Nuts & Heartbreak At Trader Joe’s


nuts1

A tale about Trader Joe’s Roasted ALMONDS IN THE SHELL.

nut·crack·er

pronunciation:ˈnətˌkrakər/

NOUN  1) a device for cracking nuts.

—-

Oh! This is so just typical… I find a new product at Trader Joe’s that looks interesting , says to myself ‘Self, you have to try this!’, buy it, open it up and instantly think, “OMG this is so great! I love it! I will buy this from now on, every time I go to TJ’s”!!!! And so it happened with this product :

Trader Joe’s Roasted ALMONDS IN THE SHELL.

I’ve bought natural almonds in the shell before, back in the day, when you sat down, Old School with a bowl and a nut cracker. In the old days, my folks and I would sit down together with a bowl of nuts and our family nutcracker and crack each one open to enjoy as we chatted or watch a tv show together. Its a bit of work cracking open nuts over and over but that was the way you ate nuts back then in the 70’s. You didn’t pay peons in some foreign land to not just grow them for you, but to also sit there and open them for you too, you lazy Gringos. We opened them ourselves with a nutcracker.2009673-man-cracking-walnut-with-metal-nutcracker-in-hand-isolated-on-white-background

And nowadays? Everyone’s gotten so lazy, its hard to even imagine a family with a nut cracker spending time opening your own nut you are about to eat. But yes thats why there is such a thing as a “nutcracker”.

So I see these babies in a bag, “Almonds In The Shell” and notice upon close examination in the bag that they appear to have somehow been “pre-cracked” (?!!) I mean they look like pistachio nuts with a little slit waiting for your thumbnail to just pry apart. Very interesting ! So I says to myself, boy those guys at Trader Joe’s have figured out that we still want the enjoyment of sitting down with some nuts and opening them but with a little help. Make it easier than the old nutcracker. And sure enough, when I try them, they are easy to open! They are just like pistachios, you just pry them apart with your fingernails. No nut cracker needed! The shells are somehow thin. Much thinner than any unshelled almond I’ve ever see before. How did they manage that?!

Its like someone at Trader Joe’s found the Holy Grail of Nuts.

And TASTE? Oh man, they are FABULOUS. My taste buds seem to think they’re better than the shelled almonds. As if they’re holding a little extra flavor inside the shell with the almond that’s there waiting to escape as soon as you pry them open. You can smell it. They are just so…. almond-y! Like a Super Almond. They are really SO VERY GOOD!

I am in love.

They become my new favorite Trader Joe item. I buy a package every time I go to Trader Joe’s.  I find a pound can just last a few days- if that. We go through the bag like butter. I have to hide them from myself (and my wife) otherwise they can go in a night watching some movie on Netflix, cracking open almond after almond. But it seems better than just putting a hand down and putting two or three in your mouth. There’s work involved. OK, very little work but still you have to open them. You’re burning up a few calories doing it right?

There’s are  shelves full of them. I even see them featured in the NEW PRODUCTS section. On display. In a huge, huge pile.

A few weeks pass, and my wife goes to get them and comes back empty handed. She say’s there weren’t any. I go in a week or two and see its not there. Worse, the shelf where I was picking them up from in the Nuts section, doesn’t even have the Sign for them up!

Oh No! NO NO NO! You GODAMM TRADER JOES Muthafuggas!!

We all know this scenario. This sinking feeling. That oh so Trader Joe’s feeling you get at the pit of your stomach when you realize, “Oh no! Maybe this is not just Out Of Stock! Maybe this is (gulp!) A DISCONTINUED ITEM !2009673-man-cracking-walnut-with-metal-nutcracker-in-hand-isolated-on-white-background.jpg!!

If you are a TJ regular, you KNOW this feeling. Its a bad feeling. Almost like learning a best friend has died. Almost like turning on your computer and you push the power button but it won’t start up and you realize oh my computers broken. Almost like coming out of a store and going to the place your bike was locked up, and not finding it there and realizing, some motherf-er stole it (for me, a bike, for you, might be your car)

And so it was. I went to the Manager’s counter and asked about my beloved Almonds In The Shell. Where they out of stock? Any idea when you might be getting more in? The Manager (Captain?) consults her computer screen and tells me the bad news. “I’m afraid they weren’t selling well. They were discontinued”

Gasp! Discontinued?!!! Not selling well?! I was buying them constantly. If I only knew, I would have bought a case.

I left the store, heart broken.

It wasn’t the first time.

Even worse, I knew, it won’t be the last either.

My unspoken rule for Trader Joe’s is “never fall in love”.

Its just too risky.

