24 products to buy at Trader Joe's - and 7 you should avoid at all costs

trader joe's shopperShutterstock/David Tonelson

Trader Joe's is one of the most popular grocery store chains in the United States, making more than $13 billion in 2017.

That's even more impressive when you consider Trader Joe's doesn't have sales, a loyalty program, or even an online store.

But customers swear by the chain's products, from cheese to tequila to its famous 19-cent bananas.

Not everything at Trader Joe's is a good buy, however. We consulted food blogs and online reviews to find the Trader Joe's products that are best and worst for shoppers.

With that in mind, here are 24 products to buy at Trader Joes, and seven more you should skip every time.

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Buy: Tequila

Buy: Tequila

Some states and locales don't allow liquor sales at Trader Joe's, but if yours does, you might want to try the tequilas.

Drinkhacker endorsed the Silver Tequila, which retails for under $20. It's one of your best bets for bargain margaritas.

Buy: Name-brand spirits

Buy: Name-brand spirits

TJs also stocks some of your favorite name-brand liquors at discount. One customer noted on Reddit that "Wild Turkey 101 is nearly $4 less than anywhere else in my city." There's a good reason why the great liquor department is one of the store's claims to fame.

Skip: Produce

Skip: Produce

Trader Joe's offers such a productive shopping experience that you might be tempted to check off your whole list while you're there. Don't do it.

Some shoppers have reported that much of the produce, especially delicate items such as peppers, greens, and broccoli, are often past their peak. If you don't use them the first day, or sometimes even if you do, you might end up with rotten goods. Quora user Rima Hesham Reda writes "for most kinds of produce, I'd pass on them."

Meanwhile, the Penny Hoarder blog says the prices for produce at Trader Joe's might not even beat your local supermarket.

Buy: Organic avocados

Buy: Organic avocados

One produce item that is more often than not a good bet at Trader Joe's is the avocados. The What's Gaby Cooking blog noted: "I don't buy produce at TJ's but I make an exception for 2 things … one of which is avocados."

Buy: Goat Milk Brie

Buy: Goat Milk Brie

Trader Joe's has some great deals on high-quality cheese. The chain's Goat Milk Brie comes in self-contained rounds (less chance of getting moldy too soon) and is creamy and mild.

Lifestyle site A Morning Cup of Jo recommends including this delightful brie in an inexpensive and easy-to-prepare cheese plate.

Buy: Unexpected Cheddar Cheese

Buy: Unexpected Cheddar Cheese

Unexpected Cheddar Cheese is an iconic and popular TJs bargain. It "lives up to the name with the hints of Parmesan, which provides an unexpected yet sophisticated flavor," writes Sarah Arora on Spoon University.

When Bon Apetit asked readers for their favorite TJ's products, this cheddar was the top-rated cheese.

Buy: Stilton blue cheese

Buy: Stilton blue cheese

Erika Kubick, the cheese expert behind the blog Cheese Sex, recommends Trader Joe's Stilton Cheese, which she describes as "barny, beefy, and robust." If blue cheese floats your boat, this one's a steal.

Skip: Sushi

Skip: Sushi

It would be nice to grab a little lunch while picking up a couple favorites at Trader Joe's, but resist the temptation to try the sushi.

According to former employee and writer Emily Baxter, the sushi at Trader Joe's "sits in a box from production to your shopping bag." Quora user Sarah E. Rogers said "the sushi is gummy and always oddly sweet-tasting."

No matter how good it looks, don't take a chance on iffy sushi at Trader Joe's.

Buy: Bananas

Buy: Bananas

While Trader Joe's veggies can be hit or miss, shoppers rave about the 19-cent bananas and the cheaper-than-other-stores organic apples. There's a charming story behind the supermarket's decision to sell individual bananas, and their cheap price makes it easy to pick up a quick and healthy snack.

Buy: Seasonal produce

Buy: Seasonal produce

Another exception to the rule of not buying produce at Trader Joe's is anything in a huge box or table right at the entrance. You can't plan your shopping list, but you can get a fantastic deal on fresh, seasonal produce when the retailer gets a large shipment of something really good.

