The Best Time to Shop at Trader Joe's
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The Best Time to Shop at Trader Joe's

Aug 23, 2023

Timing is everything! Uncover the best time for crowd-free shopping and getting dibs on Trader Joe's latest products.

Kris Osborne is a writer, recipe developer, digital storyteller and professional home economist (PHEc) who has written about food, lifestyle, beauty, shopping, parenting, and health and wellness for over a decade.

If you've ever set foot in Trader Joe's, chances are you quickly became a fan. With the selection of unique private-label products, spins on staples like fun packable snacks, focus on affordability, lots of great healthy products, trendy and innovative seasonal gems, a casual, neighborhood vibe, and the charming and chatty, obnoxious-shirt-wearing employees, it's really hard to resist. I personally live in Canada and drive across the border to shop there frequently. I get the hype. It's hard to have a bad shopping experience at Trader Joe's overall, but with celebrity-like status, the retailer has amassed a cult following—and that can sometimes mean navigating long lines, picked-over products and busy parking lots. To find out how to make the most out of a trip to Trader Joe's, whether you're looking to beat the crowds or get dibs on new products, I spoke to two Trader Joe's experts, who shared loads of smart tips.

In my quest to find the best times to shop at Trader Joe's, I spoke to two people who have made careers out of their love for the store.

Rachael Engelhardt: Engelhardt started Trader Joe's Kitchen in 2018 as a joke after being affectionately teased by co-workers for coming into work every day with different Trader Joe's products. One suggested she start an account. And now, it's her full-time job. She regularly shares Trader Joe's-specific grocery hauls, product taste-tests, reviews and easy recipes using Trader Joe's products. Madeline Thomas: Thomas, the creator of Trader Jolene, needed an escape from the monotony of her office job. Like Engelhardt, she was "obsessed" with the store's "unique and fun products," and sharing her finds seemed like a fun idea.

Both have been regularly scouting and reporting on TJ's for at least five years with the intent to share the goods, literally and figuratively. So when is the best time to shop at Trader Joe's, you ask? Here, they dish on the best of the best—everything from timing to crowds, to getting the most exciting products.

"One thing about Trader Joe's is, it's almost always overwhelmingly crowded," says Engelhardt. The key word being almost. (Sorry to start you off with a scare!) But Engelhardt says that you can sometimes avoid crowds by shopping early in the morning on a weekday or late in the evening on a weeknight, about an hour or so before they close.

The stores are much emptier both of these times, but Engelhardt prefers the evening for its quiet and gentle emptiness. "Sometimes you'll be one of the only people shopping in the store, which is a real treat for [the] introverts," she says.

Of course, shopping the night shift means you risk missing out on your favorite products. And that's one of the reasons that Thomas prefers shopping in the morning. "You're golden" anytime before 11 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, she says. Shopping during off-peak hours also means that staff may have more time to share their top picks with you, wax poetic over the perfectly balanced spicy sweetness of the Hot & Sweet Jalapeños, and pop open a couple of samples, in accordance with TJ's try before you buy policy.

At the other end of the spectrum, the busiest times are the dreaded post-school, post-work dinner rush from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., the weekends—when most people do the bulk of their shopping—and the days leading up to major holidays. "Trader Joe's will typically be mobbed with people and have long lines two to three days before [a] holiday," says Engelhardt.

If getting everything on your list (and more) is important to you, your best bet is to rise early and hit the store when it opens. More is always on the list for Thomas, whose advice is to "shop with your heart." She adds, "Leave your list at home. If you see something that catches your eye, grab it because it might not be there next time." Some of her must-try items include the Chocolate Almond Biscotti Dipping Cookies, S'Mores Bars, Ghost Pepper Potato Chips, Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds, and Dark Chocolate-Covered Cherries.

Morning shoppers have the advantage of getting the first—but also sometimes the only—pick of the products. Stores may only receive one or two boxes of product on a given day, says Engelhardt. So when your faves sell out, you'll be forced to wait until the next time they're in, if at all. If you really need something, Engelhardt suggests calling in the morning and asking them to put the product aside for you.

