Saturday, January 17, 2015

Trader Joe's frozen berry medleys

This will be a rare post, reviewing four different items at once. The reason for this is that they are so similar that it makes no sense to deal with them individually. Moreover, if you're going to choose from among them, you have to understand how they are related to each other, which is easier to explain in a single post than in four posts.

I eat a lot of frozen berries. I like berries, but I can't predict when I'm going to feel like having some. So having them frozen solves the dual problems of not having them when I want them, and buying fresh berries only to have them go to waste because I run out of appetite for them before they're used up.

Trader Joe's sells four different medleys of frozen berries:

(A) Fancy Berry Medley, $3.29 at the Asheville TJ's.

(B) Very Cherry Berry Blend ($2.99).

(C) Berry Medley ($2.99).

(D) Organic Mixed Berry Blend ($3.49).

All of them share the same basic idea: they're berries individually frozen without syrup or other added ingredients. That means that they're not frozen into a solid block. You can pour out what you want into a bowl, let it thaw for about 45 minutes, and eat. The rest goes back in the freezer.

Product (A) is blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Product (B) is, as far as I can tell, simply product (A) with cherries added. Similarly, (C) is simply (A) with strawberries added. I don't know why (A) gets the moniker of "fancy" when the others don't. If there's something genuinely different about the fruit in the package, it's a difference that escapes me.*

I see no need ever to purchase (A) again. That's because I like both cherries and strawberries. A berry blend that has one or both in it is always going to be better than one that doesn't. Unfortunately, TJ's doesn't make a version that has all five components (the basic trio of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, plus both strawberries and cherries), so I have to choose between strawberries and cherries as my fourth "add-on" fruit.

(B) and (C) are approximately equally appealing to me, with the edge going to (B). This is not because I necessarily like cherries better than strawberries. It's because (B) is generously supplied with cherries, rightly earning the name of "Very Cherry," while (C) is only modestly stocked with strawberries.

But the worst offender in quantities is (D). Remember when you were a kid and discovered that in Van Camp's pork and beans the "pork" was one tiny cube of fat? Well, that's about how TJ's metes out the strawberries in (D). Just before I sat down to write this post, I had the first bowlful from a new package of (D)--about 1/3 of a bag. There was not a single strawberry in the whole bowl. Not one. It's pathetic. (Edit: I polished off the rest of the bag in two more consecutive nights. The second serving had three strawberries, the third two. For those of you counting at home, that's 5 strawberries in a one-pound bag, when the label gives strawberries equal one-quarter billing. I consider that unforgivably deceptive.)

Product (D) is in composition just like (C), except using organically grown fruit. I have no objection to that, but it's not something I'm routinely willing to pay extra for, and (D) does cost a little bit more. I think it's worth going for organics in meat and dairy products, because then you're avoiding source animals treated with antibiotics. I believe that overuse of antibiotics and the consequent rise of antibiotic-resistant organisms is an enormous looming global problem. I'm much less worried about the various chemicals used on fruit, so avoiding them by choosing organics is not as important to me.

All four products are, in my experience, extremely consistent over time, from batch to batch--and consistently good, with big berries (the blackberries in particular are ENORMOUS), excellent taste, and virtually never a bad one snuck in. This is a major advantage over the store brands from other grocery chains that I used to buy. With those, some bags would be great fruit, others pretty sour and nasty, or just plain tasteless. The bad bags would sit in my freezer half-eaten for weeks until I finally admitted to myself that I was never going to finish them and threw them away in disgust. No such risk with TJ's in my experience of perhaps ten bags so far over the course of a year.

Will I buy it again? 

I won't buy (A) again, unless they happen to be out of everything else, which seems unlikely. There's nothing wrong with (A); I think the berries are exactly the same as are going into (B) and (C). But I'll always choose to have a four-fruit blend instead of three. Between (B) and (C), I like (B) a little bit better, but I'll keep getting both. As for (D), combine the extra cost with the dearth of strawberries, and I'm not likely to go for it very often in the future. To me it has no important advantage over the very similar (C).

*After writing this, I checked the prices the next time I was at the store, and have now added them above. I was surprised to find that (A) is a little bit more expensive than (B) and (C). I don't know why this would be the case. Maybe they do use a slightly higher grade of fruit for the one deemed "fancy." Or maybe the marketing folks just figure that people will be willing to pay more if they call them "fancy," when there's not any actual difference. I don't know. It's a mystery to me.

1 comment:

  1. Mike M., a friend of mine, tried to post this comment but ran into an unknown tech glitch, so I'm posting it for him:

    As a former farm kid, I might shed some light on the "fancy" issue. "Fancy" is an official USDA quality grade for the best of the best in produce (except for "Extra Fancy" in some cases). So the "fancy" berries might well be higher quality than their non-fancy brethren.