

Other employees agree that Trader Joe's parking lots can be a bit small. "Unfortunately, the employees can't do anything to fix this," one former employee told Insider. "To avoid a congested parking lot, try coming soon after opening in the morning."

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Stay away on certain days if you want to avoid crowds.

August 16, 2020 customer at Trader Joe's at Chelsea lining up with masks for the register, New York City, USA

Getting to the grocery store can sometimes come down to what your busy schedule will allow. But if you're looking to avoid crowds at a notoriously popular store like Trader Joe's, employees warn it can be best to prioritize getting there on specific days.

"The pattern I've noticed is Tuesdays (and apparently Wednesdays although I don't work them) are the slowest. Thursdays, when I worked them, were always pretty mild too," CherryDude48, a Reddit user who has worked in two Boston-area locations, wrote in a discussion thread.

"Even on those slow days, I'd try to get in before 4; that's when things pick up slightly," they add. "But in the grand scheme of things, avoid Saturday [through] Monday, especially Sunday."

Another employee at a store in Southern California noticed a similar pattern. "The best times to shop are at opening and right before closing to avoid crowds. Sunday and Monday are our busiest days, and Tuesdays [through] Thursdays are the slowest," Reddit user mr_cookie wrote in response.

Don't buy any items you're unsure of without sampling them first.

Shelves with products and ailes with special offers and new food items inside Trader Joe's grocery store, a American supermarket chain owned by German discount retailer Aldi

Like Costco, Trader Joe's is famous for its in-store demos allowing shoppers to try certain items before buying. Usually, these stands work to market a new or seasonal product the company hopes to move in bulk. But if you're curious about a product that isn't being sampled at a stall, there's a good chance you can still test-drive it before you commit.

"You can ask a crew member to try pretty much any product, and we'll open it for you and try some," CherryDude48 explained. "If you don't like it, or if you do but don't want to buy a half-eaten product, we take it to the break room."

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Don't expect modern conveniences like online delivery anytime soon.

The exterior of a Trader Joe's supermarket

Lately, it's not uncommon for the grocery shopping experience to involve nothing more than your smartphone or tablet and a few free minutes on the couch thanks to conveniences such as delivery or ordering ahead. But while these types of services might be taking off elsewhere, staff warn it likely won't make its way to TJ's very soon.

"Trader Joe's operates in 1993. We use a bell system, for crying out loud," 82MacReady explained when responding to a question about adding conveniences. "They're never going to do online ordering or pickup orders cause they wanna keep things simple. They're all about the illusion of a small-town grocery store experience."

Some surprising items may not be suitable for your diet.

Portland, OR - Dec. 31, 2017: Trader Joe's store in Portland, Oregon. Based in Monrovia, California, Trader Joe's is an American chain of grocery stores.

With a wide selection of fresh produce and other products, it's not at all hard to buy everything you need for a healthy meal at Trader Joe's. However, some of the store's premade or processed items could pose an unexpected problem for certain people's dietary restrictions.

"Watch out on all the premade dishes. Especially burritos. They're crazy high in sodium because there are no artificial preservatives," 82MacReady cautioned on a Reddit thread. "Even stuff you wouldn't expect, like the fresh pasta."

While they may be delicious, diet experts point out that some of Trader Joe's popular meals can be loaded with too much salt or sugar, according to Eat This Not That. If you're concerned, be sure to check the nutrition label before you buy.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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