When it comes to specifics, like what time of day Trader Joe's restocks, there is nothing surprising about their strategies. Like most grocery stores, standard restocking at Trader Joe's typically happens overnight, in the early morning before opening, and periodically throughout the day, subject to how quickly items are moving. For really popular products, stores may also receive multiple shipments each day to keep up with demand.

If you're seeking the freshest produce and other perishable items, like meat, dairy, plants and flowers, the early bird still catches the worm. Of course, for the most accurate information about produce deliveries, speak to a team member or store manager about when your preferred location gets theirs. Then you can shop to your heart's content like you're at your own personal farmers' market.

Thomas doesn't shop at Trader Joe's for the ripest strawberries and sturdiest stalks of kale. She goes there to pick up her favorite snacks and for the excitement of discovering new products—something Trader Joe's does exceptionally well. "Trader Joe's is where I go for fun items like cookies, chips, on-the-go-snacks, dupes of the famous Brazilian Bum Bum Cream and cool condiments like Dill Pickle Mustard and truffle ketchup and Magnifisauce!" she says.

New and seasonal products are a big part of the pull for TJ's fans, including Thomas and Engelhardt. If you're a seasonal shopping fan, Engelhardt says you can satisfy your cravings for new products for months, especially in the fall. Beginning in early September, "Trader Joe's will be full of pumpkin spice everything!" she says. Hot on the heels of pumpkin items will be Thanksgiving products, followed by specials for Christmas and other winter holidays.

Seasonality aside, we had to ask, what is the best day to shop at Trader Joe's? Is there one? The answer is yes. Thomas and Engelhardt agree that Tuesdays are the most exciting. Show up on a Tuesday and you'll be among the first to discover the latest products in food and drink trends. You're also more likely to discover items that you've never seen before.

You can get a sneak peek at Trader Joe's new releases online by subscribing to their newsletter. But you'll discover more by making a habit of going in regularly, especially on Tuesdays. Engelhardt says that new discoveries are frequent and abundant. "Every time I go to Trader Joe's, it's like a treasure hunt. What new products will I discover today?"

If you know, you know that Trader Joe's made an impression selling cheap bananas. And no, this is not a joke. If you're not on a mission to regularly freeze enough bananas for smoothies and banana bread, like me, you don't need to commit to a whole bunch at Trader Joe's. The retailer sells single bananas for just 19 cents each–a price they must be losing money on in this economy, but have managed to maintain for more than two decades.

If you just want good value, shopping at Trader Joe's will give you that any day of the week any time of the year. It's one of the principles they pride themselves on, and their FAQ states: "Sale is a four-letter word to us. We have low prices, every day. NO coupons. NO membership cards. NO discounts. NO glitzy promotions or couponing wars at our stores. We offer the best everyday values, every day." According to a 2022 Consumers' Checkbook story, Trader Joe's prices were 12% lower than the average prices of other surveyed area stores and 19% lower than places like Whole Foods.

Engelhardt says that Trader Joe's is her one-and-only shopping destination for many of the regular items on her grocery list. "There are certain foods that I'll only buy at Trader Joe's because they're so much cheaper and the quality is better than at other grocery stores," she says. "Their specialty cheeses are way cheaper … than any other store, so I always stock up when I go," she says, confessing that she often goes wild in this section. Her faves? The marinated mozzarella balls, the Unexpected Cheddar Cheese, burrata, feta cheese, halloumi, Syrah Soaked Toscano Cheese Spread & Dip, manchego and the wildly popular English Cheddar with Caramelized Onions. We'll trust her and try all the cheese!

You may need to plan for a less-crowded shopping experience and to guarantee you can lay hands on one of your ride-or-die products. But Joe Coulombe knew what he was doing when he opened his very first store in Pasadena, California, in the late '60s. Interesting products are key! And no matter when you show up, you can always guarantee that you'll find something cool, innovative and definitely worth trying at Trader Joe's.

Rachael EngelhardtMadeline Thomas: