Trader Joe's Annual Customer Choice Awards
May 14, 2022 5:42 AM   Subscribe

US grocery retailer Trader Joe's this year announced the winners of its 13th Annual Customer Choice Awards (podcast audio and PDF transcript; podcast is silly and includes a cooking segment). The podcast hosts mentioned that this year's overall winner has been "on the list as either the Favorite Frozen Product or the Favorite Entree, the favorite of whatever category in which it fits every year, since we've had the Customer Choice Awards" so let's look at the historical winners!

Going back more than a few years took doing as Trader Joe's has evidently changed the name to "Customer Choice Awards" and wiped its old blog entries and whatnot.

The "Customer Choice Awards" are named early each year for customer favorites from the previous year.

13th annual TJs Customer Choice Awards (announced in 2022): overall winner: Mandarin Orange Chicken. (An analysis of returning versus new products on the list.)

12th annual Customer Choice Awards (announced in 2021): overall winner: Mandarin Orange Chicken. Blog post, podcast transcript PDF and audio. This podcast episode is also silly, and mentions that Mandarin Orange Chicken "received 10 times as many votes as the second highest vote-getter in this category". Also of interest: "The 21 Best Groceries at Trader Joe’s, According to Store Employees".

11th annual Customer Choice Awards (announced in 2020): Favorite overall: Everything But The Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend. Archived TJ's blog post.

10th annual Customer Choice Awards (announced in 2019): Favorite overall: Mandarin Orange Chicken. Archived TJ's blog post.

9th annual Customer Choice Awards (announced in 2018): Favorite overall: Mandarin Orange Chicken. Archived TJ's blog post.

8th annual Customer Choice Awards (announced in 2017): Favorite overall: Mandarin Orange Chicken. Archived TJ's blog post, industry coverage, fan coverage ("the big news is that Speculoos Cookie Butter has fallen from it’s throne, where it was king of this list for the past 3 years"). Also: favorite pumpkin product: Pumpkin Butter.

7th annual Customer Choice Awards (announced in 2016): Favorite overall: Speculoos Cookie Butter. Archived TJ's blog post, other coverage.

6th annual Customer Choice Awards (announced in 2015): Favorite overall: Speculoos Cookie Butter. Archived TJ's blog post, industry coverage, business coverage, foodie coverage, fan coverage.

I think before this point Trader Joe's just called this list "top products" or "customer favorites" or stuff like that.

Top 25 products of 2013: #1 is Triple Ginger Snaps. Archived TJ's blog post, archived TJ's PDF.

2012 "Most Favored Products": #1 is Speculoos Cookie Butter. Archived TJ's PDF.

2011 favorite products: #1 is Frozen Mandarin Orange Chicken. Archived TJ's PDF, fan coverage.

2010 favorite products: #1 is Frozen Mandarin Orange Chicken. Archived TJ's PDF. (Thank you for the link, web forum discussing timeshare real estate.)

(I can't dig up the initial favorites listing from 2009.)
posted by brainwane (81 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Seems kind of unfair that "Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups" is runner up overall, but doesn't win "favorite sweets/dessert"

I guess there are a lot of people that categorize them as an entrée.
posted by All Out of Lulz at 5:55 AM on May 14 [17 favorites]

So what you're telling me is I should try the mandarin orange chicken.
posted by phunniemee at 6:10 AM on May 14 [21 favorites]

I don't like any of their ice cream. Artificial tasting. I like their soft, orange cheese with bits of chives/onion in it. Their frozen pizzas used to be better, but have been really dry lately. I like some of their cereal. Their frozen Indian dishes are pretty damn good... saag paneer, channa masala. I use those as side dishes with various other foods—not even a completely Indian themed meal. The frozen naan is remarkably good.

I don't go as often as I used to. I kind of get the overall impression that their stuff isn't as good as it used to be. But I always approached TJs as a place to stock up on specific items, and not as a general grocery store.
posted by SoberHighland at 7:37 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]

Why do they seem to offer the only non-stir only-peanut peanut butter on the planet?
posted by dobbs at 7:57 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]

posted by stevil at 8:29 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

No Trader Joe's thread is complete without the song.
Also, in the spirit of "Metafilter:" taglines:
Trader Joe's: *seasonal item, currently unavailable
posted by Daily Alice at 8:50 AM on May 14 [10 favorites]

There was a Reddit thread where many of the manufacturers were identified, to help find private label products that have been discontinued. I will try to find it.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:04 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]

only non-stir only-peanut peanut butter on the planet

Costco’s peanut-only PB also somehow doesn’t need stirring, I find.

That said, I recently tried an internet tip to avoid the PB stir, which is just leave the jar upside down overnight. It totally works, at least with the Adams I tried it with, a huge improvement over the messy and tiring knife method.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:05 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]

Mandarin orange chicken is not a food I have ever eaten, to my knowledge, and it sounds gross to me?
posted by latkes at 9:09 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]

Here's a great review for TJ's tteokbokki. I'm a white lady vegetarian who makes our own vegetarian (very non "authentic" version who admits and isnt seeking authenticity, but also ours is delicious) version and also buys the TJ's version sometimes and doctors it based on this review (I add soft fresh silken tofu instead of fishcake which is totally the wrong texture and leads my husband to call the whole thing rice cake stew but we love it).(Also the recipe I follow to make it from scratch adds a ton of nontraditional vegetables and we love it, but hardboiled egg is non-negotiable to me). Totally does the job and way cheaper.
posted by atomicstone at 9:23 AM on May 14

I had no idea that the Mandarin Orange Chicken was so popular! Fascinating.

The Kringle is delicious but can have powerful consequences.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:25 AM on May 14


posted by Going To Maine at 9:27 AM on May 14

The link to make it from scratch. From repeated making, I've found you should add a ton more napa cabbage, carrot and mushroom (but there's so much spice and sauce flavor you should use cheap button mushroom-no need to use shitakes). How much gojuchang and gojugaru is up to your love of spice. I added soft silken tofu and hard boiled eggs from reading other recipes and recommend.
posted by atomicstone at 9:32 AM on May 14

I am still angry about the Hot & Spicy Dill Pickle chips going away. They were just so good...
posted by Windopaene at 9:36 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]

That unexpected cheddar is amazing. Sometimes I forget what it's called and out it on my list as Surprising Cheese. Same thing.
posted by atomicstone at 9:54 AM on May 14 [11 favorites]

Mandarin orange chicken is not a food I have ever eaten, to my knowledge, and it sounds gross to me?

It sounds like a Panda Express entrée. What is it? Frozen dinner? Marinated raw chicken for cooking?
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:03 AM on May 14

It's a frozen entree - breaded chicken and sauce.
posted by shiny blue object at 10:09 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]

There is a TJ's Discontinued Product Feedback form where you can plaintively "share your thoughts about a product you miss".

TJ's frozen Mandarin Orange Chicken description, plus a similar? frozen product, Chicken-less Mandarin Orange Morsels.

In Episode 41 of their podcast (audio), "Value and the Supply Chain at Trader Joe's", I learned that sometimes they discontinue a product entirely rather than raise the retail price (see p. 5). "There are many instances when we'll stop carrying a product, because we think the new cost and the new retail price isn't the same value."

My spouse read Becoming Trader Joe: How I Did Business My Way and Still Beat the Big Guys, by Joe Coulombe with Patty Civalleri, and said it was really interesting and enlightening about the ways Trader Joe's does business that lead to both the lovely and maddening things about being a TJ's customer. Like, most supermarkets have a zillion individual things they sell (SKUs) but Trader Joe's keeps it way more limited, and nearly every item has to really earn its place on the shelves. And they're willing to talk to a supplier and buy their entire one-year supply of a particular product, which regular supermarket retailers generally don't -- but also to just have it be a one-time deal. My spouse came out of it better understanding why they discontinue stuff as frequently as they do, and I'm aiming to read it at some point too.
posted by brainwane at 10:10 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]

"That unexpected cheddar is amazing."

They used to sell a shaved cheese blend that had three or four cheeses in it, Parmesan, Romano (I think), maybe something else, and Unexpected Cheddar. It was a staple in my kitchen, especially for salads and pasta. Alas, it was discontinued in about 2019 or so, although I still look for it every time I am at TJ's.

I also always check out the new products shelf.
posted by bz at 10:26 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

If I proclaim any TJ product as my customer favorite, I know I will never see it in the store again.
posted by njohnson23 at 10:40 AM on May 14 [19 favorites]

I'm that basic b whose favorite TJ product is TJ sourdough bread which is sold around here for $3.12 per gigantic loaf (24 oz/680g).

