Who Makes Trader Joe’s Food?

Who Makes Trader Joe's Food?

Hint: It's not Trader Joe's!

A taste test to try to figure out who is behind Trader Joe's food.

By Bernice Young

Eighty percent of Trader Joe's products are sold under the company's private label, but TJ's doesn't make them.

When you see that Trader Joe's packaging, the item is actually produced by a third-party supplier whose identity is kept secret from the consumer, and who also makes other, name-brand products. Sometimes the manufacturer tweaks the product a little for Trader Joe's audience, but usually the food is kept remarkably similar to the original product, even down to copy and photography on the box. In some cases, TJ's sells both its own version and the rumored producer's. But the grocery-store giant's versions are always astronomically cheaper. Although it's impossible to confirm who's producing the goods, you can make a pretty good guess. Doing so has become sport on the Internet (see comments at the bottom of the page). CHOW tasted some of Trader Joe's private-label products against the real-world versions rumored to be the source. Here's our take on who's behind the TJ's label.

TJ's Pita Chips Parmesan, Garlic & Herbvs. Stacy's Parmesan Garlic & Herb Pita Chips

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Trader Joe's Pita Chips
Trader Joe's Pita Chips - closeup

vs.

Stacy's Pita Chips
Stacy's Pita Chips - closeup
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pita chips

In Collusion?

Yes.

Appearance / taste

Similar taste, though Stacy's chips tended to be more toasted and TJ's had a more even coating of seasonings.

Ingredients

Nearly identical ingredient list, including sunflower oil, sugar, yeast, and malted barley flour.

Cost

TJ's: $1.99Stacy's: $2.99 at Whole Foods

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TJ's Goddess Dressingvs. Annie's Naturals Goddess Dressing

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Trader Joe's Goddesss Dressing
Trader Joe's Goddesss Dressing - closeup

vs.

Annie's Goddesss Dressing
Annie's Goddesss Dressing - closeup
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salad dressing

In Collusion?

Definitely.

Appearance / taste

The exact same flavor and consistency.

Ingredients

Exactly the same, and in the same proportions, from the expeller-pressed canola oil down to the xanthan gum.

Cost

TJ's: $1.99Annie's: $3.99 at Whole Foods

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TJ's Vienna Style Lagervs. Gordon Biersch Märzen

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Trader Joe's Beer
Trader Joe's Beer - closeup

vs.

Gordon Biersch Beer
Gordon Biersch Beer - closeup
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beer

In Collusion?

Yes,for the identical logo alone.

Appearance / taste

Same wheat-frond logo, and the beers had the same amber color, although TJ's had a foamier head. The beers tasted similar, but TJ's was a little maltier and sweeter.

Ingredients

Neither lists the ingredients.

Cost

TJ's: $5.99Gordon Biersch: $9.99 at the local liquor store

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TJ's Indian Fare Punjab Eggplantvs. Tasty Bite Punjab Eggplant

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Trader Joe's Indian Fare Punjab Eggplant
Trader Joe's Indian Fare Punjab Eggplant - closeup

vs.

Tasty Bite Punjab Eggplant
Tasty Bite Punjab Eggplant - closeup
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indian

In Collusion?

Definitely.

Appearance / taste

Same product shot on the box; same exact description: "Braised eggplant cooked in a distinctively flavored sauce"; same silver space-age pouch; similar goopiness. But TJ's brand was sweeter and less sharply spicy.

Ingredients

Same proportions of eggplant, tomatoes, onions, and spices. But TJ's adds pumpkin and a smidge more cumin than ginger.

Cost

TJ's: $1.99Tasty Bite: $2.49 at Whole Foods

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TJ's Very Berry Clustersvs. Peace Cereal Wild Berry Crisp

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Trader Joe's Very Berry Clusters
Trader Joe's Very Berry Clusters - closeup

vs.

Peace Cereal Wild Berry Crisp
Peace Cereal Wild Berry Crisp - closeup
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cereal

In Collusion?

Maybe,or TJ's is a really good knockoff.

Appearance / taste

TJ's had unsweetened corn and multigrain flakes, generous oat clusters, and better-tasting berries; Peace Cereal's berries were too tart, but its corn flakes were too sweet.

Ingredients

Varying proportions of milled corn and oats, dried berries, and sweetener. Peace Cereal also lists cardamom seed, fennel seed, fenugreek seed, and nutmeg.

Cost

TJ's: $2.69Peace Cereal: $3.99 at Whole Foods

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TJ's Peppermint Toothpastevs. Tom's of Maine Peppermint Toothpaste

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Trader Joe's Peppermint Toothpaste
Trader Joe's Peppermint Toothpaste - closeup

vs.

Tom's of Maine Peppermint Toothpaste
Tom's of Maine Peppermint Toothpaste - closeup
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tooth

In Collusion?

Not definitive.

Appearance / taste

Tom's had a mintier, more pleasant flavor; TJ's was too salty.

Ingredients

Tom's contains xylitol (for plaque prevention) and zinc citrate (tartar control); TJ's has more baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).

Cost

TJ's: $1.99Tom's: $3.99 at Trader Joe's

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