Trader Joe’s earns relatively high accolades from its customers for our survey question on “overall quality”—69 percent rated it “superior.” That’s a more favorable score than what customers gave most of the area’s largest chains, and nearly equal to the score earned by Whole Foods. But since the market basket we used for our price survey is largely made up 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 16 percent lower than the average prices we found at surveyed area stores; its prices were about 12 percent lower than Cub’s or Hy-Vee’s, 21 percent lower than Rainbow’s, about two percent lower than SuperTarget’s, and about two percent higher than Walmart’s.
  • For produce, Trader Joe’s prices were 29 percent lower than the average prices at all surveyed stores.
  • For meat, Trader Joe’s prices were about eight 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 more than 20 stores in the Twin Cities area.

ALDI’s prices were an astounding 42 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 still higher than Cub, Rainbow, 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.