My second foray into Knoxville’s Grocery Wars occurred this past weekend when I ventured forth to the West Knox Trader Joe’s in Suburban Plaza Shopping Center! I had to go there. After all, I’d heard about Trader Joe’s since I took my mom to California to see the Rose Parade years ago. In fact, we ate snacks from the TJ’s in Pasadena in our hotel at night.
Not only that, I’ve had more hits on my blog for the post on the new Publix than for any other post to date. That fact alone tells me something: grocery stores really are destinations, not just places for hunter gatherers like myself to grab whatever I can find for dinner that night (although I’ve been known to do just that)!
So it was that my husband Bert and I entered the colorful, quirky world of Trader Joe’s. And, first thing, we did what we thought we should, being responsible bloggers, you know. We headed to the manager’s station in the far left corner and asked David at the desk if we could have permission to take pictures for the blog. He smiled and kindly replied, We don’t allow inside pictures. Sorry.
I’m sure he read the telltale signs of real disappointment on my face, but he just shrugged and said Sorry again and added, That’s corporate policy.
Good thing I asked, I thought, because I really, really wanted to show you, my readers, the inside of a Trader Joe’s, especially this one with its UT Orange-and-White-Go-Vols theme! But I can’t. That corporate policy thing.
So, join us vicariously as we share our impressions and a few pictures of our purchases with you. We still had fun (and that’s one of the takeaways for Trader Joe’s — you CAN have fun) — we just can’t show you what’s inside.
First impression: Trader Joe’s is small, but intimacy is part of the charm. Selected items, many of which are store brands, stack nicely on the waist-high shelves and fill the chest-high frozen food bins. There are only a couple of aisles, and you can see the whole store over the low displays. We liked that.
Don’t go in expecting to fill your cart for the weekly stock-the-pantry kind of shopping, though. This is niche marketing at its best. Fewer items — unusual, too– uniquely packaged.
Second impression: Trader Joe’s really is colorful, funky, and fun! Ceiling-high murals of Neyland Stadium and UT activities let you know that the owners paid attention to what turns us on in Big Orange country.
Just for fun (and information!), a guy hoisting an 8-foot pole topped with tiki sign on one side, question mark on the other, moved willy nilly through the store helping newbie customers like us. We couldn’t help wanting to chat with that affable fellow, and he wanted to talk to us, too!
Employees were decked out in hybiscus T-shirts or the ubiquitous Hawaiian Trader Joe’s shirt. I guess there’s one in every store!
Also fun are the store samplings we’ve come to expect with all these grocery store openings! A smiling young lady (who said she’d be a UT student in a couple of weeks) dished out little cups of mac and cheese from the free sample booth in the back of the store. What’s not to like about that?!
And third impression: The food is different! Way different. Artsy packaging and clever names abound. Like Gone Bananas for chocolate covered frozen banana slices! Varieties of the “same old, same old” in other stores seemed downright enticing at TJ’s — like cereal they call Clusters and an entree called Reduced Guilt Pizza Primavera! We had fun just reading labels and packages!
Here’s what else we saw. (Prices accurate as of August 17 , 2012.)
Bread: So many varieties and choices. Harvest Cranberry Scones (2.99). Brat Buns for your brats, of course. (2.49 for 6). British (not English) muffins (1.99). Tandoori Garlic Naan — we lived for this stuff when we traveled in Nepal! (3.69). And Trader Joe’s brand Whole Grain Bread (2.99).
Frozens: Meals in a bag, desserts, you name it. Sweet Potato Gnocchi (2.99). Pasta with Sockeye Salmon and Asparagus (5.99). Trader Giotta’s (not Joe’s!) Eggplant Stacked Parmesan (3.49). Trader Jose’s (Mexican Joe, I guess!) Chicken Taquitos (3.99). Palah Paneer — Spinach & Paneer Cheese seasoned with curry and chili (2.99). Trader Joe’s Carbonara Stuffed Cheese Ravioli (3.49). And Trader Joe’s Perline Pasta & Prosciutto (2.99).
A friend of ours, Cecile, who works the evening shift was going on break, stopped to talk to us. Since she was not technically working at the time, we snapped her picture. She raved about her favorite frozen meal, an entree that she says keeps flying out the door: Mandarin Orange Chicken (4.99). (We’ve since tried it, but wasn’t as impressed as Cecile was. May have to give it a go again some time.)
Grains, Oats, & Stuff: Lots of granola like Pecan Praline Granola (2.49). Trader Joe’s Just the Clusters (cereal) with great combinations: Maple Pecan Granola Cereal, Banana Nut, Vanilla Almond, Raisin Bran, etc.
Soups in boxes: Butternut Squash, Creamed Corn & Roasted Peppers, Carrot Ginger, Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper — most were around $2.79 a box.
Ice Cream & Frozen Delights: Mini Hold the Cone Ice Cream Cones (2.99), Soy Creamy Mini Chocolate Sandwiches (2.99 for 8), The Best (Bar None) Ice Cream Bars (2.99 for 4), and Fruit Frenzy Bars in Rasperry, Lemon, and Strawberry (1.99 for 4).
And other stuff: Dried fruits like mangoes, Turkish figs, pineapple rings, flattened bananas, and bing cherries. Lots of yogurts — some you’ve heard of and some I’ll bet you haven’t. Coffees from around the world: Ethiopian, Kona, Costa Rican and Joe’s brands — Dark, House Blend, Bay Blend and more. Cookies like Vanilla Meringue and Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies. Whoopie Pies, too!
When we got home, we checked out Trader Joe’s website. As you would expect, it’s just as creative as this new West Knox store! Lots of moving pictures, clever drawings, photos with captions, and a great little newsletter, Fearless Flyer.
Found out it all began in 1958 under the name of Pronto Markets, but in ’67, the original Trader Joe (yep, that was his name), changed the store name and opened the first Trader Joe’s in Pasadena. And that Pasadena store is the same today — same spot, same parking lot — but probably with newer foods and more organic offerings.
We also read that, in 2002, the first bottles of Two Buck Chuck were sold. Maybe you’ve heard of these Charles Shaw wines that cost only two dollars a bottle. We, of course, don’t have ’em in Knoxville, since we don’t sell wine in grocery stores, but, as you travel, look for the famous brand in other Trader Joe’s.
So, would we go back to Trader Joe’s? Sure. But not for our routine grocery list, of course. We’d go back for something unusual. Something different. The stuff you just can’t get anywhere else.
And prices aren’t bad. At least we didn’t think so, for the amount and variety of the offerings.
Are we glad to have Trader Joe’s in Knoxville? Of course. It’s all about choices, variety, and a taste of the world — and that’s what TJ’s has brought us!
We’re still apologizing, however, for no pics. You’ll just have to go see Trader Joe’s for yourself!
8001 Kingston Pike
Knoxville, TN 37919
Monday to Sunday: 8AM to 9PM
Got a comment? Let us know what your favorite purchase at Trader Joe’s has been. We just might want to try something new the next time around!