RANT

(published In Memoriam – Dry Roasted Salted Almonds In The Shell – 2013-2013)

“Out out brief candle!”

nuts2

Trader Joe’s Kimchi Fried Rice


 

TJ’s Kimchi Fried Rice

Disclaimer: I only tried this at the Sample Station. In fact I confess the Sample Station is the locus where I usually gravitate to almost immediately after I enter Trader Joe’s. I check out if they have something interesting to taste that day, and of course to grab myself a little cup of free coffee. Don’t you? Truly the Coffee Station is one of the best things about Trader Joe’s, isn’t it? Every supermarket should copy them; going shopping would be much more fun.


Kimchi Fried Rice is a fairly new item and TJ’s seemed to be promoting it quite a bit. Recently it was the product “on sample” 2 or 3 times that I had been to TJ’s of late. What I found funny was they had a sign next to the samples: Its said something like, “Warning: Spicy! Try at your own risk! If you can’t take spicy food, be careful!” Then I tasted it and my first thought was “Huh? This is spicy?”. Seriously to me it was about as spicy as baby food (I can take the heat). I started discussing this disconnect of the “WARNING” sign with the TJ employee who was in charge of the Sample Station at the time. He was of the same opinion – the Kimchi Fried Rice is not spicy at all! He cracked me up when he told me however how many people actually complained “Jeez this is so spicy” after they tasted the Kimchi Fried Rice on sample. So many that they put up the “warning, spicy” sign!

So here is what I thought after tasting the Kimchi Fried Rice. I know me some Kimchi Fried Rice (the authentic Korean kind). I adore it. I can even cook a decent version myself. So if I compare that taste to this stuff, I just have to say this is a pretty bland, insipid version. The two times I tried it was soft and fairly mushy, plus it had barely any kimchi taste; To me, its flavor profile was just weak, which I attribute to an industrial production of such a “homey” dish. For one, truly Kimchi Fried Rice needs real garlic flavor, as well as Kimchi. This barely even had any garlic nor Kimchi flavor for me. The real thing is a fantastic dish, and this? Frankly to my tastes perhaps it would be suitable for babies (ok maybe Korean). Now having said that – Trader Joe’s does have a decent “ethnic” fried rice. TJ’s JAPANESE FRIED RICE is actually quity good (another disclaimer: My wife is Japanese/Korean). I’ve eaten tons of both Kimchi fried rice and Japanese fried rice. I know what these should taste like. I can cook decent versions of both.

So, sorry Trader Joe’s in my opinion your KIMCHI FRIED RICE is a miss! If you try it, try the JAPANESE FRIED RICE next time and see which you prefer.

Pretty much same as your other new “Korean” addition, Trader Joe’s Kimchi, which I found such a poor product I actually “returned” it! Perhaps those who don’t live in a city where you can buy real kimchi sold at a Korean market, might think “so this is kimchi, tasty”.  Actually if you had real Kimchi you would know this stuff is not even close to being as tasty as a real Korean-made kimchi – for example this brand (Tobagi) of Napa cabbage kimchi I get at HanAhReum supermarket on 32nd Street (Manhattan’s Korea Town). If you A/B taste tested this prepared kimchi vs. the Trader Joe’s version? It would be almost a joke, just no comparison! Anyone who’s been to a Korean restaurant will know the real taste. At $1.99 (10 oz) you can try TJ’s version and see for yourself. Let me know what you think.

RANT

Kimchi bokkeumbap, kimchi fried rice in Korean...

Kimchi bokkeumbap, kimchi fried rice in Korean cuisine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Uncrystallized CANDIED GINGER – Its Baa-aack!!


STOP THE PRESSES!

 

This is a package of Trader Joe’s ‘Uncrystallized CANDIED GINGER’.

Its back!

Yes, its true. This now almost mythical TJ product is finally back in stock after being MIA and off the shelf at Trader Joe’s for more than one year! 

Possibly due to some labeling issue (I heard some manager mention sulfites), possible due to supply issues, this was off the shelves at Trader Joe’s for a long long time. I mean over a year!  Seems they’ve solved whatever the issue was because its back on the shelf. And the label on the back has only two things on it, ginger and sugar. Pretty natural product.

So I can finally get my fix for this (very) spicy adult candy. (Now should I buy a case?)

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Thanks to one of my readers, Nancy who first sent the alert about this!

DISCONTINUED: Trader Joe’s Rice Sticks (Boo Hiss!)


RANT

TJ’s Rice Sticks. I tried them once, and wrote a Rave post about them including a recipe. What happens next? Not a week later do I notice I don’t see them on the shelf anymore. At TJ’s, you know that feeling, uh-oh is this item going bye-bye? Sure enough I inquired at the front desk a week after that and the TJ’s manager looks them up on the computer. He tells me, “Sorry but the Rice Sticks have been discontinued’. Damn, damn, damn. Another fave gone bye-bye. Had I known, I would have purchased a dozen packs and squirreled them away for the future.

