Trader Joe’s earns high accolades from its customers for our survey question on “overall quality”—83 percent rated it “superior.” That’s a more favorable score than what customers gave most other area chains, including Whole Foods. But since the market basket we used for our price survey is largely consists of national-brand products, and since Trader Joe’s offers mainly its own brands, we couldn’t compare its prices using our standard price survey. Instead, we had to shop Trader Joe’s using a special survey that included the same fresh produce, meats, and dairy items included in our standard survey, comparing the national-brand items on our list with the prices of Trader Joe’s store brands. (When comparing prices, we used per-unit pricing—for example, price per ounce.)

The figure below shows the results of these comparisons:

  • Overall, Trader Joe’s prices were about the same as the average prices we found at surveyed area stores. Its prices were about seven percent lower than Jewel-Osco’s.
  • For produce, Trader Joe’s prices were 13 percent higher than the average prices at all surveyed stores.
  • For meat, Trader Joe’s prices were about 10 percent higher than average.

We also shopped ALDI using the same method we used to compare Trader Joe’s prices. ALDI is a discounter that, like Trader Joe’s, mostly carries its own brands instead of national-brand products, and operates about 20 stores in the Chicago area.

ALDI’s prices were an astounding 39 percent lower than the all-store average for our full market basket including comparable national-brand items. But these savings come with a downside: ALDI was rated middle-of-the-pack on many aspects of quality—but not as low as several other area chains, including Food 4 Less, Jewel-Osco, Target, or Walmart, for “overall quality.”

Unfortunately, many shoppers at both of these unique chains will also have to shop at conventional supermarkets: Each carried fewer than half of the items in our market basket.