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I Tried A Bunch Of Popular Trader Joe's Items Compared To The Famous Brand-Name Versions, And Some Of The Results Actually Shocked Me

Honestly, some of the winners (and losers) were not what I was expecting.

Hi, I'm Hannah, and for anyone who hasn't been following my Trader Joe's adventures, I'm a big fan. I love TJ's for its creative products, seasonal treats, convenient frozen items, and affordable prices. So yeah, I spend a loooot of time at Trader Joe's. And one thing that always catches my attention is that many Trader Joe's products appear almost identical to their big, brand-name counterparts.

Hannah Loewentheil

Like Joe-Joe's vs. Oreos, or Joe's Os vs. SpaghettiOs, etc.

In fact, I've heard plenty of chatter that suggests many of your favorite TJ's products are actually made by the same manufacturers behind the big brand names. So while I won't embark on a full-fledged investigation, I did decide to conduct a taste test. I picked up a bunch of Trader Joe's "knockoffs" and compared them against the brand names.

Hannah Loewentheil

Very scientific, right?

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While conducing this side-by-side comparison, I took into account factors including appearance, taste, texture, and price point. So without further ado, here's how some of your favorite Trader Joe's products stack up to their name-brand competition.

Hannah Loewentheil

1. Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's vs. Oreos

Hannah Loewentheil

Based strictly on appearance, these two cookies are more or less identical. And it's worth noting that both Oreo's and Joe-Joe's come in lots of different seasonal flavors. As for taste, the competition was neck-and-neck. The Trader Joe's version appeared to contain even more cream filling than the Double Stuf Oreo.

The Oreo is a sturdier cookie, which crumbles slightly less (a crucial criterion for someone like me, who likes to split these cookies in half and eat the filling first). If you were to dip these into milk, my bet is that the Trader Joe's cookie would begin to break down faster.

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Winner: Oreos

Hannah Loewentheil

While this decision was difficult to make and it came after careful deliberation, it ultimately came down to the flavor of the cream filling. The Oreo cream was tastier: It had a slightly airier, lighter, and creamier flavor than the denser Joe-Joe filling.

2. Trader Joe's Sea Salted Saddle Potato Crisps vs. Pringles

Hannah Loewentheil

The similarity in appearance between Pringles and TJ's Saddle Potato Chips is uncanny. Seriously, they are identical twins — the same color, thickness, and weight. But when it comes to taste...there's a difference.

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Winner: Pringles

Hannah Loewentheil

The Trader Joe's Saddle Chips are just too, too salty. I understand that these are meant to be a savory snack, but the TJ's version just takes the sodium a bit too far. I felt like I needed a big glass of water after eating a few. On the other hand, Pringles are the perfect amount of salty, crispy, carb-y umami.

3. Trader Joe's Pastry Pups vs. Sabrett Cocktail Franks

Hannah Loewentheil

Let's talk about the pigs in a blanket, also known as Pastry Puffs (Trader Joe's) and cocktail franks (Sabrett). IMHO, pigs in a blanket are the ultimate party app. My whole life, I thought a pig in a blanket was just a pig in a blanket...until I discovered Pastry Pups. Trader Joe's has truly taken this popular snack to the next level.


It's also hard to ignore the price: a box of 12 Pastry Pups costs $4.79, whereas a box of 24 Sabrett cocktail franks was $10.99 at my local grocery store. And of course, we should keep in mind that each Pastry Puff is double the size of the Sabrett version.

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Winner: Trader Joe's Pastry Puffs

Hannah Loewentheil

I can confidently say that the Pasty Puff is the ultimate pig in a blanket. The dough is light and fluffy, and the sprinkle of Parmesan cheese is just next level. The hot dog itself is also higher quality IMO: perfectly tender but not over salted. I would not be caught dead without a box of these in my freezer.

4. Trader Joe's White Cheddar Corn Puffs vs. Pirate's Booty

Hannah Loewentheil

It was easy to spot some differences between Trader Joe's white cheddar corn puffs and Pirate's Booty aged white cheddar. The TJ's version is more irregularly shaped with lots of crinkles, whereas the Pirate’s Booty is perfectly shaped and every piece is the same. As for taste, the differences were clear too.

The TJ's version tasted a bit on the stale side (something I've actually noticed when eating this product in the past). It's not stale in a gross way; it's just less puffy and crunchy than the Pirate's Booty, which is delightfully crispy before it melts in your mouth. That being said, the cheesy flavor is almost identical.

