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A Holiday Ode to Trader Joe’s

The holiday season is finally upon us, and Trader Joe’s has definitely geared up for the occasion. In its annual fashion, the store is ornately decorated with fluorescent string lights, pine cone wreaths, and elaborate color-coordinated item displays. The product selection has also been absolutely on point. 

Based in California, Trader Joe’s has quickly become one of the most popular grocery chains in the country. It now has stores in nearly 465 locations across 42 states. With its reasonable prices and friendly employees – they always make the best conversation at checkout – it’s not hard to see why that’s the case. 

As opposed to other supermarket chains, Trader Joe’s carries their own line of items with a private store label. Where or who creates their products is somewhat of an enigma, but their unique branding has been extremely effective in cultivating a loyal customer base. 

The store not only stocks up on basic food staples, but offers some of the most creative products out there: watermelon jerky, pickle-flavored popcorn, and Speculoos cookie butter are just some of the fun items you could snag on your next market trip. Trader Joe’s also has an intentionally limited inventory – only about 4,000 items compared to 50,000 items that are typically available in other grocery chains – to ensure that both workers and customers are able to easily navigate the store. However, they also have an extremely high turnover rate: new items are added on a weekly basis! This has made it so that every visit I’ve made is a perfect balance of excitement over new products and familiarity with the old classics. Over the years, I’ve been able to try a good number of products and determine which ones are actually worth the purchase. 

From limited edition holiday items to cult-classics, here’s your guide to some of the best items at Trader Joe’s right now.

Almond Nog and Hot Chocolate Sticks

Starting off strong with two new products I recently tried: almond nog and hot chocolate sticks. The almond nog is a great dairy-free alternative to the typical eggnog that Trader Joe’s also sells in-store. It was surprisingly smooth and creamy – thicker than milk, but more liquid than a milkshake. 

Truth be told, I’ve never tried traditional eggnog before, but the almond nog was good enough that I didn’t feel the need to. You can drink it cold or warmed up on the stovetop with a hot chocolate stick swirled in. 

I wanted to try out the hot chocolate sticks after hot chocolate bombs went viral on TikTok, but they’re not quite the same. The sticks don’t have any hot cocoa powder inside them; they’re essentially concentrated dark chocolate bars. The box explicitly says that the hot chocolate sticks can be nibbled on on their own or mixed into a warm beverage. I found that the almond nog plus hot chocolate stick combo had a tastier, richer flavor than the usual hot cocoa powder and milk duo.

Popcorn with Herbs and Spices

There are a ton of popcorn flavor options at Trader Joe’s, but the popcorn with herbs and spices is definitely my favorite. Each kernel is lightly dusted with a mix of dried dill leaf, celery seed, onion powder, and other seasonings. For all the savory popcorn lovers out there, this is definitely for you! The flavor isn’t too overwhelming or clashing, which makes it a great choice to snack on throughout the day. 

Soft-Baked Snickerdoodles

An oldie but a goodie, the soft-baked snickerdoodles have been a go-to of mine for a while. These cookies are free of milk, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and soy. Because of these ingredient exemptions, they’re made with sorghum flour (a type of cereal grain), date paste, and apple and pear juice concentrates. It tastes more like pear than anything else, so you won’t get the typical snickerdoodle flavor, but it's delicious nonetheless. The cookies also have a great soft, chewy texture. 

Stepping It Up Spicy Snack Bar Mix

Another savory snack option is the Stepping It Up Spicy Snack Bar Mix. It resembles Chex Mix in the way that it has an assortment of snacks in one cohesive blend. Instead of Chex Mix cereal, the Spicy Snack Bar Mix includes sweet jalapeño pretzel pieces, pasilla chile and sesame chips, spicy cheese corn sticks, spicy chile almonds, and chile lemon corn nuggets. Clearly, the chile flavor profile comes through strongly, but the acidity from the lemon balances things out. The variety of snacks makes it a product that you can’t get bored of eating. 

Thai Tea Mini Mochi

The Thai Tea Mini Mochi ice cream bites are dairy-free and made of coconut milk. Each nugget of thai tea flavored ice cream is covered in a thin layer of soft mochi, yielding a great ice-cream to mochi ratio. The coconut milk also gives a refreshing lightness to the dessert that normally wouldn’t be there with other cream-based products. If you want another flavor, try out the mango sorbet mini mochi. The ice cream bites in both options are very small, but there are 15 pieces in each box. 

This list is by no means expansive or comprehensive, as I had to cut a lot of my recommendations. However, these five products are truly some of the best items you can find in Trader Joe’s this holiday season. So do yourself a favor and give them a try – you can thank me later!

Jean Paik

U Penn '24

Jean is currently a freshman at UPenn studying Political Science. In her free time, she loves listening to R&B music, having picnics with friends, and going to used bookstores.
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