Brooke Eliason from the blog Female Foodie recommends the Tuscan cantaloupe. In the summer, watermelons can be large, cheap and delicious. In the fall, you might see pumpkins in huge bins. If it looks good, and the staff recommends it, go for it.

Buy: Greeting cards

Buy: Greeting cards

Not everyone knows that Trader Joe's is in the greeting card game. In fact, the store sells cards for various occasions for under $1.

Eliason raves that the greeting cards by the Trader Joe's checkouts are "simple, upbeat, and not overly commercialized." The selection is limited, but that means it only takes a minute to select the best birthday/holiday/congrats card.

Buy: Coconut oil

Buy: Coconut oil

TJs coconut oil is half the price you will find for the same quality elsewhere.

"It's cold pressed, organic, and virgin," writes Quora user Tiffany Kim.

As evidence mounts of the health benefits of coconut oil, this is a Trader Joe's deal you don't want to pass up.

Buy: Flowers

Buy: Flowers

The cut flower bunches at Trader Joe's are some of the cheapest you will find anywhere. They are varied and cheap enough that you can brighten your kitchen table anytime without feeling like you're splurging.

"[I]n my experience, blooms from Trader Joe's always seem to last far longer than the stuff I've bought at Whole Foods or Kroger," Dana McMahon wrote for Kitchn.

Skip: Milk

Skip: Milk

Many shoppers have complained about the milk at Trader Joe's. One Quora reviewer finds the "milk is consistently on the verge of spoiling." If you need another reason to pass it up, Cheat Sheet puts the milk on its list of things you shouldn't buy at Trader Joe's because the organic milk costs more than what you would pay at Whole Foods.

Buy: Potted plants

Buy: Potted plants

In addition to cut flowers, TJs has a selection of potted plants that varies from season to season. They are usually quite healthy and fabulously low priced.

Buy: Organic cacao powder

Buy: Organic cacao powder

While Trader Joe's is best known for its prepared foods, you can get good deals on quality raw ingredients, if you know what to look for. The company's organic cacao powder is great for baking, smoothies, or hot cocoa.

A chocolate-loving commenter on Quora called the Trader Joe's cacao powder, "much better than Hershey's and at least $1 cheaper."

Buy: Dark chocolate peanut butter cups

Buy: Dark chocolate peanut butter cups

The top fan favorite in the chocolate section may just be the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. Customers swear they're higher quality than major-label peanut butter cups at the drug store, and way better than the bulk bin at your supermarket. Bon Apetit readers rated this their favorite candy.

Buy: Triple Ginger Snaps

Buy: Triple Ginger Snaps

Trader Joe's shoppers can't seem to get enough of the supermarket's Triple Ginger Snaps, a crunchy cookie with enough ginger to give it a bite.

"After the initial crunch, the cookie's inner chewiness melts in your mouth as you bite into the hot, tangy crystallized bits of ginger," writes Quora user Samuel Lui. One reviewer on Trader Joe's Fan gushed, "I LOVE the cookies! They have a really nice, warm ginger-y flavor. Just sweet enough, with the right crunch for a cookie."

In fact, these cookies may be too gingery for the sensitive taste buds of small children. More for the adults to enjoy.

Buy: Mandarin orange chicken

Buy: Mandarin orange chicken

Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken tops many lists of fan favorites. A reviewer on Quora had this to say about the froze entrée: "crispy on the outside, tender and flaky on the inside. The orange tang of the sauce brought a superb punch of flavor but didn't overwhelm the savory chicken taste."

The Mandarin Orange Chicken topped the Bon Apetit list of favorite foods at the supermarket. If you haven't tried it yet, add this one to your shopping list.

Skip: Shepherd's pie

Skip: Shepherd's pie

Shepherd's pie is a meat and vegetable stew with a crust of mashed potatoes. If you're a fan of this traditional English dish, you'll be disappointed by the frozen version that Trader Joe's makes. Reddit user called this entrée "totally flavorless mush." Another wrote, "I ended up giving half of it to my dog."

