Where Does Trader Joe’s Food Come From?

There are no Trader Joe's factories. Despite the thousands of products on store shelves with "Trader Joe's" (or Trader Jose, or Trader Ming) on the label, all that TJ's really makes is a lot of money. Those private-label products are made for it, in factories owned and operated by what is essentially TJ's competition: name brands that can be purchased in other grocery chains.

However, publicity-shy Trader Joe's is leery of revealing just who makes its products. And so shoppers theorize instead. A feature we ran almost three years ago that speculated on the name-brand companies that produce Trader Joe's products continues to get traffic and comments. Since it was published, TJ's has rolled out tons of new private-label foods, so we thought it was time to take another look at the origins of TJ's favorites.

TJ's Veggie Sticks Potato Snacks Versus Good Health Natural Foods Veggie Stix

Appearance: Both bags are the same size and weight; the Good Health bag is metallic, not transparent.

Taste: These things taste exactly the same, with kind of a McDonald's french fry vibe. Points to the TJ's bag for actually admitting that the damn things are basically potatoes with a bit of ground-up vegetable thrown in for color.

Ingredients: More or less identical, though the Trader Joe's sticks seem to derive their color from tomato powder, spinach powder, and turmeric, while Good Health also uses green pepper, paprika, and celery.

Price: TJ's $1.99, Good Health Natural $4.99

In it together? Oh hell yeah.

TJ's "This Strawberry Walks into a Bar" Cereal Bars Versus Full Circle Strawberry Fruit & Cereal Bars

Appearance: Identical bars seemingly made of woodchips with cereal, um, sweepings sprinkled on top. Boxes are the same size, same weight, and contain the same number of bars.

Taste: Oh God! My mouth is so dry! So very dry! Is this made of woodchips? It's woodchips smeared with jelly, right? TJ's bar is ever-so-slightly sweeter and less dry. This is some nasty business; are you sure you don't want to have some actual cereal for breakfast?

Ingredients: Pretty much identical, though TJ's shuffles the order. Somehow, the TJ's bars each have 10 calories, 1 gram of sugar, and .5 grams of fat more than the Full Circle bars. Yet they do not taste better. How is that?

Price: TJ's, $1.69, Full Circle, $3.99

In it together? Oh yeah.

TJ's Organic Shells and White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese Versus Annie's Homegrown Shells & White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese

Appearance: Oh, I see, Annie's, you tried to confuse us by calling your product Shells & White Cheddar while TJ's is Shells AND White Cheddar! Pretty sneaky! Boxes are the same size, weight, etc. Shells appear to be the same size; cheese powder looks the same.

Taste: So awful. Just awful. Powdery, gritty, cheeselike flavor, powerful stink. TJ's might be a bit saltier and fattier. My five-year-old daughter loved both.

Ingredients: Identical, except that Annie's takes pains to note that its cheese is made from "non-animal enzymes." No rennet, concerned vegetarians! TJ's makes no such claim.

Price: TJ's, $1.29, Annie's, $1.99

In it together? Yep.

Trader Joe San's Soyaki Versus Soy Vay's Veri Veri Teriyaki

Appearance: This one's kind of a gimme, because TJ's sold Soy Vay for years. It disappeared ... and then another product in a bottle the same shape and size, using the same colors, appeared in the same place on the shelves in the stores. Huh. Anyhoo, same bottle, seemingly the same stuff inside, tastes the same. Soy Vay looks like it has more sesame seeds, and it's a bit sweeter than TJ's.

Taste: Same. Overly sweet soy sauce, lacking the tang of mirin and boasting hints of sesame. Plus it's salty enough to wake you up in the middle of the night to drink water.

Ingredients: Largely the same. TJ's claims it has ginger purée, while Soy Vay claims "fresh ginger." Big diff.

Price: TJ's, $2.99, Soy Vay, $4.99

In it together? Oh yeah.

TJ's White Baking Chips Versus Ghirardelli Classic White Premium Baking Chips

Appearance: Bags are the same size and weight, yet the Ghirardelli bag is metallic, not transparent. Ghirardelli chips are flatter and more spread out; TJ's are more peaked.

Taste: Totally dissimilar. Ghirardelli's tastes mainly of sour milk, TJ's of vanilla. TJ's chips have a lingering, creamy finish. I'd better try a few more just to be sure of this. Mmm, yeah.

Ingredients: First ingredient in both is sugar. From there they diverge. TJ's second ingredient is cocoa butter, Ghirardelli's is palm oil. The rest of the ingredients are the same.

Price: TJ's, $2.29, Ghirardelli, $3.99

In it together? No, and Ghirardelli should get on the stick and get up to TJ's standard. I've heard rumors that Guittard supplies TJ's with chocolate chips, and the ingredients on Guittard's High Sierra White Cookie Chips seem to be identical to the TJ's chips. But the only way I've yet found Guittard white chips is in bulk, and um, if I buy a 2.2 pound bag of white chips, I am going to be seven pounds heavier once I'm done writing this story.

TJ's Organic Tofu Veggie Burgers Versus Wildwood SprouTofu Veggie Burgers

Appearance: C'mon, it's the same. The same! The packaging is suspiciously similar, same weight, etc. The burgers are the same yellowish color of diseased fluid, have the same orange and green flecks. They are the same!

Taste: Same. Yummy. Savory. This is the only tofu burger I can stomach.

Ingredients: Same. Yawn.

Price: TJ's, $2.69, Wildwood, $3.99

In it together? Ya think?

TJ's Organic Joe's O's Pasta Versus Full Circle Rings Pasta

Appearance: Cans are the same size, shape, and weight, but the graphics are markedly different. Pasta rings look the same once out of the can.

Taste: Mushy pasta, bland sauce. Totally Franco-American, maybe a little less salty and sweet and the tiniest hint of garlic. My daughter loved this, too.

Ingredients: Same. And the fact that TJ's clearly also sources its strawberry bars from Full Circle seems meaningful.

Price: TJ's, $1.49, Full Circle, $1.99

In it together? Totally.

TJ's Organic Baked Tofu, Savory Flavor Versus Wildwood Savory Baked SprouTofu

Appearance: Although both kinds of tofu-blocks look the same, with identical color and flecks, the TJ's bar might be the tiniest bit taller.

Taste: Salty, savory sameness. Both have a mustardy-vinegary aftertaste. Nice.

Ingredients: Same, except TJ's throws the word "organic" in front of every word. Organic onion powder, really? That exists? I see.

Price: TJ's, $3.49, Wildwood, $3.99

In it together? Uh huh.