Nowadays terms such as organic, all-natural, and gluten-free have become commonplace.  How does Sprouts Farmers Market compare to Trader Joe’s in reference to which is a better choice of where to buy such items?Sprouts Farmers Market

I think both have their strengths and weaknesses.  I can only speak for myself when I say more often than not, as a consumer, I prefer Trader Joe’s (TJ’s).

In this review, I will explain why.

On the other hand, I will give credit where I believe credit is due.

Once again, I can only speak for myself.

They are both quality organizations.  It really depends on what you value most or least and what you’re looking for.

What I value most is the availability and pricing of single-ingredient, pure, organic food.  When I refer to single-ingredient food, I’m referrring to fresh, non-processed, straight-from-the-plant-or-animal, pure, organic food.


A Little About My Relationship With Each Company

Trader JoesI’ve known about and been a customer of TJ’s in varying degrees since the early 1970’s.  Before they were TJ’s, they were Pronto Market, more of a convenience store, similar to 7-11.  However, they began to distinguish themselves as different than other convenience stores, eventually abandoning the convenience store image altogether, and eventually became TJ’s.

I’ve been a customer of Sprouts since 2014 when one opened walking distance from my home that same year.  Prior to that, I’d seen and heard of them but never visited one.  I find it ironic that the founding of Sprouts and what it stands for is much more in line with what I value most than that of TJ’s. Sprouts began as a roadside vendor of produce in the 1930’s, although they were not known as Sprouts then.

I worked for Sprouts for a short while.  I never worked for Trader Joe’s.  Therefore, although my relationship with Trader Joe’s has been for a longer duration, I have inside knowledge of how Sprouts operates that I don’t have with TJ’s.

Nutrition has been a major concern and interest of mine for as long as I can remember.  However, while pursuing a master’s degreee from 2006-2009, I became much more aware of nutrition on a whole different level.

Most notably:

  • What organic really means
  • What all-natural really means
  • The reality of hydrogenated oil
  • Labeling of food
  • Food additives and chemicals used
  • Marketing buzz-words

It was then that I became a regular customer of TJ’s and began shopping there on a regular, if not weekly basis.  In addition, I began shopping more at Whole Foods and visiting farmer’s markets. In fact, since then, I usually only shop at conventional grocery stores on a spot basis, or to buy sale items.

Then as mentioned, Sprouts moved into what was once another grocery store, about a half mile down the street from where I live.  I decided to give them a try.

In a nutshell, my conclusion:

  • Sprouts has better selection than TJ’s for fresh, unpackaged, organic, leafy green vegetables and has year-round availabilityGreen leafy vegetables
  • Sprouts has items sold in bulk that aren’t sold at TJ’s (at least not the ones close to me)
  • Sprouts has a wider variety of overall selection of items I rarely or never buy than TJ’s
  • Sprouts’ prices are normally higher on items both companies carry

What Organic Really Means And Why It’s Important

First of all, just because something is organic, does NOT necessarily mean it’s healthy.  There’s lots of organic junk!

The word “organic” is definitely a marketing buzz-word used by the food industry.  It’s often misunderstood. I can’t say the food industry likes it that way but they have sure learned how to cash in on it.

On the other hand, it’s possible that organic junk food will probably be better for you than the same thing that’s non-organic.

What organic really means and why it’s important is that it meets many specifications that non-organic food does not.  The main thing it means is that there’s a high probability that the food is pure and does not contain additives that is allowed in non-organic food.

That’s extremely important to me!

Keep in mind that there are different levels of organic.  Just because it says it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s all organic.

Organic food has a reputation for being expensive.  Often times that’s true but not always.  If it is more expensive, the question is, how much more expensive?  Furthermore, how important is it to you that the food you eat is free of additives that could be harmful?

The main reason that’s important to me is because, at least in the U.S., the word “safe”, as it applies to food and drugs, which is the word used by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the government organization that determines the safety of the food and drugs in this country.

I believe the true meaning of the word “safe” in the U.S. really means it has not been proven unsafe YET!

I also believe the truth is we simply don’t know what’s really safe and not safe.  I believe in being as chemical-free as possible.

There are more examples than I will mention here of the FDA qualifying something as safe, only to be later discovered later how unsafe it really is.  Hydrogenated oil, more commonly known as trans-fat, is at the top of my list.

USDA OrganicTherefore, assuming fraud is not involved, I give a certain amount of trust to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the part of the FDA that certifies the process of growing and raising organic food.

All things being equal, the food value and the food itself is probably the same whether or not it’s organic.  However, the organic food is, in my opinon, safer because it’s chemical-free, additive-free, and much closer to its natural form than non-organic food.


What All-Natural Really Means And Why It’s NOT Important

First and foremost, the term “all natural” can mean lots of things.  The term is not regulated.  It’s a red herring if ever there was one–a marketing buzz-word for sure.

It means nothing.

Having said that, I believe it’s intended to be a misleading term that entices uninformed people to believe the term is synonymous with the term “organic”.Fresh Vegetables

It’s NOT!

Don’t be fooled!

There really isn’t much more to say about it.


Why It’s Important To Read Ingredients Labels

If you care about what is or is not in your food, the best way to know for sure is to read the ingredients labels.  They’re required and they’re there for a reason.

My rule of thumb is, if the ingredients are not pronounceable and if I don’t specifically know what they are, I am most likely not interested.  It’s a pretty good bet whatever it is, is not good for us.