Buy: Bamba

Buy: Bamba

The iconic Israeli snack food Bamba is a crunchy, lightly peanut-flavored corn puff that's available at Trader Joe's. Slightly sweet, a little salty, and fully crunchy, these will satisfy any peanut-loving snacker, even the little ones.

A medical study even showed that introducing these peanut shacks to infants may help ward off peanut allergy. Marnie Hanel wrote in the New York Times "The snack is a sort of inoculation housed in a guilty pleasure." Don't feel guilty. Just crunch.

Buy: Organic blue corn tortilla chips

Buy: Organic blue corn tortilla chips

Trader Joe's sells many types of tortilla chips and some are better than others. The blue corn chips are one of the good ones. According to Cheapism, Trader Joe's Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips are "flaky, light, great-tasting morsels."

Buy: Everything but the Bagel seasoning blend

Buy: Everything but the Bagel seasoning blend

The spices at Trader Joe's are uniformly cheap and decent, but the real standout is Everything but the Bagel seasoning. It is a quick way to get the flavor of an everything bagel without all the calories. The seasoning mix includes white and black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sea salt flakes, dried garlic, and dried onions.

Skip: Premade sandwiches

Skip: Premade sandwiches

The premade sandwiches and wraps at Trader Joe's are almost always gooey or dry, or both at once. Plus, the "turkey pesto sandwich contains almost a Big Mac's worth of calories plus 1,900 mg of salt," according to CBS's Moneywatch.

Many of the sandwiches are high in calories. If you're going to eat something from Trader Joe's that will expand your waistline, go for the chocolate and skip the sandwiches.

Buy: Soy chorizo

Buy: Soy chorizo

This meat alternative is vegan, gluten free, and a great deal. Food blogger Brenda Sickles gave it two thumbs up as a taco filling. And one Reddit user called the product "delicious and cheap. I'm a meat eater and I'll choose it for tacos over everything else."

Buy: Lemon verbena French soap

Buy: Lemon verbena French soap

The small selection of bath and personal care products at Trader Joe's is worth adding to your shopping list. Many praise the Lemon Verbena French Soap. Female Foodie calls the lemon verbena soap "light and refreshing."

Skip: Prepared salads

Skip: Prepared salads

From funky, slimy greens, to dry grains and scary meats, you are definitely taking a chance when you grab a salad for a quick lunch. Occasionally, you'll luck into a really fresh one, but why take a chance?

The Daily Meal gave this warning about the Honey Glazed Miso Salmon on Salad Greens: "[B]e prepared to scoop out the salmon and serve it to a stray cat, who very well might pass on it, too."

Buy: Cheese tortellini

Buy: Cheese tortellini

For a decadent Italian dinner that's quick and on a budget, nothing beats Trader Joe's cheese tortellini. The tortellini is "one of my favorite easy dinners served with Trader Joe's Vodka Sauce and a pinch of Parmesan cheese," the Female Foodie blogger wrote.

Buy: These Peanuts Go on a Date bars

Buy: These Peanuts Go on a Date bars

For a quick energy boost, these peanut-and-date-filled bars are a yummy choice.

"They're just sweet enough without being cloying and give me the pick-me-up I'm after in the middle of the afternoon, post-workout, or when I'm starving and stuck on a long commute," said Kelli Foster, associate food editor at The Kitchn.

Skip: Fresh meat

Skip: Fresh meat

Many a picky shopper has had bad experiences with Trader Joe's fresh meat section. A common complaint is that the supply chain is just too long, with weeks between packaging and getting to your store.

Shareably reported that some customers had bad experiences and noted that "the quality may vary from store to store, so check out what people are saying about the one near you before your next shopping trip."

If you need another reason to skip the meat section, Eating Well advises against the meat at Trader Joe's because the products may not be sustainably produced.

Buy: Spinach and artichoke dip

Buy: Spinach and artichoke dip

The Trader Joe's Creamy Spinach and Artichoke Dip is so good that you can pass it off as homemade.

"Trader Joe's version is a great option if you don't have time to make it yourself," Southern Living Magazine wrote.

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