With its easy-going, vacation-like vibe and its unique, worldly, and affordably priced products, Trader Joe’s has captured America’s attention since first arriving on the grocery scene back in 1967. What’s more, it has maintained that attention for decades–often duking it out with other top dogs such as Aldi and Kroger for the title of most popular grocery store in the country.
But, even amid all this acclaim, the California-based chain has still faced its fair share of criticisms. Die-hard TJ’s fans may want to plug their ears for this.
Some consumers say that while they love shopping at Trader Joe’s, it’s not necessarily a one-stop shop for all of their grocery needs. They admit that while TJ’s kills it when it comes to snacks, sweets, cheese, and even spices—such as its legendary Everything But the Bagel Seasoning—it can lack in other food categories like meat and produce.
Other shoppers aren’t shy about pointing out the specific items which are particularly disappointing, and in some cases, utterly disgusting. Read on to discover which Trader Joe’s foods have collected the most customer complaints over the years, and hopefully you can save yourself from the terrible experiences other TJ’s patrons have unfortunately endured.
Nothing has Trader Joe’s shoppers more riled up than the Beef Pho Soup. With so many other winners in the store’s frozen meal section, including its Chicken Tikka Masala and the famed Mandarin Orange Chicken (recently inducted into the Trader Joe’s Product Hall of Fame), you may be thinking, “How bad could it be?” Well, the answer is very.
Customers say the fragrant smell of the soup can be enticing. But, as you dig in, you are met with crunchy noodles, average beef, and a broth so bland that no amount of extra salt or Sriracha chili sauce can remedy it. Others say you’re likely better off just reaching for a cheap pack of instant ramen.
“The beef pho in the frozen section?!?! Just act like you didn’t even see it,” one particularly passionate Redditor wrote. “Don’t think surely it is just a few people who didn’t like it because they are pho snobs or something. Don’t imagine it could be saved with some doctoring up. Just…don’t!!”
A slew of food companies and grocery stores have tried their hand at recreating the classic cereal Cheerios. Versions such as Honey Ohs!, Crispy O’s, and Toasted O’s have all existed at one time, including Trader Joe’s appropriately-named Joe’s O’s.
Unfortunately, the store’s rendition may have you saying “oh no” upon first bite. After an apparent recipe change last year, the whole grain rings now taste like “cardboard” with little to no flavor, shoppers say. Plus, the O’s are reportedly not as thick as they used to be.
You won’t find much solace with the other flavored versions of the cereal, either. While the Trader Joe’s Honey O’s do have some fans, the fall-inspired Pumpkin O’s did not land well with customers. One shopper even compared the taste to “perfume.“
Watermelon Jerky is essentially just Trader Joe’s version of dried watermelon. If you haven’t tried it, and you’re struggling to picture what it would look like, one Redditor describes it as being reminiscent of “diseased teeth and gums.”
And, the product’s appearance isn’t even the worst part. The jerky’s reviews on Amazon reveal that you have to dig through mounds of seeds just to get to the watermelon bits, and all the pieces typically all come cemented together into one big chunk. One reviewer even had to cut it apart using meat scissors.
As for its taste, one Reddit user puts it best. “Imagine what makes a watermelon so satisfying. Then imagine they got rid of all of the satisfying and put whatever was leftover into a bag.”
“Trash” and “horrible” are the two adjectives most commonly used to describe the Trader Joe’s brand Ranch Dressing. And, one shaken-up customer asks the question you’re all probably thinking, “How could they get it so wrong??”
The condiment is most often critiqued for its thin and runny texture–quite the opposite of what you would want in a quality bottle of ranch. A sour taste has also been identified, with an overdose of vinegar as the likely culprit.
But, there may be a silver lining. Trader Joe’s released a brand new Buttermilk Ranch Dressing just this year, and so far the reviews are much more positive. The new creamy concoction was even so lucky as to gain the approval of a self-proclaimed “ranch connoisseur“.
If you’re not planning to transfer your bread straight from the grocery bag onto the dinner table, then don’t buy it at Trader Joe’s. Shoppers complain that most fresh bread and even tortillas bought at the market go bad and start to grow mold within just a few days after purchasing.
Some people venture to guess that this happens because Trader Joe’s bread is non-GMO and made without the use of preservatives. Others say it occurs because the bread arrives at the store frozen and is then thawed on the shelf.
No matter what the reason is for this rapid-growth mold, it’s not something you want living in your house. You can try storing your Trader Joe’s bread in the fridge or freezer–a solution some shoppers have found effective–or opt to grab your fresh bread elsewhere.
Don’t get us wrong. Trader Joe’s does have an exquisite lineup of pastas and sauces available at the store. But, that’s not to say there aren’t a couple of bad eggs mixed in with the bunch.
People are particularly not fond of the Truffle Piccante Spicy Pasta Sauce, with one shopper comparing it to “lighter fluid.” Many customers didn’t prefer the sweetness and mediocrity of the Calabrian Chili Spicy Pasta Sauce either. And, the Cacio e Pepe Pasta Sauce was described as “underwhelming” and “too artificial.”
In one Redditor’s opinion, Trader Joe’s entire pasta sauce selection is drab and they advise seeking out other alternatives. “TJ’s has always been pretty miss with pasta sauces,” the user’s post reads. “See if you can get Rao’s at a local grocer, it’s so much better than anything TJ’s will have.”
It’s a really good time to be milk that doesn’t come from a cow. These non-dairy options including oat milk have been spiking in popularity lately. But, if you were planning on grabbing a carton from Trader Joe’s, you may want to think again.
The Trader Joe’s oat milk has a consistency which is, well, inconsistent. And, it contains more sugar and less calcium than other options on the market, according to customers.
But, these aren’t the reasons that most shoppers have sworn off the non-dairy milk. Another Reddit thread shared a multitude of horror stories about finding chunks in the milk and mold sprouting all over the inside of the carton. You should never cry over spilled milk, but moldy milk? That’s a different story.
One unsuspecting Redditor cut into their Trader Joe’s bought green and orange bell peppers just to be met with an unpalatable surprise: mold and what appeared to be tiny little bugs (cue the gagging). TJ’s shoppers have been complaining about the retailer’s fresh produce for a while now, and apparently it’s not just limited to the peppers.
“TJ is great but the produce section SUCKS!” another shopper asserts. “If you have the luxury to be near and can afford, I highly recommend the farmers market!”
Unhappy customers say wilted and browning lettuce, sprouting garlic, fuzzy blueberries, and overly ripe avocados are the norm at Trader Joe’s locations across the country. And, some produce such as green onions are nowhere to be found.
Maybe stick with the store’s frozen veggies instead?
“The honey walnut shrimp is revolting,” says one Trader Joe’s customer. “The actual shrimp is nice but the sauce is vomit inducing. Smells and tastes like cheap fake American cheese.” Other less-than-flattering terms used to describe the product include “rancid,” “sickening gloop,” “cloyingly sweet,” and “egregiously bad.” Even TJ’s crew members on Reddit warn that this is one dish you would be better off without.
Additionally, have you taken a look at the nutrition facts? Each two-serving bag, which includes about 15 to 20 shrimp, contains over 1,000 calories with 14 grams of saturated fat and 40 grams of added sugars. At least we’ve solved the mystery of that “cloyingly sweet” taste.