Nowhere else can I find a sourdough that good at anywhere close to that price - like maybe the sourdough from my farmer's market is that good? But it's also 4x more expensive, pound for pound.
posted by MiraK at 10:45 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]

(If you read Becoming Trader Joe and are hungry (sorry) for more books about the grocery business, I might suggest Michael Ruhlman's Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America and Benjamin Lorr's The Secret Life of Groceries.)
posted by box at 11:17 AM on May 14 [10 favorites]

Ok, this post influenced me to go to TJ's this morning and buy the Mandarin Orange Chicken for the first time. Also bought some frozen rice and pre-cut stirfry veggies. This Buzzfeed article with 3-"ingredient" meals from TJ's (where an "ingredient" could be an entire pre-made salad, for example) gave me lots of ideas.
posted by rogerroger at 11:24 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]

Just stopped there yesterday!
Whenever I get low on the frozen pepper strips I start getting jittery.
posted by bookmammal at 11:24 AM on May 14

TJ's Personal Care products are seriously underrated, and crazy cheap compared to anything of even remotely comparable quality. My favorites are the shaving cream in the orange tube, the tea tree shampoo/conditioner, and the tea tree face-wash.
posted by schmod at 11:33 AM on May 14 [14 favorites]

I would joyfully trade an entire freezer-truck full of Mandarin Orange Chicken (too sweet and sticky for my tastes) for just one box of the tragically-discontinued Shrimp Toasts. (Gone since 2018, and I still miss them . . . )
posted by Kat Allison at 11:39 AM on May 14

Those triple-ginger cookies are good. Are they still in stores?
posted by haptic_avenger at 12:14 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]

Yes! Love the ginger cookies.
posted by tiny frying pan at 12:19 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Is that Unexpected Cheddar just Dubliner in a TJ's wrapper? I haven't tried it, but the description sure matches
posted by timdiggerm at 12:22 PM on May 14

"Is that Unexpected Cheddar just Dubliner in a TJ's wrapper?"

I am not sure because I don't really know Dubliner. To me, Unexpected Cheddar is like some sort of blend of a Parmesan or, say, a Padano, and sharp cheddar. It is crumbly and even has a bit of a crystal structure in it.
posted by bz at 12:28 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

I have used the triple ginger cookies mixed with Nilla wafers to make a pressed-crumb pie crust for banana cream pies. Very good and, whoa, very gingery.
posted by bz at 12:30 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]

Unfortunately, Trader Joe's decided not to offer even curbside pickup for the pandemic, so they've been a no-go for immunocompromised me for over two years now.
Their infuriating explanation: At this time, we don’t sell any products (gift cards included) online, only in our brick-and-mortar stores. We do not offer curbside pickup or delivery either. We set up our stores with care, finding just the right crew and creating a rewarding shopping experience, full of discovery and welcome. After considering the options, we're still just big ‘ole fans of the neighborhood grocery store where we can say hello when you're looking around wondering - "what's for dinner?"

Before that, they were just a few blocks from my office, so they were our designated snack store. I'm the office vegan, so we used to combine their accidentally vegan caramel corn with their blister peanuts, a combination I highly recommend.
posted by FencingGal at 12:52 PM on May 14 [7 favorites]

I was disappointed when my Trader Joes seemed to stop carrying the tteokbokki right when I cleared out some freezer space to try them. Maybe it was just a supply chain hiccup, and they'll come back?

As for the Mandarine Orange Chicken (or the Chicken-less version, which has a similar but slightly different sauce), they can be pretty sweet. But there's plenty of sauce, so I've found that a good way to balance the sweetness and add some veggies to make it a more complete meal (over rice) is to stirfry a bunch of broccoli rabe or baby broccoli, and combine that with the breaded morsels from the oven and the sauce. The bitterness of the rabe helps balance the flavors, and makes it a reasonable low-effort quick dinner.
posted by JiBB at 12:52 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]

I don't like any of their ice cream. Artificial tasting.

