I am lucky. I have both stores within minutes of each other and my house, so I often shop in both. I thought it might be interesting to do a side by side comparison of the two and elicit any comments readers might have. Now, of course I imagine not every Trader Joe's or Stop & Shop is exactly like every other store in the chain. So, my comments only take into account the two stores in my neighborhood. I would also guess one can generalize from my comments however. I thought the best way to do this would be to mention specific departments or food categories and compare the two stores on each of them, then give an overall view.
Dairy: Advantage Trader Joe's. I think TJ's has lower prices than S&S (and other super markets) especially when you compare store brands. S&S does carry more brands of course, so if you think for example that Land O' Lakes Butter is the only one worth buying, you would probably prefer S&S.
Eggs: Advantage Trader Joe's. You can get organic , free range, jumbo or regular eggs at TJ's at lower prices than most supermarkets.
Meat: Even. Perhaps because I use a small local butcher the few times I buy meat, my opinion of both TJ's and S&S is about equal. I do notice that TJ's has a better selection of beef that is grass fed.
Bread: Advantage Trader Joe's. Their bread is delivered fresh each day and they have a good selection. Unless you have to have the big brands (like Pepperidge Farm or Arnold's) , TJ's has a much better selection of good bread.
Produce: Advantage Stop & Shop. My TJ's shrink wraps most of its vegetables. I don't like that, and I notice that items I bought there have a shorter shelf life than comparable items from S&S. Both stores have good selections of organically grown food.
Store brands: Advantage Trader Joe's. Since TJ's main selling point is that they "eliminate the middle man" by selling most canned and packaged items under their own label, they do have a great deal of food at very good prices. Things like cereal, nuts, coffee, chocolate, baking mixes and frozen prepared foods are generally very high quality and much better priced than national brands or other supermarket brands. I always buy TJ's peanut butter for example which at $1.79 is so much cheaper than the comparable "natural" brands. Having said that, I do like many of the products S&S manufactures under its own label.
Fish: Even. TJ's carries some great fish which is caught wild including a lot of spieces from the Pacific. All of their fish however is frozen. S&S has some great selections in frozen and has a fairly good selection of fresh as well. I buy from both stores( maybe a little more from S&S) and am glad I don't have to choose one over the other.
Frozen Food/ Prepared Meals: No Opinion. I can't really offer an opinion since I don't buy much frozen food. I think S&S carries more brands, but TJ's has a more creative selection. If you don't cook, my guess is you would prefer the selection in TJ's on price and quality.
Baked Goods: No Opinion. This is also an area where I don't have a lot of experience, but the baked goods TJ's carries "looks" to be very good. I think if I were to take a chance on buying something prepared by either store, I would choose TJ's on looks and price. That's the advantage of living in New York City where there are so many small businesses to choose from- I don't have to take chances.
Customer Service: Advantage Trader Joe's. I like the friendly help there. It's obviously a store policy to ask shoppers who look perplexed if they need help, and I especially like that if a store worker can't answer a question, they go and ask.
Overall: I think if I had to choose just one store, I would pick Stop & Shop based on the quality of their produce. If , however, I were raising a family, and if I didn't have the inclination or the time to cook all my meals and desserts myself, I would probably choose Trader Joe's based on their prices and overall quality. Since I have so many options where I live, I can go to any number of great stores including both of these. By the way, based on my limited knowledge of Whole Foods, I would pick both Stop & Shop and Trader Joe's over that very pricey alternative.
What do you think?