Grocery Store Tours for Vegans: Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s in Short Pump, Richmond, Virginia. Taken prior to the pandemic.

I began writing this post long before the emergence of our current pandemic, and most of the photos for this post were taken on a trip prior to the outbreak. And although my grocery store tours will be sparse for now, it’s worth touring Trader Joe’s at this time. I visited yesterday, and they have the social distancing and cleanliness issues with grocery shopping under control at their stores. I stood in line and waited for over 40 minutes to access the store since they only let in 30 shoppers at a time. Since I was shopping for multiple households (I’ve been shopping for the elders in our lives, too), I brought my older daughter to help.

Line to enter Trader Joe’s, which ended at the opposite side of the shopping center. Note the TJ’s employees to the side monitoring safe distancing. As the line progressed, there were actually tape marks on the sidewalk 6 feet apart.
Now grateful for hobbies that require face masks for safety. These are part of my tie dye mixing gear stash. I only have enough for my immediate family. The new normal.

The stores were not only clean, but well stocked with everything per usual. And some of the things I dislike about Trader Joe’s, which isn’t much, are actually blessings right now, like their packaged fresh produce. It gives me a sense of cleanliness in an otherwise contaminated world. Plus, the employees were all super friendly, even the ones outside monitoring the lines, ensuring patrons maintained 6’ distances in line. Just prior to entering the store, an employee gives you a squirt of hand sanitizer, and carts handles are wiped.

Our Trader Joe’s in Richmond is in Short Pump, less than a mile from our original Whole Foods. The small format stores greet you at the door with beautiful cut flowers and potted houseplants! Employees are happy, friendly, and helpful, and many of them have been there so long, they know me by name. Typically there are samples of products in the back of the store as well as wine in the afternoons, but not now under new guidelines due to the virus. When my kids were little, they also loved to find Shorty the Dog! It earned them a lollipop!

Entrance of Trader Joe’s

If you’ve never visited Trader Joe’s, just know that most of what they sell is their own brand. Typically if you want to try something before you buy it, just ask! They are always willing to open something for you to sample, although no sampling is allowed for now. Almost everything I’ve tried is good! And the prices are amazing.

The only frustration I have with our location is that they tend to mix up the layout periodically. The wine/beer never moves, as well as the frozen foods, obviously, but everything else might be in a different location than the last time you were there! I mentioned this to a manager once, and he pretty much admitted that it is clearly a tactic to get you out of your shopping rut and force you to see new products. I can’t deny that this is a good strategy…

That minor frustration aside, Trader Joe’s has much to offer for vegans! What are my must-haves?