Discontinued and Trader Joe’s. Two words that seem to go hand and hand, huh?

STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH (the TJ website)…

5. Why does TJ’s frequently discontinue products?

Our mission is to bring you the best quality products at the best prices. To do this, we have to manage our store space well. Each of our products must “stand on its own,” meaning it must pay its own way. Each product passes certain criteria in order to earn its way onto our shelves – including a rigorous tasting panel.

There may be several factors that determine why we discontinue products:

  • It may be a seasonal product – for example, strawberries, which are in season only specific times of the year.
  • The gang way factor – because we introduce 10-15 new products a week, we have to eliminate 10-15 items in order to give our newest items a fair chance.
  • The cost of producing the item may increase, which would in turn increase the cost to you – if the item is not a strong seller, we may choose to discontinue it.
(Whatever TJ’s. If I want THAI RICE STICKS in future, I will go back to getting them at Asian markets like I used to before I met you.)
POSTSCRIPT: Lots of comments on this item. Especially from Gluten-free diet folks…

Eureka Moment: TJ’s Discontinued Items are by Design!


Discontinued Items?
They are actually By Design:
Creating ‘Surprise and Discovery’!

Blogger Bill Flagg has some amazingly informative info about Trader Joe’s. Like this fascinating tidbit:

Changing 1/4 of the selection each year creates surprise and discovery (difficult to do when thousands of shoppers complain about their favorite products being discontinued)

Like we used to say, “its not a bug, its a feature”

So doesn’t this mean something like 1,000 products a year can vanish ?! Morale: Be careful about falling in love with something…

Check out Bill Flagg’s, “Lessons From Trader Joe’s”. Great read!  http://billflagg.blogspot.com/2011/05/lessons-from-trader-joes.html

FROM TRADER JOE WEBSITE…..

Why does TJ’s frequently discontinue products?

Our mission is to bring you the best quality products at the best prices. To do this, we have to manage our store space well. Each of our products must “stand on its own,” meaning it must pay its own way. Each product passes certain criteria in order to earn its way onto our shelves – including a rigorous tasting panel.

There may be several factors that determine why we discontinue products:

  • It may be a seasonal product – for example, strawberries, which are in season only specific times of the year.
  • The gang way factor – because we introduce 10-15 new products a week, we have to eliminate 10-15 items in order to give our newest items a fair chance.
  • The cost of producing the item may increase, which would in turn increase the cost to you – if the item is not a strong seller, we may choose to discontinue it.


Good Rant! And some Trader Joe’s vs. Fairway stuff


Speaking of “Trader Joe’s Rants” I happened to come across a very good rant on a blog by Leland in BK. I hope he won’t mind me linking to it and sending a few visitors over. He wrote it in 2006 but I think its just as valid now; See what you think. I think Leland made some interesting points about TJ’s produce.

PRODUCE: Ah ha. One thing I  always thought was that, compared to other aspects of the food it sells, Trader Joe’s fruits and vegs are not at the same level, generally speaking. For example compare the produce at TJ’s to lets say in my area, Fairway. Ask anyone in NYC and they will tell you Fairway’s produce is great. If you take a look at some of these videos on their site can you get some idea of what we are talking about. This stuff is FRESH, top-notch produce (cheap, no). Is Trader Joe’s produce up to this level? I can only judge the ones I have seen in Manhattan, which for all I know may not be indicative of all Trader Joe’s. Again, generally, I don’t think of their produce at the level of a Fairway. Perhaps Califorian TJ’s being closer to the produce may have better and more variety of produce? There is some produce I buy regularly at TJ’s. For one, their bags of organic carrots? They are the same price as Fairway’s non-organic carrots, 89 cents. That’s amazing. But I saw some corn today at TJ’s that I could not believe someone kept on the shelf. There were three ears of corn so old the husk was dried out like paper. It was garbage. I wish I had a camera to document that! Someone should commit hara-kiri in their produce section for that offense.