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Winner: Pirate's Booty

Hannah Loewentheil

My dog can't resist popcorn, so he came to join me for this taste test by planting himself on my lap and sniffing the competition. When I tried to give him the Trader Joe's version, he turned his nose while he kept begging for the real Pirate's Booty. I'm not lying about this behavior. And I would have to agree that the Pirate's Booty was superior in taste and texture.

5. Trader Joe's Baked Cheese Crunchies vs. Cheetos

Hannah Loewentheil

I have such a weakness for cheesy, salty snacks, so both of these crunchy competitors are delicious as far as I'm concerned. But in the name of some friendly competition, I will crown a winner. The biggest difference was color: Crispy Cheetos have a very orange, obviously artificial-looking color, and they are coated with way more cheesy powder that gets all over your fingers. The TJ's version is lighter in color, and while I'm sure there are all kinds of artificial ingredients in these, Trader Joe's just makes it a less in-your-face.

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Winner: Trader Joe's Baked Cheese Crunchies

Hannah Loewentheil

Taste-wise, these are very similar. The Cheetos have a slightly stronger flavor, which is not a bad thing, but it depends on how you prefer your snacks. I personally appreciated the more subtle cheddar notes I got from the Trader Joe's cheese crunchies. They also feel a tiny bit healthier...if that's even a consideration here? I dunno — they're baked, after all.

6. Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies vs. Tate's

Hannah Loewentheil

It's worth mentioning that these Trader Joe's crispy chocolate chip cookies happen to be gluten-free. There's no other option. By contrast, Tate's actually sells both gluten-free and non-GF cookies. I decided to compare the Trader Joe's cookie to the original Tate's, just because it's what most people would buy. 

At first glance, the Tate's and the TJ's cookies look pretty much identical. The Tate's might be a tiny bit thinner, and they crumble a little less when you break them. Each cookie contains an equal amount of chocolate, enough that you get a bit of chocolate in every bite but not so much that it's overpowering. 

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Winner: Tie!

Hannah Loewentheil

As a whole, these are shockingly similar. Both are buttery and crispy and actually melt in your mouth when you take a bite. And while many gluten-free products taste drastically different, I would never be able to tell with this Trader Joe’s cookie. I'm going to call this one a tie because I know for a fact if you served me these cookies in a blind tasting, I wouldn't be able to tell them apart. (And in fact...maybe they really are the same after all??)

7. Trader Joe's Hummus vs. Sabra

Hannah Loewentheil

I've seen rumors that Trader Joe's hummus really is the same as Sabra, just under a different label. Whether or not that's true, it's worth noting that Trader Joe's hummus is a real bargain compared to the brand-name stuff. I paid $4.49 at my local market for 10 ounces of Sabra hummus, but the Trader Joe's version is just $2.49 for 8 ounces. 

The most obvious difference is the color: Sabra hummus is more yellow, whereas TJ's is more beige and chickpea-colored. Both versions also boast an identical smooth and creamy texture. 

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Winner: Trader Joe's

Hannah Loewentheil

I did notice a bit of a difference in the aftertaste. Sabra hummus tastes slightly more complex, thanks to a bit of lemon or acidity. By contrast, the Trader Joe's hummus is a bit less citrusy, and the tahini flavor shines through more. Ultimately, you can’t beat the TJ’s price here. Given that the flavor and texture are so similar, I'm going with the better bang for your buck.

8. Trader Joe's Wisconsin Cheddar Mac 'n' Cheese vs. Kraft

Hannah Loewentheil

I have very strong feelings about boxed mac 'n' cheese. I think it's one of God's greatest gifts to Earth, and I actually jazz up the boxed stuff all the time for dinner. Now when I think of boxed mac 'n' cheese, my mind immediately turns to Kraft. It's the OG. Despite the very similar noodle shapes, the Kraft noodles were a lighter beige color compared to the more yellowy-orange TJ's noodles. Interesting! So can the Trader Joe's version possibly compare?

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Winner: Kraft Mac

Hannah Loewentheil

It's with great sadness that I say no, the Trader Joe's Wisconsin cheddar mac is no match for Kraft. The flavor of the TJ's mac 'n' cheese just falls a little flat, whereas the Kraft cheesy flavor is bold and sharp and creamy all at once. I don't know what the hell is in that Kraft cheese powder packet, but it's unbelievable.

