FOOD & DRINK
02/12/2013 09:39 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Who Really Makes Trader Joe's Food? (TASTE TEST)

Which big brands are lurking under Trader Joe's labels at almost half the price?

It's no secret that Trader Joe's sells marked-down name-brand products disguised under its own label. What is a secret is which big brands Trader Joe's carries -- when it comes to publicizing that information, TJ's remains mum. The price difference between the Trader Joe's and big brand products is sometimes so big that it sparked our curiosity ($2.99 vs. $5.49 for the same box of cereal?!). Now, we're on a quest to discover who's hiding under those TJ's labels.

If you're wondering how Trader Joe's is able to sell its product so cheaply, a major factor is that the company abstains from advertising or couponing, both of which cost most supermarkets a large chunk of money. (If you've never heard of Trader Joe's until now, that's why.) Secondly, Trader Joe's buys its product directly from the supplier whenever possible, saving even further cost.

But wait, why would big brands be okay with Trader Joe's marking down their products and selling them under a different name? It's actually pretty simple: If you were General Mills, would you want your customers finding out they can buy the same box of $4.99 Cheerios at Trader Joe's for $1.99? The secrecy prevents the big brands' customers from fleeing traditional supermarkets in favor of buying the cheaper Trader Joe's version. And thus, the big brands are willing to operate under Trader Joe's cloak of secrecy, under which the "vendor shall not publicize its business relationship with TJ's in any manner."

And so our taste test begins. This week, we selected 10 Trader Joe's products and their rumored big-brand matches and tasted them with a panel of judges. We conducted a blind tasting and tried our hardest to detect any similarities and differences. Then, we came up with a final verdict.

Here's the main thing we can't get over: For the major price difference between TJ's and its big brand matches, the difference in taste and quality is so slight that it's almost nonexistent. We're reeling with regret over all the money we've spent on the big brands in the past.

Check out the results of our taste test below, and then be sure to check out the results of our second installment of Trader Joe's taste tests!

[Note: If you think you don't have access to a Trader Joe's, you might be closer to one than you think. There are now more than 350 locations nationwide.]

As always, this post is in no way influenced or sponsored by any of the brands involved -- especially not Trader Joe's.

  • Cream Of Tomato Soup: Trader Joe's vs. Pacific
    <b>Pricing:</b> Trader Joe's $2.49, Pacific $4.69<br><br><b>Tasting notes:</b> Aside from a slight difference in color and th
    Damon Dahlen/The Huffington Post
    Pricing: Trader Joe's $2.49, Pacific $4.69

    Tasting notes: Aside from a slight difference in color and thickness (the Trader Joe's version may have been a bit thicker and darker colored), there was no discernible difference in taste between these two products, leading us to believe...

    The verdict: They're probably the same product.
  • Organic Shells And White Cheddar : Trader Joe's vs. Annie's Homegrown
    <b>Pricing:</b> Trader Joe's $1.49, Annie's $3.29<br><br><b>Tasting notes:</b> There's no denying this one. From the packagin
    Damon Dahlen/The Huffington Post
    Pricing: Trader Joe's $1.49, Annie's $3.29

    Tasting notes: There's no denying this one. From the packaging to the shape of the shells and the contents of the flavor packet …

    The verdict: These are the same product.
  • Vegetarian Chili: Trader Joe's vs. Amy's
    <b>Pricing:</b> Trader Joe's $2.29, Amy's $4.19<br><br><b>Tasting notes:</b> Upon first tasting, there's no difference betwee
    Damon Dahlen/The Huffington Post
    Pricing: Trader Joe's $2.29, Amy's $4.19

    Tasting notes: Upon first tasting, there's no difference between these two products. So we took a closer look and noticed a few differences in the amount of tomato chunks and the level of spice, but they're such slight differences that the same could be found among any two cans of the same product. And then, the kicker: After the blind tasting, we looked at the cans and noticed the chili images on each label were identical, convincing us that …

    The verdict: They're probably the same product.
  • Pretzel Chips: Trader Joe's vs. Snack Factory
    <b>Pricing:</b> Trader Joe's $2.19, Snack Factory $3.69<br><br><b>Tasting notes:</b> The Trader Joe's product comes in small,
    Damon Dahlen/The Huffington Post
    Pricing: Trader Joe's $2.19, Snack Factory $3.69

    Tasting notes: The Trader Joe's product comes in small, broken pieces, but appears to be just a broken version of Snack Factory. All of our tasters agreed that the flavor and crunch factor of both products are identical.

