The Problem With Trader Joe’s Eggs

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At its best, a trip to Trader Joe’s is an occasion. I leave feeling like I’ve been gifted a personalized swag bag (curated and paid for by me, of course) with the season’s greatest hits. Yes, I go there to stock up on multiple jars of peanut butter and a summery salad kit, but also for cute desserts and highly-anticipated launches.

The one thing I never paid any attention to, that is until very recently, is the store’s egg section. Sure, there was that truly wild moment when a woman hatched feather babies from actual eggs she’d bought at a Trader Joe’s, but it wasn’t until I stopped by a nearby TJ’s (and Aldi and Costco) to compare the price of eggs that I noticed the expansive (egg-spansive?) selection.

You wouldn’t know it from the website, but Trader Joe’s carries a lot of different types of eggs. When I visited, I spotted a mix of sizes (large, jumbo), standards (caged, cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised, organic), and colors (white, brown) in cardboard cartons. The eggs are all Grade A, which the USDA defines as very high-quality eggs, although these eggs were not USDA-certified.

Since then I’ve had unshakeable and at times contradictory feelings about these Eggs. Naturally, I visited a second and third and so-on store to confirm this one location isn’t a … bad egg. It’s not. I quickly discovered multiple stores carry some combination of the above, and even sell them in styrofoam (!!!) cartons. (If you take away one thing from this, know that styrene, an industrial chemical used to make styrofoam, was found in the early 90s to absorb through the shells and into the eggs. TL;DR: please don’t buy eggs in styrofoam cartons.)

I also spoke with several friends, family, co-workers, and a former TJ’s employee to see if they’d noticed anything spectacular about the eggs at Trader Joe’s, and also to work through my own feelings on the matter. (Therapy is expensive!)

As someone whose job is to religiously listen to the Trader Joe’s podcast, which almost always drops on random Monday mornings (during the weeks work is at its busiest), I’ve come to learn a lot about how the grocer operates. The stores are notoriously small, about 10,000 to 15,000 square feet on average, and especially compared to other national retailers, like say Aldi (18,000 square feet) and Costco (146,000 square feet) — both of which, in my experience, carry fewer egg options.

I’m all for variety — it’s the spice of life, after-all, and who doesn’t want to eat well-seasoned food?

What’s hard to digest, though, is Trader Joe’s promoting the two most opposite ends of the egg-laying spectrum. By selling BOTH eggs laid by hens that are confined to areas smaller than a single sheet of paper FOR THEIR ENTIRE LIVES and also hens that “have continuous free access to the outdoors” (throughout their usual “grow-out period”), the grocer is essentially saying it does not matter where our eggs come from.

Like your recently single, slightly drunk friend at 2 a.m., Trader Joe’s has no standards here.

I reached out to Trader Joe’s to see if I could speak with an employee about this mix of eggs. In lieu of a convo, I did receive an email explaining how the grocer selects products:

In general, we believe that customers “vote” on what they love — and what they want to see more of — with their dollars. If a product isn’t selling well, we’ll discontinue it to make room for something new that we hope our customers will love — and the attributes of said new products are determined by customer feedback. In keeping with our efforts to offer outstanding products (excellent quality at great prices to deliver real value) that meet our customers’ needs, we provide our customers with a choice of eggs.

The statement mostly checks out: After polling my coworkers to see what type of eggs they buy, the majority (38%) picked “Whatever’s Cheapest,” which often translates to “caged eggs.” At the time I visited the caged eggs were $1.49 per dozen versus $6.49 for a dozen of organic pasture-raised eggs. (Ironically, no one — 0% — chose “Caged Eggs”; the second most common response selected was “Pasture-Raised” at 30%). 

So, in a way, Trader Joe’s is just giving us what we want. But! The idea that eggs laid by hens existing under TORTUROUS CONDITIONS could ever be considered “outstanding” or “excellent quality,” is gross — no matter how many people buy them.

I’m an Egg Head. Fried, scrambled, boiled, poached — you name it, I am here for it. With one ingredient, an egg can go from great to life-changing. (I know I am not alone in feeling this way.) Eggs are perfectly portioned meal elevators. My toast, tortilla, fries, rice, bowl of noodles, you-get-the-idea has never come together more seamlessly and, more importantly, tasted better than when it’s been topped with an egg or two. 

As I’ve gotten older and learned more about our food system in general and, specifically, the treatment of animals within that system, I’ve made a conscious decision to spend more money on certain ingredients, like eggs.

Trader Joe’s, like many grocers, already has a list of standards for its store-brand products. These dictate the types of ingredients we will/won’t find in any item sold with the Trader Joe’s label on it (things like “artificial flavors” and “artificial preservatives” are a NO and “colors derived only from naturally available products” are a YES). 

As a perennially glass-half-full kind of person, I’d like to see the grocer add one more promise to this of 10: YES to Certified Humane eggs. That means only carrying eggs from hens whose standard of care (feed, housing, health care, transportation, etc.) have been inspected and certified. Pasture-raised hens, for example, must meet minimum requirements for their space (2.5 acres per 1000 birds) and time spent outdoors (6 hours per day, excluding emergencies).

While we’re at it, let’s make it an even dozen and say YES to Certified Humane standards for all animals.

What are your thoughts on TJ’s egg selection? Tell us about it in the comments.

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