Slightly-above-average Joe: South Bend’s new Trader Joe’s
Meg Sluzas | Monday, September 20, 2021
I’ll be the first to admit that, despite being on the campus dining plan, I am a specialty grocery store junkie. Typically, when I would feel homesick here, all I had to do for a taste of snacks from home was take a car ride with my roommate to the local Fresh Thyme or Whole Foods to stock up on produce. That being said, Trader Joe’s was never a store I frequented, as I always believed it was overpriced and overrated. I cannot, however, drag my busy roommate out in the car every week, so when a new Trader Joe’s opened within walking distance of campus, I decided that I would take a walk, open my mind and see if my prejudices were wrong. Sure enough, Trader Joe’s does offer a pleasant walkable location for unique novelty snacks and prepared meals, including gluten and dairy-free options. However, their produce section left me disappointed.
The first things about the new Trader Joe’s that I noticed when walking through the doors were the store’s impressive natural light and extremely airy atmosphere. When I go to a specialty store, I expect an experience that doesn’t include overbearing fluorescent light and white linoleum floor — in that regard, at least, Trader Joe’s understood the assignment. With mint-colored walls and cute check-out stations, Trader Joe’s makes shoppers’s experiences relaxing. Additionally, walking to the store from campus, while a bit of a hike, is an extremely pleasant stroll down Eddy Street. It’s also an easy drive if you have a car and want to take one, but I prefer to get some fresh air and take advantage of the time before the permacloud.
Before my trip, I had long been skeptical of Trader Joe’s novelty foods. Store items contain some interesting flavor combinations — pumpkin tortilla chips, for instance — that definitely raise an eyebrow. I chose to pick up some pickles, turkey summer sausage and tamari brown rice crackers with the intention of putting together a classic “college charcuterie.” As it turned out, I was impressed with all of the snacks I bought. The crackers rocked my world, and are almost impossible to ration. Whoever thought of tamari sauce on a rice cracker should get a raise. The kosher pickles beat out anything that I can get at Target, and the summer sausage was delicious.
While I did not want to completely obliterate my wallet, I also viewed the frozen foods and prepared goods. If you are a student and want to treat yourself to food that is not from the dining hall, I would say look no further than Trader Joe’s prepared foods. There are refrigerated soups, cold chicken breasts marinated in lemon sauce, and frozen meals that would add a fun burst of flavor to a dull study session. In terms of gluten and dairy-free food, Trader Joe’s does have options, but shoppers have to hunt for them among the regular items, as there is no specific section for dietary restrictions. I also noticed that other stores, such as Whole Foods and Fresh Thyme, have a greater selection of dairy-free yogurts, as well as chocolates and frozen desserts without allergens.
While Trader Joe’s excels in prepped meals and snacks, I find the store’s produce section to be lacking. I am a fruit junkie, and with the limited amount of fresh fruit on campus, I have to get my necessary supply of berries elsewhere. I was thrilled to see that Trader Joe’s had around five different sizes of blueberry bins, but when I tasted the blueberries at home, they tasted soapy; this is odd, considering they were organic. The grapes I purchased were also okay, but the produce I find at Fresh Thyme in Mishawaka is much tastier. While their veggies, such as broccoli slaw and coleslaw, are delicious, their subpar fruit quality unfortunately keeps me from recommending Trader Joe’s as a “one-stop shop” for grocery goods.
Trader Joe’s is good, not great. I would have to try more of their prepared foods to make a better-informed decision on how much it lives up to the hype, but for now I say: Go for the novelties, but don’t stay for the fruit.
Restaurant: Trader Joe’s
Location: 1140 E. Howard St. South Bend
Style: Grocery store
Favorite food: Rice crackers, multiseed with tamari soy sauce (gluten and dairy-free)
Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5