    The verdict: These are probably the same product, but we're guessing Trader Joe's sells the broken leftover pieces from Snack Factory to TJ's at a discounted price.
  • Raisin Bran: Trader Joe's vs. Post
    <b>Pricing:</b> Trader Joe's $2.99, Post $5.49<br><br><b>Tasting notes:</b> There is no question that these two products look
    Damon Dahlen/The Huffington Post
    Pricing: Trader Joe's $2.99, Post $5.49

    Tasting notes: There is no question that these two products look different. The Trader Joe's version is darker brown and tastes a bit maltier, while Post tastes sweeter and more "cardboard-like." Overall, our tasters preferred the Trader Joe's version. …

    The verdict: These are different products. (But you may want to save some cash and try the Trader Joe's version.)
  • O's Cereal: Trader Joe's vs. Cheerios
    <b>Pricing:</b> Trader Joe's $1.99, Cheerios $4.99<br><br><b>Tasting notes:</b> Trader Joe's O's are paler and have a milder
    Damon Dahlen/The Huffington Post
    Pricing: Trader Joe's $1.99, Cheerios $4.99

    Tasting notes: Trader Joe's O's are paler and have a milder taste, whereas Cheerios are darker and have more depth of flavor. This leads us to believe that …

    The verdict: There is a difference in the quality of these two products, and they're probably not from the same manufacturer.
  • Honey Nut O's Cereal: Trader Joe's vs. Cheerios
    <b>Pricing:</b> Trader Joe's $2.49, Cheerios $6.49<br><br><b>Tasting notes:</b> This is the exact same case as the traditiona
    Damon Dahlen/The Huffington Post
    Pricing: Trader Joe's $2.49, Cheerios $6.49

    Tasting notes: This is the exact same case as the traditional Joe's O's vs. Cheerios. Trader Joe's product is paler and milder in flavor, whereas Cheerios are darker and wheatier. There's not much of a discernible difference in fundamental flavors.

    The verdict: These appear to be slightly different, but they're so similar that we probably wouldn't notice if someone swapped them out on us. (And wow, look at the difference in price.)
  • Almond Thins: Trader Joe's vs. Jules Destrooper
    <b>Pricing:</b> Trader Joe's $2.79, Jules Destrooper $4.69<br><br><b>Tasting notes:</b> These look different, but taste exact
    Damon Dahlen/The Huffington Post
    Pricing: Trader Joe's $2.79, Jules Destrooper $4.69

    Tasting notes: These look different, but taste exactly the same. Not only is the color slightly off, but the shape is different enough that it makes us wonder whether they can possibly be related.

    The verdict: These are probably not the same product, but the flavor is so similar that no one would notice the difference if you swapped them.
  • Pita Chips: Trader Joe's vs. Stacy's
    <b>Pricing:</b> Trader Joe's $1.99, Stacy's $3.99<br><br><b>Tasting notes:</b> There is absolutely no question here. We're no
    Damon Dahlen/The Huffington Post
    Pricing: Trader Joe's $1.99, Stacy's $3.99

    Tasting notes: There is absolutely no question here. We're not even going to waste your time. …

    The verdict: These are the same product.
  • Ginger Thins: Trader Joe's vs. Anna's
    <b>Pricing:</b> Trader Joe's $3.99 ($0.44/ounce), Anna's $2.75 ($0.52/ounce)<br><br><b>Tasting notes:</b> From looking at the
    Damon Dahlen/The Huffington Post
    Pricing: Trader Joe's $3.99 ($0.44/ounce), Anna's $2.75 ($0.52/ounce)

    Tasting notes: From looking at these products, they're clearly not the same. Visually, the scalloped edges are different sizes and the Trader Joe's packaging includes twice as many cookies as Anna's. In terms of flavor, our judges preferred Trader Joe's -- it exhibited more of a spicy flavor and a stronger ginger kick.

    The verdict: These are not the same. (And Trader Joe's is the preferred product.)

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BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTO GALLERY
Trader Joe's Taste Test, Round 2
CONVERSATIONS