Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Trader Joe's in Paramus isn't as all-American as it seems

My basket on a recent trip to Trader Joe's in Paramus (404 Route 17 north).

A mural and a message at another Trader Joe's.

Editor's note: Today's post discusses the ownership of the Trader Joe's chain, missing favorites at Costco Wholesale and other food-shopping tales.


I first shopped at a Trader Joe's more than 20 years ago during a visit to friends in California, where the chain started.

The first New Jersey Trader Joe's opened in Westfield, where wine and beer are sold; followed by stores in Westwood, Paramus, Edgewater and Clifton, and I've visited all of them in recent years.

In Paramus, the colorful interior has signs with local street names, and flowers, produce and dairy are sold under the borough name, as in "Paramus Island Flowers."

Employees and supervisors wear Hawaiian shirts.

But Trader Joe's is no longer American owned.

The Trader Joe's chain is "owned by members of the Albrecht family, the German family that founded Aldi," a so-called discount supermarket chain that has 28 stores in New Jersey, according to a story in my local daily newspaper.

Trader Joe's produce is sold under a "Paramus Produce" sign, above, and dairy products appear under a "Paramus Dairy" sign, below. Are any of the items actually local?


In a story last week, The Record of Woodland Park reported Aldi and Trader Joe's "are operated as completely separate entities."

I like Trader Joe's for its many organic and naturally raised products -- from 100% whole-wheat pasta to uncured, preservative-free hot dogs and bacon -- that you can't find at other stores.

And its prices are hard to beat. But some of the good cheer evident in its stores can be superficial. 

For one thing, Trader Joe's doesn't credit customers for bringing reusable bags.

Moldy figs

On Monday, I drove to the Paramus store to return a package of fresh California Black Figs that began sprouting mold only two days after I brought them home.

I went to what looks like a customer service counter, but was told I couldn't return the figs there.

I waited on line behind other customers with full shopping baskets before the cashier, seeing me with one item in my hand (the package of spoiled figs),  waved me to an express line.

But there was a line there, too, so I returned to the original cashier, who didn't ask me why I was returning the figs.

He just rang a small bell to summon a supervisor, who also couldn't care less why I was there.

I suggested that they give me a $10 store credit to compensate me for having to drive to the store just to return the figs, which cost $4.99, but they ignored me.

The cashier asked me if I had a penny, and handed me a $5 bill.

I passed up 5-pound jars of peeled garlic from China at the H Mart in Little Ferry, because of that country's poor food-safety record. Costco Wholesale also sells peeled garlic, but it must be refrigerated. The 3-pound bags of garlic from the Christopher Ranch in California cost $4.99 at the Hackensack warehouse store.

Costco lost and found

On Monday, I walked into the cold room at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, and searched in vain for Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix.

The store had run out, an employee said. That was a first.

But in my last few visits, I couldn't find any Kirkland Signature Marinara or canned pink salmon, either.

That reminded me of the few weeks this year when Kirkland Signature Organic Strawberry Spread or Della-brand Organic Brown Rice were nowhere to be found.

In the cheese case, I couldn't find Kirkland Signature shredded Parmigiano Reggiano.

These wonderful, hand-made egg noodles from Italy showed up again at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack after an absence of many months.
Some of the seafood sold at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack is labeled "previously frozen." We like the once-frozen crab legs and farmed shrimp, but not the large Dungeness crabs, right.

Three great cheeses

I did find three reduced-fat cheeses -- Jarslberg Lite Deli-Thin Sliced Swiss (2 pounds for $8.59); a wedge of imported Parmigiano Reggiano ($10.69 a pound, aged 24 months), and a wedge of imported, sheep's milk Pecorino Romano ($6.79 a pound, aged 9 months).

I also was delighted to find Filotea-brand Tagliatelle, an artisanal egg noodle from Italy that is ready in 4 minutes and is wonderful tossed with Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto.

These handmade noodles have a 2-year shelf life (without refrigeration). Three 8.8-ounce portions are $7.49.

Instead of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix, I picked up 1 pound of Organic Baby Spinach for $4.49.

Three-pound bags of raw, salt-free almonds were $12.99 each, perfect for roasting at home and dusting with plenty of sweet-hot Ground Saigon Cinnamon from Costco.

H Mart shopping

At the Little Ferry H Mart on Sunday, I picked up Gala apples for 99 cents a pound, and a 28-ounce squeeze bottle of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce for $2.99, a savings of $1.

A 17.98-ounce squeeze bottle of Hot Pepper Paste (gochujang) isn't the cheapest at $4.69, but it is the only brand made with sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup.

I also bought 3 bundles of large sesame leaves ($1.99) for wrapping Korean barbecue or sliced smoke salmon.

Lives lobsters were on sale for $4.79 a pound. See:

Organic chicken

At the Paramus ShopRite on Monday, Coleman Organic Drumsticks were on sale for $1.99 a pound, only a dime more per pound than antibiotic-free Readington Farms chicken legs.

Jersey peaches were $1.29 a pound or $1.09 a pound for 5 pounds or more.

Related article
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Victor, Aldi is split in the world as Aldi North and Aldi South. The Aldi in America and Trader Joes have no connection. Trader Joes is owned by Aldi North and the Aldi stores here are owned by Aldi South. Also, from what I understand, the modern day Trader Joes concept has always been owned by Aldi, prior to that it was more of a real market feel owned by an individual.

  2. Thanks, Chuck. Did I misquote The Record or was the story incorrect?

  3. I believe the story was incorrect and they did not do their homework.

  4. But the foreign ownership of Trader Joe's by a family in Germany is correct?

  5. As for that locally grown produce, hey, if some huckleberry in Hackensack can grow figs in his back yard, who's to say those Hass avocados weren't grown in Hass-brouck Heights? Eh?

  6. Yes, Aldi South and Aldi North's owners are brothers. South owns Trader Joes.

  7. Please check the the bottle of Kirkland "Pesto". I hadn't bought it in a number of years. This stuff is a salt bomb. The first ingrediant isn't even basil. Its some mixture of basil, pecorino and salt. To me I get plenty of salt , but not much basil. Sometimes I think Costco accepts lower quality so the prices don't go up. I'd rather pay more and get something that approaches the product they use to sell.

    1. I don't think this is the same product you bought. I also bought a prepared pesto at Costco, but it wasn't Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto, which has been available for less than a year.

      The first ingredient is a Basil Blend and the first ingredient listed in the blend is Genovese Basil.

      A quarter cup contains 20% of recommended sodium intake, but I usually use a teaspoon of pesto for a fish fillet.


Please try to stay on topic.