It's the kind of thing that makes you think, whatever is in here definitely can't be good for me, but I'd shave a few years off my life for this. Trader Joe's made a valiant effort, and it's definitely a good thing to keep on hand for lazy nights, but Kraft remains king.

9. Trader Joe's Crunchy Cinnamon Squares vs. Cinnamon Toast Crunch

Hannah Loewentheil

Growing up, I ate Cinnamon Toast Crunch all the time. Now in my adult life, I try to avoid making sugary cereal a daily routine, but I still do crave it from time to time. As a Trader Joe's enthusiast, I wanted to love the cinnamon squares even more than the Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Also, the Trader Joe's cereal is $2.99 versus the $6.29 I paid for Cinnamon Toast Crunch 😳 (I live in NYC; I'm used to being ripped off). But did it live up to my expectations?

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Winner: Cinnamon Toast Crunch

Hannah Loewentheil

Sadly, no. The Cinnamon Toast Crunch squares are thinner and crispier than the Trader Joe's cinnamon squares, which are puffier. This difference is accentuated when you add milk. The TJ’s cereal get soggy faster, whereas the brand-name stuff stays crispier while still imparting that delicious cinnamon flavor to the milk. I'll stick with the General Mills' stuff for now. 

10. Trader Joe's O's vs. SpaghettiOs

Hannah Loewentheil

I'm going to be honest with you: I've never eaten SpaghettiOs before in my life. And TBH, I always thought it was pretty random that Trader Joe's has its own knockoff version. But my dad basically grew up eating SpaghettiOs, and he raves about them, so I was excited to give this classic, nostalgic food a try. 

My first impression upon opening the two cans of soup was ew. I'll preface this by saying I'm a soup addict, and I live and die by a can of Campbell's creamy tomato, but this stuff sort of grossed me out. It was thick and sweet smelling and saturated with soft little circular noodles. The Campbell's version was especially thick and dense, whereas the tomato soup in the Joe's O's was a bit looser and thinner. 

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Winner: Trader Joe's

Hannah Loewentheil

After giving both versions a try, I can totally understand why this is a perennially popular kid's food. As disturbing as it looks upon opening the can, it actually tastes pretty good. I probably wouldn't buy it again, but I definitely liked the Trader Joe's version better because of the consistency of the soup and the noodle-to-soup ratio. The Campbell's version had too many noodles and not enough broth that it almost tasted like a weird stew.

11. Trader Joe's Rolled Corn Chili Lime Tortilla Chips vs. Takis

Hannah Loewentheil

Trader Joe's rolled corn tortilla chips — the TJ's take on Takis — are a very popular item, one that I always tend to overlook. The shape of both chips is identical, but the major difference is the color. The Takis have a very bold, red chili seasoning on them that gets all over your fingers and also makes you realize from the start that these are going to be spicy. The Trader Joe's version is not as heavily seasoned, which belies the fact that these also pack a serious kick. True to the label, they also have a big hint of lime that is a nice contrast to the hot chili.

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Winner: Trader Joe's

Hannah Loewentheil

I'm not a huge Takis fan, and frankly I don't love the Trader Joe's version either, but if I have to pick the lesser of two evils, I'll go with Trader Joe's. This decision is really just a question of your spice tolerance. If you want your tortilla chips heavy on the chili flavor and like spice, go for Takis. If you want more of a hint of lime, buy the TJ’s.

12. Trader Joe's Mini Cheese Sandwich Crackers vs. Ritz Bits

Hannah Loewentheil

Ritz Bits have always been my ultimate road trip food. If I'm on a long drive and stop at a gas station, these cheese-filled cracker sandwiches are my go-to (yes, I realize this might be weird to many people). When I first discovered that Trader Joe's has its own version of this childhood snack, I couldn't wait to try it. Could TJ's overtake my favorite Nabisco snack?

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Winner: Trader Joe's

Hannah Loewentheil

Hell yes, they can! Based on the color of the cheese filling, you might expect the Ritz Bits to be much more powerful. After all, the orange color is like five times more neon and more artificial looking. Surprisingly though, the Trader Joe's boasts a better cheese flavor. Maybe it's because they're "organic"? Just kidding, I'm sure it's all the same fake shit. But in any case, the Trader Joe's cheese flavor is sharper, tangier, and more pungent. I'd give these a 10/10.