The new "When life gives you lemons..." ice cream might be worth trying out. It's so lemony! Lemon juice, lemon zest, and lemon pulp (plus something akin to crumbly pie crust morsels).
posted by nobody at 12:54 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]

The last time I went to Trader Joe's, a cute queer employee complimented me on my trans pride mask, so that was nice. Unfortunately, they were out of the Chalkidiki olives. :(
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:58 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]

I would just like to say this post appears to have taken quite a lot of work and been a real labor of love, and as someone who massively loves old information and adores The Wayback Machine, I approve, I applaud, and I appreciate.

(I am also a huge fan of podcast transcripts, so thanks for those.)

(I also really like Trader Joe's and yet have never tried their Mandarin Orange Chicken. I do eat lots of dark chocolate peanut butter cups.)

Thank you for this excellent post, brainwane!
posted by kristi at 12:59 PM on May 14 [14 favorites]

I like the blog What’s Good At Trader Joe’s for reviews of new (and some older) items. Here’s a link to their “pantheon” reviews of highest rated products.
posted by maleficent at 1:02 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]

Just tried their lemony Alfredo and boy howdy, lemonnn-y.

Do love the make-your-own-six pack thing.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:05 PM on May 14

maleficent -- thank you for that link! The Ginger Bread Cream Liqueur looks AMAZING.
posted by brainwane at 1:18 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

They have been out of the frozen Riced Cauliflower Bowl for some time. It had been my lunch of choice for 3-4 workdays/week for months. I’ve temporarily switched to Amy’s Brown Rice Black-Eyed Peas and Veggies bowl, which is twice the price. : /
posted by Glinn at 1:27 PM on May 14

Something I've discovered in the last year or so at TJ's: Greek style food in odd cat food shaped pull tab cans. Great for picnics, camping or just a quick meal. They have Chickpeas with Parsley and Cumin (great in salads), Eggplant with Tomatoes & Onions, oily and delicious on rice, and (strange as it sounds) Stuffed Grape Leaves made with either rice or quinoa.

I know many people avoid canned foods, but these could at least class up your emergency food stash.

Something I still miss from TJ's is the spicy Thai tuna from several years ago.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:32 PM on May 14 [7 favorites]

A tip for the mandarin orange chicken - take a bag of frozen broccoli, microwave it about 60-90 seconds to just defrost it, then dump the broccoli on the same sheet as the chicken in the oven to roast with the chicken. Toss all with the sauce. Then you have mandarin orange chicken and broccoli.
posted by ShooBoo at 1:38 PM on May 14 [8 favorites]

I build my daily life around access to the Trader Joe's more than I should. Things I do not need to eat but do: their stuffed grape leaves, knockoff M&Ms (possibly made by Unreal), knockoff Fig Newtons, and Joe-Joes.

It's not just me now. I have my pup eating the TJ's canned chicken dog food (along with non-TJ's kibble) and one of their dog treat brands, depending on what is in stock. She loves it. It's hard to draw a bead on exactly how good it is for her, but this is true of lots of dog foods that do not already have a big reputation, plus I always remember how my parents' dogs have all grown to old age on Purina products.

I am drinking their Cup of Joe Medium Roast lately, and what's funny is that I can't tell if it's good or not? But I think it is? I lost a lot of my sense of taste for non-COVID reasons, and in the morning what I want is a cup that doesn't taste burnt or sour, which this delivers. At least until it's been in a thermos for a while, and then it may be sour. The Instant Cold Brew, which people swear by, is pretty terrible to me unless I make it entirely with almond milk and add Splenda, which is just passable.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:38 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]

My goto quick meal is the TJ's Madras Lentils with a couple of chopped tomatoes and, if I feel like it, some sprinkled shredded cheese.

One minute microwave for the lentils, toss in the tomatoes => a light meal
posted by aleph at 1:39 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]

their best sourdough is the cracked wheat kind.....Which. Is. Not.Sold. east of the rockies
posted by brujita at 1:40 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

The last few times I went in they were out of the truffle flatbread which is at least 50% of the reason I stop in.