  • Produce
    • Can you ever really have enough? They have great pre-washed salad greens and pre-cut vegetables like butternut squash ready for roasting. They also have really good organic grape tomatoes. Much of their produce is packaged.
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  • Coffee
    • Their breakfast blends are great, and you can grind it in store. I’m still mourning the the Coffee and Cocoa blend that was discontinued, for that is my favorite coffee of all time. (TJ’s, if you’re reading this, please bring it back!)  But their seasonal Gingerbread flavor is also a favorite at my house. Look for it around the winter holidays.
  • Dried fruit, nuts, and nut butters
    • They have lots of variety at amazing prices. I love buying walnut and pecan pieces to use in recipes.
    • Their salted, creamy almond butter is my favorite almond butter of all time, and it’s very affordable as compared to major brands.
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  • Frozen foods
    • Vegan Tikka Masala. The “meat” is seitan, and the sauce is spicy! I keep a few of these meals on hand for an emergency meal.
    • Cauliflower gnocchi. Air-fry it if you can! I’ve served this with a tomato sauce, but have also made a spinach/onion/tomato sauté to go with it. They also make a new kale gnocchi. It was good enough for me to buy it again.
    • Frozen fruit. Great for making smoothies!
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    • Dorot brand frozen herbs. I’m a huge fan of the garlic. They also carry basil and ginger periodically. It’s a great way to add flavor to your meals without the mess, hassle, or risk of spoiling when using fresh.
    • Asian meal starters, including vegetable fried rice, vegetable dumplings, and vegan orange “chicken.”
  • Soy chorizo
    • It’s so good that it deserves this separate bullet point. It keeps sealed for a while. It’s a great addition to Mexican night and also makes a delicious pizza topping or spicy addition to soups.
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  • Dried pasta, grains, and lentils
    • Organic spaghetti. Their brand is simply the best I’ve ever tried. While you’re at it, pick up some pasta sauce! Lots of variety.
    • Red lentils. My favorite recipe from the High Protein Vegetarian Cookbook is the curried red lentils. TJ’s brand of these is my favorite.
    • 10 minute farro and barley. Although I prefer the farro from Kroger, this one is also great, especially considering that it cooks in half the time! And I often add barley to vegetable soups, although barley was not available this visit.
  • Canned goods
    • Jackfruit. This is actually the only way I have prepared this meat alternative at home! I’ve made it into BBQ and as a filling for enchiladas. Just drain, add to a saucepan, cover with your favorite sauce, and simmer for at least 30 minutes. The chunks will break down, resembling shredded pork or chicken. Very little nutritional value, but very tasty!
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    • Refried beans. They have two varieties. Both are delicious!
    • Sundried tomatoes. These aren’t technically canned, but in the same aisle. I love adding these to pasta salads and quinoa.
  • Plant-based milk alternatives
    • Every flavor I’ve tried rivals the Silk brand. I’m particularly fond of their refrigerated oat milk. They also have great shelf stable varieties that I keep as a backup.
  • Spices
    • So many excellent choices here. TJ’s is, by far, my favorite place to buy spices. They have all of your typical needs at great prices, but you absolutely must buy Everything but the Bagel (excellent for avocado toast!) and their onion salt (which I add to almost every savory dish I make!) I also love their umami (adds that extra something to savory dishes, especially Asian inspired), and seasoning blends. I picked up two new ones this visit: Vegan Chicken-less seasoning salt and Organic Chili seasoning blend. They will bring in special blends for the holidays, too, so be on the lookout for these. They also have the best bourbon vanilla!
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  • Wine
    • If you shop in the afternoon, there is typically an associate offering samples, although not right now while we are under quarantine. TJ’s has lots of vegan wine choices. Just ask!
  • Cruelty-free body care products
    • I’ve been using their facial wash for years. They also sell a serum that is supposed to be great, but I’ve never tried it.
    • Bar soaps. All of the ones I’ve tried I have loved, and the prices are great!
    • Lotions. I love the extra moisturizing body cream. It’s unscented.

Trader Joe’s will also often carry new, unique items that might only available for a limited time. My last visit, I picked up a vegan mac that was delicious. I didn’t see it this pandemic visit! I did, however, pick up a pack of their new plant-based burgers. I’ll let you know how they live up to Beyond Meat and Simple Truth brands.

I hope your community is blessed with a Trader Joe’s! They have enough variety of products that I can make this my primary shop for the week if needed, but it’s usually in rotation as an extra stop. This visit, however, I made it my only shop, and I’m trying to make this haul last for 2 weeks. Their current shopping rules made me feel safer while shopping, and most customers were even compliant with the new mask recommendations. Staff were all wearing masks as well.

Some extra tips for our RVA store:

  • Just a warning: do NOT try to shop on the weekends late morning to afternoon unless you have packed your patience. The store is CROWDED under normal circumstances. Currently with the 30 person in store rules, the experience is quite lovely once you make it through the line to enter.
  • If you are there when neighboring Frostings is open, stop by for a Vegan cupcake! They are still open under our stay at home orders with limited selections. I sent my daughter in, and she ended up with ½ dozen, but two were vegan for me!

Do you love Trader Joe’s, too? What are some of your favorite products? I’d love to hear about them! Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness! Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Nuun, Switch4Good, and Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon 2021.

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