If the large letters on any food packaging makes or implies any sort of health claim such as:

  • Diet
  • Low-fat
  • Non-fat
  • Fat-free
  • Sugar-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Organic
  • All-natural

I highly suggest you read the label to see what’s in it.  Chances are, there is something in there that’s not good for you and the large lettering is meant to distract you from the truth.ingredients and nutrition label

As my late father used to always say, “the large print giveth, the small print taketh away.”

What’s good for one is not necessarily good for someone else and what’s harmful to one is not necessarily harmful to someone else.

We need to all know what’s good for ourselves and what is not.  It takes time to figure that out.

Read the labels.

I believe both Sprouts and TJ’s, whether intentionally deceptive or not, want customers to believe that what is purchased in their stores are healthy.

The truth is, that’s not necessarily the truth.

I will go out on a limb and say that I think Sprouts is more likely to use large lettering to boast what I have termed marketing buzz-words than TJ’s.

It’s not to say TJ’s doesn’t do it too.


To Put Both Companies In Their Places As Far As I’m Concerned

Over the years, I’ve pared down what I buy on a regular basis when I go shopping.  I’ve stated above what’s important to me.

My shopping list is probably boring to many people.  On a regular basis, among a few, not many things, I’m likely going to buy:

  • Organic green leafy veggies (spinach, kale, chard, collard greens etc.)
  • Other organic veggies (broccoli, beets, carrots, onions, etc.)
  • Organic fruit (apples, oranges, bananas, pears, figs, pomegranite seeds)
  • Sparkling water
  • Organic milk
  • Organic grated cheese
  • Organic ground beef
  • Organic tortillas
  • Organic avocados
  • Organic whole chicken
  • Organic eggs
  • Organic oatmeal
  • Organic nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts etc.)

There are sometimes others but the above are the mainstays.

Except for the organic green leafy veggies, which Sprouts carries unpackaged and fresh year-round (TJ’s doesn’t often carry these at all), and organic oatmeal that Sprouts carries in bulk (TJ’s doesn’t sell food in bulk, at least not where I shop), unless something is on sale, pretty much item for item, if both sell the same item, TJ’s is almost always less expensive.

In some cases, the difference is not just a little but a lot.

A guilty pleasure I often buy is organic corn chips.  I love them.

Sprouts carries them in an 8 ounce bag.  TJ’s carries them in a 9.75 ounce bag on an everyday basis (sale prices excluded) for less than what Sprouts sells them for, although Sprouts’ are in a smaller package.

Bulk FoodsSprouts sells a large selection of nuts in bulk.  TJ’s doesn’t offer it.  However, often times, TJ’s sells organic nuts in a package for less than what Sprouts sells them for in bulk–sometimes much less.

One thing is for sure, TJ’s doesn’t run sales.  Their prices do change, sometimes up, sometimes down, but they don’t run sales.  Sprouts does.  It is usually only then that Sprouts’ prices are better than TJ’s.

Furthermore, Sprouts carries a lot of items, such as prepared food, salad bar, complete meat department (butcher included), that aren’t offered at TJ’s.  That helps explain why their prices are often so much higher.  TJ’s product mix is much more streamlined.

On a completely different note, Sprouts has a huge vitamins department.  TJ’s sells vitamins but as far as selection is concerned, it pales in comparison to Sprouts.

I can’t say for sure but I believe the vitamins department at Sprouts is their highest profit-margin department.

As far as I’m concerned, vitamins and “health food” sold in the vitamins department is a waste of money and is something I NEVER buy.


To Bring This Review To A Close–My Final Thoughts

I have compared Sprouts Farmers Market near me to Trader Joe’s (also the ones near me).  Overall, I prefer TJ’s.  I’ve explained why.

I’ve also explained what organic really means, what all-natural really means, and why it’s important to read ingredients labels.

I have nothing against Sprouts.  Both companies are quality organizations.

However, both seem to be very much in tune to the popular marketing buzz-words and, like the entire food industry, are very skilled at marketing what they sell as healthy, whether or not it is.

I don’t blame them.  It’s the way the food industry operates.

The bottom line is, we all need to take responsibility for our own health and I dare say there are far too many people who are simply uninformed. We have no one to blame but ourselves if and when that’s the case.

We need to get out of our own way. How do we get out of our own way?

The simple answer in this case is to do our due diligence.

What do you think of this article?

If you have questions or comments, leave a reply below.  I promise to respond.

  1. I, too, shop at both stores. you are totally right about Sprouts (or is it Boney’s or Henry’s? Make up your mind!) having a better selection. I don’t feel like I can ever make a complete shopping trip out of TJ’s.

    I feel like I can get nearly everything from a trip to Sprouts, but there are some things that they just don’t carry. Like pre-made salads, for starters. ($3 Classic Greek, FTW.)

    Ever tried the apple bananas from Sprouts? They’re from South America, very small, and truly do have a green apple taste to them. But I don’t recall whether or not they were organic…

    • Thanks for your comments.  Sprouts was originally Boney’s then later Henry’s before becoming Sprouts.  

      I know what you mean about not being able to make a complete shopping trip at TJ’s.  It’s definitely a drawback, although I still prefer them to Sprouts overall.

      Haven’t tried the apple bananas but I will.  I appreciate the tip.

      Bob

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