Other staples:

Italian soy sausage (taste + texture seems better than Field Roast, plus cheaper)
Sesame savory crackers
Rosemary/fig crackers
Tinned sardines
Frozen fish
Thai Green Simmer Sauce (this is SO good and I've been able to make it at home, but having a jar on hand is perfect for weekly lunch prep)
Boxed soup (seems like it's just the Pacifica brand but a buck or two cheaper)
posted by curious nu at 1:49 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Those frozen meals are a hidden treasure. If you have the time, throw it in the oven instead of microwave and throw some veggies with oil and seasoning on the same rack for a full, balanced meal.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 2:00 PM on May 14

Seconding the Madras Lentils for quick and easy meal. Also, the Yellow Tadka Dal. Both are spicy as they come, but lend themselves to doctoring with additional ingredients, fried onions, chopped chilies, etc.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:07 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

We had about 5 months without Unexpected Chicago at my local TJ's last fall. Hard times.
posted by srboisvert at 2:13 PM on May 14

I'm honestly surprised the dolmas in a tin don't rate higher, I admit I've never tried them but they seem very popular.

Pre-pandemic we did our entire grocery shop at TJs but we only recently returned. My personal favorite items are Ginger Mints, Chocolate breakfast granola, Soy Chorizo of course, and Vegan Tikka Masala frozen entree.
posted by muddgirl at 2:23 PM on May 14

I call the Yellow Tadka Dal my emergency rations, I always keep some of that and the frozen naan on hand for those times when I'm too tired/nauseous/blah/lacking in appetite to manage cooking or anything else. Easily doctored, but great as is.
posted by yasaman at 2:39 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

FencingGal, it's not that they didn't want to do curbside or online shopping, but that their inventory and warehouse logistics are so janky that they can't reliably do internet shopping.

Exciting news for Trader Joe's employees is that a store in Massachusetts has unionized today! Yay.
TJs has been eroding employee benefits slowly over the last 5-10 years and much of their veteran employees are leaving for greener pastures.
posted by schyler523 at 2:42 PM on May 14 [17 favorites]

I'd shop at Trader Joe's now is their product was better. Too often I've bought something that goes immediately bad, or you get one if those shrink wrapped packages where half fine and half on it's way out. Their cheese is great, though not enough of a draw for me to be there regularly.
posted by Carillon at 4:21 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

No, the unexpected cheddar is not fake Dubliner. They have that too.
posted by atomicstone at 5:01 PM on May 14

The frozen naan is the only acceptable mass market naan available. (Yes, you pieces of vaguely pita-ish shoe leather at Costco, I have caved and purchased you occasionally, but I always hate myself afterwards.) They also used to carry something called Thai Lemongrass Chicken Stix which were kind of like lumpia, and delicious. I have not seen them in years, and I miss them.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 5:15 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

I don't shop there either. Based on the article Fencinggal quotes which I read when I searched to find out why they don't even offer curbside pickup for god's sake, it sounds distinctly like they just only want certain kinds of shoppers, the kind that aren't people who are or were social distancing. Which was and is most definitely me. Complaints about it being too hard are ridiculous, one of my local small grocery chains went from zero to a really great online/curbside shopping availabilty over the course of covid lockdowns, and I shop there now. Their explanation reeks of abelism to me.
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 5:31 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]

That cheese does sound like Dubliner.

Anyway, the Mandarin Orange Chicken... I can solve the mystery for people who still think it's a mystery. It's basically sweet-and-sour chicken that leans heavily towards orange in the sauce and has mild heat. It's absolutely delicious.

I also would rec the single-serving Chicken Tikka Masala meal, among other things. I'm a regular shopper! Um, also try the blueberry-lavender almond milk and the strawberry shea butter hand cream if it's available this summer. Hyaluronic acid serum isn't bad either. Vitamin C serum has a lot of silicones and broke me out badly.
posted by verbminx at 5:44 PM on May 14

I urge those who have access to a South Asian grocery store to get your frozen Indian entrees from them and not TJs. Way way better flavors in my opinion. And far more options. The DEEP brand malai kofta is so damn good.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:45 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]

FencingGal, it's not that they didn't want to do curbside or online shopping, but that their inventory and warehouse logistics are so janky that they can't reliably do internet shopping.

The quote I provided is directly from their website. So you might be totally right about their real reasons, but the explanation they're giving is very frustrating.
And I'd say with Rufous that tons of stores and restaurants managed to figure out how to make things work during the pandemic and that the wording on their website does seem very ableist. I have no plans to boycott them forever, but it's definitely colored my opinion of them. My family owned one of those old neighborhood grocery stores that Trader Joe's claims to aspire to imitate, and they looked out for their local folks who needed help (and according to my mom, ignored the old ladies on fixed incomes when they tucked jars of jam into their purses).
posted by FencingGal at 5:48 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]

My fondness for TJs has faded considerably since my twenties, when I was underemployed, overboozed and basically clueless in the kitchen. Frozen french onion soup was decent hangover cure.