13. Trader Joe's Jumbo Cinnamon Rolls vs. Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls

Hannah Loewentheil

My first observation was that true to the label, the Trader Joe's rolls are, in fact, jumbo. At least comparatively. Each TJ's cinnamon roll is about double the size of the Pillsbury version. It's also wrapped in a perfectly coiled circle with a layer of cinnamon between the dough. The Pillsbury rolls are more like little blobs with cinnamon sprinkled sporadically throughout.

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Winner: Trader Joe's

Hannah Loewentheil

First of all, I don't know why I don't eat cinnamon rolls more often. These are f*cking delicious. They're like fluffy, buttery pillows of fall-y goodness. Both the Pillsbury and the Trader Joe's rolls were outstanding, obviously. What could be bad? If I had to choose one to eat for the rest of my life, it would be Trader Joe's. That's mostly because I like the shape, how they easily pull apart, and how the icing seeps into the crevices. I also appreciate how the Trader Joe's icing comes in a little plastic package that you can easily drizzle onto the rolls rather than the Pillsbury icing, which requires you to use a utensil for spreading.

14. Trader Joe's Scandinavian Swimmers vs. Swedish Fish

Hannah Loewentheil

I love gummies, but Swedish Fish are an entirely different animal (see what I did there?). There's something about the texture that is chewier and tougher than your average gummy that makes them very unique. Now, just based on the name alone, I think it's safe to assume that Trader Joe's Scandinavian Swimmers are meant to be a knockoff of the popular gummy candy.  


Also, apparently Swedish Fish are pretty hard to come by these days in NYC. I looked in about nine CVS stores and markets, and all I could find was the mini version, which worked out because they are essentially the same size as the Scandinavian Swimmers. So how do they stack up?

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Winner: Swedish Fish

Hannah Loewentheil

Not to be captain obvious, but the Scandinavian Swimmers are a mixture of colors and water creatures including orange fish, red lobsters, and blue whales. I only mention this because the different-colored gummies actually taste different. The red lobsters actually do taste almost identical to Swedish Fish, whereas the orange and blue candies taste totally different. 

BUT none of the Scandinavian Swimmers are the same texture as Swedish Fish. They are much softer and don't have that same waxy coating. I personally prefer the hard Swedish Fish texture, so I'm giving them the upper hand. It needs to be mentioned that if you're looking for a bargain, it's hard to beat the fact that a large bag of Scandinavian Swimmers costs just $2.99. 

15. Trader Joe's Spizzico di Pizza vs. Bagel Bites

Hannah Loewentheil

I don't know about you, but I feel like I ate way too many Bagel Bites as a kid. The taste of them will always remind me of childhood. And TBH, I still buy them from time to time when I'm craving something nostalgic. So when I realized that Trader Joe's also makes a version of the classic pizza bagel (albeit a much classier version called Spizzico di Pizza, whatever that means), I had to see how they compare to my childhood favorite.

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Winner: Trader Joe's

Hannah Loewentheil

The Trader Joe's Spizzico di Pizza is heavy on the crust and light on the toppings. And the most obvious difference is that the Bagel Bites are topped with pepperoni while the TJ's version is only cheese. Now there's no doubt that the Bagel Bites are a greasy and delicious finger food, and the pepperoni adds that irresistible saltiness.

But the Trader Joe's Spizzico di Pizza is version 2.0 of your average pizza bagel. As the name suggests, it's a little sophisticated. It's got a really solid crust and a creamy-meets-tangy blend of mozzarella, Swiss, cheddar, and Parmesan cheese. Leave it to Trader Joe's to take a common frozen food and take it to the next level.

16. Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups vs. Reese's

Hannah Loewentheil

If you're wondering why I chose dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, it's because a) I prefer dark chocolate, and b) my local CVS only had the dark chocolate version. I guess people are stocking up for Halloween. Anyway, both peanut butter cups are equally sized and come individually wrapped. I guess you could say that once unwrapped, the Trader Joe's chocolate exterior looks a little more gourmet.

Winner: Tie

Hannah Loewentheil

But truthfully, I can't proclaim a winner. I'd be pleased with whatever peanut butter and chocolate candy you hand me. It's a quintessential combination that always tastes delicious. The Trader Joe's cup contains slightly more peanut butter, but the Reese's chocolate is ever-so-slightly more bitter as dark chocolate should be, so it's a tie. I'll happily continue to buy both.

Do you have a favorite Trader Joe's product that blows away the brand-name version? Tell me in the comments below!

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