Fairway vs. TJ: Fairway, which has been here forever, is located 3 blocks away from the Trader Joe’s on 72nd St. and Broadway which opened up late 2010. So in the Upper West Side food vendor scene it was quite a big thing to have a potential competitor like Trader Joe’s open up a few blocks away! I’m not kidding, this made a for a ton of news in the blogoshpere:

http://www.foodandthings.com/2008/11/550/

http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20101029/SMALLBIZ/101029834

http://www.dnainfo.com/20101007/upper-west-side/trader-joes-wins-price-war-against-fairway-whole-foods

http://ny.racked.com/archives/2010/09/20/fairways_worst_nightmare_is_here_trader_joes_uws_is_open.php

http://www.yelp.com/topic/new-york-what-do-you-buy-at-trader-joes-and-fairway

I still shop at Fairway for many things. However I now also go to Trader Joe’s for many other things. If you are looking for very good olive oil at an AMAZING price, I give TJ’s the nod hands down. If you are looking for a “super Tuscan” olive oil of the kind that sells for $30 a half/litre Fairway has it. Me, I can’t afford that stuff and I love to use olive oil, liberally so personally for everyday use, I have become a HUGE FAN of TJ’s Olive Oil. I am bowled over by their olive oils value and what you get for your money compared to others. I especially like their Spanish Olive Oil. It sells for $5.99 a litre, and I say at that price, no one can come close: superb value for your buck. Is it the same as the $30 stuff Fairway might have? Perhaps not – however its not junk, it is a very decent olive oil. I have seen much crap oil, typically “pomace”, for the same price TJ’s sells Extra Virgin Olive Oils for. Oh, and TJ does sell “really good” olive oil (“Sicialian”, “Kalamata”…) I just haven’t tried these oils yet, but I have a feeling they must be good to warrant them making them “premium” prices vs. the “normal” stuff they sell.

I am going to guess that Trader Joe’s must have great sources of producers of olive oil and major financial clout; They must be able to make huge deals to purchase massive quantities of oil to be able to sell stuff this good for $6. As they say “we pay cash” and buy alot. Olive Oil I think is a key Trader Joe’s item. I think its the ONE item than almost instantly makes people into a “Trader Joe’s customer”. If you buy a bottle of TJ’s Olive Oil, you will have you will be returning. Its usually the first thing anyone going to Trader Joe’s notices and will tell you about. “Wow. They sell extra virgin for $6 bucks!” I’m pretty sure I’ll do a future post just about Olive Oil. Its a good topic.

Comments?

TJ’s Uncrystallized Candied Ginger M.I.A. for months and months!


ginger

Uncrystallized Candied Ginger 8 oz bag $1.49 (if you can buy it)

TJ’s Uncrystallized Candied Ginger has been M.I.A. for months now!

When I first tried this product, it was love at first bite.

I love ginger and most any candied ginger is a real favorite of mine. Trader Joe’s candied ginger is quite different from most of these, its not hard and tough like some candied ginger. Its is much softer, chewier, nice sweet spicy morsels made from “just” pure natural ginger. Its naturally very very spicy, and well, ginger-y. This product is made with good quality natural ginger and it has just the right amount of sweetness to balance out the heat. This is yet another TJ product I tried just once, and was instantly hooked on! It is delicious eaten on its own but I can tell you it is even more delicious eaten with a bite of dark chocolate (eaten together this is better than most chocolate covered ginger candy sold). You can dice it up and add add it to various things (like yogurt, cereal…). I use it in cooking too, even in a pinch adding it to dishes I’m making that need ginger. If you like ginger spiciness, this is so so good. They sell it for a great price, compared to rock hard stuff you might find that is the more “crystallized” version – hence why TJ specifically calls this ‘uncrystallized’.

Unfortunately though I haven’t seen it on the shelves in months now! Its gone Missing In Action!

When I’ve inquired about it at the front desk, they’ve told me they are “expecting to get more next month”.  I’ve heard this same thing for the last four-five months. Has it been (shudder) Discontinued, added to that infamous list of TJ’s products?! I hope not. This is a great product. If you like ginger candy and ever see this again, its a must try.

Uncrystallized Candied Ginger: PLEASE COME BACK!

A SPLIT DECISION:  a RAVE for the product / a RANT for being missing in action

UPDATE-1 (June 1 2011) I’M STILL WAITING; Just checked with TJ staff and they confirm, its not discontinued; they can’t get the product. Out Of Stock.

UPDATE-2 – (July 2011) I asked Manager; She said they finally got it in. It was on the shelves for one day before they were told to remove it because of some “label issue” WTF!!

UPDATE -3 (Oct 2011) I spoke with the Front Desk manager at my local TJ’s. She said officially “the product has NOT been discontinued” and that’s its one of the most requested items to get back on the shelf. According to her the problem is Trader Joe’s can’t get the ginger! She told me TJ’s has had trouble with their regular source’s ginger crop (in Indonesia?). Oh well. It can’t hurt to “pester” them! There can’t be only one source for ginger in the entire world, can there?

UPDATE-4  (Dec. 2011) Interesting update – Again spoke with another manager at Front Desk. This guy time told me. a) Confirmed again Product NOT discontinued; b) The Product has had an issue with its formulation. He said something like “Sulfites” and that it needed to be reformulated by the producers. Hmm… see update-2 above, right?

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE 3/16/12 – ITS BACK in stock. Check this post

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