That said, my favorite item right now is the frozen latkes. Second favorite - rugelach (sadly seasonal?).

Clearly what I actually need is a Jewish diner.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:51 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]

My favorite TJ’s item of late was the Aloo Chaat Kati Pouches … which the internet tells me have been discontinued. Before that it was the Prik King … also discontinued.

Did they discontinue the bulgogi bowls yet? Should I just give up?
posted by uncleozzy at 6:22 PM on May 14

The Kringle is delicious but can have powerful consequences

Do most Trader Joes carry kringle? I was in one recently and saw that they carried a local brand - O&H. I thought it was odd that they carried local product but figured their policy might be different for fresh bakery. Be nice to hear that our home-town boys did good on a national level.
posted by rtimmel at 6:30 PM on May 14

The Mandarin Orange Chicken is basically McDonald's food for people who wouldn't deign to eat at McDonald's. I eat both the M.A.C. and McDonald's. I'm not ashamed of either. Well, not too ashamed.

Thanks for the suggestions above for variations with added vegetables.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:14 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

I still haven't forgiven them for cancelling the frozen kouigns amann, but as long as they continue making the frozen, proof-overnight chocolate croissants they can probably count on me stopping on the way to the airport if I have time and luggage capacity.

I also like the jars their spices come in. They store nicely and are very re-usable.
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:35 PM on May 14

If you’re more of a cook-from-scratch person I can recommend their whole Heirloom Chicken, which I’m reasonably sure is the same as Mary’s for a couple bucks less. I normally hesitate to buy meat at TJ’s but this chicken is now my favorite. I recommend rubbing it with a little salt and oil and chucking it in a 325° oven for two hours or so. Delicious.
posted by cali at 8:04 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

As someone who is allergic to peanuts, I am forever grateful that they have both sunflower seed butter, and dark chocolate sunflower seed cups. I have been missing Reece's peanut butter cups for years now, and these sunflower seed cups hit the spot perfectly.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:44 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]

In a dark time when I was unable to get the Unexpected Cheddar, I subbed out Sartori Montemore Cheddar ordered from Amazon Fresh. The description reads "An Italian inspired cheddar that's nutty like Parmesan". I didn't do side by side taste tests, but I'll swear it's the exact same thing.

You all have it right, the Mandarin orange chicken cooked up with broccoli is the true way. But also, it's battered chicken chunks, not breaded. There's a difference.

They also sell in these sweet little blue pouches 10 minute cook barley. I use that to make a version of stir fried rice with the addition of soy sauce, sesame sauce, onions, garlic, a scrambled egg and a bag of their frozen veg mix (peas/corn/cut string beans). Makes a ton and I would eat on it for several days.

I find the quality of what they carry very hit or miss. I would never again buy their dry pastas after trying them once, for example. Or their reheat apple pie, or some of their frozen entrees which taste way too overprocessed and similar to the cheaper supermarket brands. But some of them, like the sweet potato gnocci with butter and sage, the frozen individual apple dumplings or the seasonal apple tart I find amazing.

The dark chocolate covered marshmallows, and the mint version around the holiday season. Those are must haves in my house. Or my most recent new thing; the $2 square ciabatta (or the ciabatta rolls, if I want a smaller serving), makes a perfect pizza base when sliced in half horizontally. Thick and chewy and reminiscent of western NY style Pizza and takes like 7 minutes in the air fryer to cook.
posted by newpotato at 2:21 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]

> The frozen naan is the only acceptable mass market naan available

I'm as devoted to TJ as anyone here but you folks need to be shopping for naan in south asian grocery shops. You might think it's a weird and intimidating thing to do if you've never been, but I promise you, they are as "mass market" as TJ if not more! There is only one TJ within a 10 mile radius of where I live, but there are at least eight south asian grocery stores in the same area that I know of. (And I live in a medium sized town bordering New England with >70% white people, not in, like, Edison NJ or Fremont CA!)

