Whether you are a Trader Joe’s fan or not, its arrival in Rochester has been highly-anticipated. Many Rochesterians cannot imagine shopping anywhere other than Wegmans and the location of this TJ’s, as fans affectionately call it, has caused some confusion among loyal Wegman’s shopping. Establishing the first Trader Joe’s in the Rochester area adjacent to the Pittsford Wegmans seems like a bad idea to many. How could TJ’s survive next to the grocery shopping mecca that is the Pittsford Wegmans. Why on earth would people make two trips to go grocery shopping when they could find everything they could possibly need at Wegmans? This is the sentiment felt by many born and raised Rochesterians that have been exposed exclusively to the Wegmans grocery shopping experience.
Being from the New York area, exposed to my first Trader Joe’s at an early age in Westport, CT and subsequently becoming a loyal fan of the inexpensive TJ brand, I was not as skeptical about the success that Trader Joe’s will have in the Rochester area. Trader Joes has never been a one-stop shop like Wegmans and frequently competes against large supermarkets. I shop at Trader Joe’s because they have really good prices, it’s small, service is great, and treat bagging like a Tetris game. I love their snack foods, cheeses, frozen options and packaged meats. Admittedly, their produce isn’t very good, but its those other things that keep me coming back. Plus, did I mention that their prices rock?
Despite the mixed opinions, Trader Joe’s opened in Pittsford Plaza last Friday, October 5th. While I wasn’t able to check it out that day, I stopped by Monday and Tuesday to scope out the scene. Monday, I went in around 4 pm to get a couple of items. It was packed. So packed, I was having NYC TJ’s flashbacks. While living in Manhattan, Alex and I would have to muster up our courage to enter a Trader Joe’s because of the crowds. The lines were so long they wrapped around the store and the only efficient and sane way to get out of there was having one person stand in the line while the other shopped. So, when I experienced a bit of this in Pittsford, my instinct was to get the heck out of there.
I returned Tuesday morning to a much calmer, less panic attack inducing Trader Joe’s. I took my time wandering around the store, getting the lay of the land, and then started my shopping. I needed: cereal, almond milk, snacks, lunch meats, fruit and gluten free bread. In NYC I was used to TJ’s having “G” labels for items that are gluten free, so I scanned the shelves looking for the familiar letter and came up short. Where was my beloved “G”? In the cereal section I found plenty of Puffins but it took my a while to find the gluten free version. Same story with the chips. I resorted to checking labels. After a while, I did find the gluten free items I was used to and the “G” seemed to appear sometimes but not for every dedicated gluten free item. I left with the everything I needed plus some more, and was pleasantly surprised to see my bill average at $2.65 per item. The big ticket item in there was the Udi’s which is $4.99 at TJ’s.
So how does Trader Joe’s compare to Wegmans? Well, it would be like comparing apples to oranges. Like I mentioned before, Trader Joe’s isn’t trying to be a Wegmans, or a Stop & Shop, or a Publix. It’s a boutique grocery store. That being said, I will do my best to summarize my gluten-free shopping experience there to Wegmans. A virgin, gluten-free, Trader Joe’s shopper will have a hard time finding gluten free items. The labeling isn’t consistent, and the GF items aren’t grouped separately from the regular items. This takes some getting used to. Additionally, the selection is significantly smaller. There is only a couple GF breads, one GF cereal, one GF granola mix, and one GF baking mix. However, gluten free folks will be pleasantly surprised by the amount of interesting gluten free snack items like chips and popcorn. Once you know the lay of the land and what your options are, shopping at Trader Joe’s is much faster because of the simple fact that it is smaller. Plus, I think it’s a benefit that the two stores are in the same plaza! That means you can go to both easily in the same errand run.
Will I shop at Trader Joe’s? Yes. Will I stop shopping at Wegmans? No. So, check it out and decide for yourself. Here are some resources to make your first trip easier:
Trader Joe’s “No Gluten” Product Guide: http://www.traderjoes.com/lists/no-gluten.asp
Trader Joe’s “Fearless Flyer” Newsletter: http://www.traderjoes.com/fearless-flyer/article.asp?article_id=755