The ready-to-eat south asian foods are 10x better and generally a lot cheaper than the equivalent in TJ. I find TJ frozen naan to be jussssst about palatable. What's actually pretty great is the 16-pack frozen naan I buy for $6.99 at the asian grocery store half a mile from me.
posted by MiraK at 6:09 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]

OK, I found the Reddit thread with the private label equivalents, from January of 2022:
posted by wenestvedt at 6:26 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]

A... friend of mine used to work at Fisher Nuts, and they make the Everything-Bagel seasoned cashews and almonds for TJs, along with some of the other packaged nuts and trail mixes.

They have a cheap vinho verde that is refreshing and perfect for summer daydrinking - a lawn-mowing wine. That's probably my favorite thing there.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 7:06 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]

you get one if those shrink wrapped packages where half fine and half on it's way out.

No, actually I don't. TJs is great, but NOT for the produce. For nuts and dairy, though (at least in my location, where the parking lots are never too small) they can't be beat.

Do most Trader Joes carry kringle?

I don't believe it's always available, at my local. Maybe same with you.

Mandarin orange chicken is not a food I have ever eaten

It's just frozen chicken pieces with a breaded coating. The mandarin orange is all in the sauce packets (optional, I use it for dipping, and usually discard half). It's my go-to product for quick chicken.
posted by Rash at 8:12 AM on May 15

The Kringle is delicious but can have powerful consequences.

like your boyfriend eating 97% of it & telling you he'll pick up another kringle & then TJ's NEVER GETS IN ANY MORE KRINGLE & you're forced to murder him
posted by taquito sunrise at 10:38 AM on May 15 [9 favorites]

Haven't been to Trader Joe's in a long time, but I do miss the cherry chocolate chip soy ice cream. Is it back in stock now? The thing I don't miss is going in to the store to buy one thing and somehow spending $90 on junk food.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:59 PM on May 15

Inspired by this thread and also The Healing of the Nation, as my friend calls marijuana, I went to TJ’s. I am now dipping garlic naan crackers into egg salad with shredded Unexpected Cheddar sprinkled on top. Thanks everybody!
posted by hototogisu at 7:49 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]

MiraK yes, their sourdough sandwich bread is the BEST, I stop by Trader Joe’s for that alone. No idea why it’s so hard for me to find a similar quality elsewhere.
posted by Emily's Fist at 8:29 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]

I wish I could visit a Trader Joe’s, but they were simply too crowded pre pandemic. This was the only grocery store where my feet were flattened by a little old pepperpot driving a shopping cart. I’m sure the stuff is great, but I don’t want to get into mortal combat when I want some orange chicken.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 3:52 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]

I love Trader Joe's so much it showed up in my wedding vows but, y'all, any local South Asian store (or even a pan-Asian store like H-Mart) has frozen naan and paratha and similar at a fraction of the price of Trader Joe's for what is almost certainly the same product. Also, lots and lots of frozen Indian meals - again probably similar quality, but way more variety.
posted by mosst at 7:11 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]

Also, the trick with the crowds at Trader Joe's is (if your lifestyle allows) shop around 9 PM. It's a totally different (and much smaller) crowd - mostly just folks picking up wine or a frozen meal and little else.
posted by mosst at 7:14 AM on May 16

The product I mourn is the Basmati Rice Medley - it was Basmati and wild rice, with dried veggies and herbs. It was the perfect easy side dish. (Add just a pat of butter to the water when cooking.) Lots of stores have similar things, like the Uncle Ben's I grew up eating, but they always seem to turn out too salty to me, and the rice texture is never as nice as this TJ's product was. A simple chicken breast cutlet with sautéed veggies and a wine deglazing sauce along with the rice was my go-to meal. It sounds fancy, tastes fancy, but dead simple to make.

(I also deeply wish they'd carry halloumi cheese more regularly. Yeah, I know Whole Paycheck has it, but at like twice the price.)
posted by dnash at 7:52 AM on May 16

TJs frozen brown rice is the best microwaveable rice I have ever had.
posted by bz at 12:08 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]

mosst, if I go to the TJs nearest me (both 20-25 minutes away!), the shelves have a lot of bare spots in the evening. But for some trips -- e.g., booze, coffee, chocolate, salty snacks -- yeah, a just-before-close stop would work great.

Personally, we prefer to get there early in the morning, when we can be more confident that we'll be able to clear the entire shopping list.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:48 PM on May 16

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