Trader Joe’s Eclipsed As America’s Best Grocery Store — Who Took Its Spot?

Trader Joe’s hovers in that perfect sweet spot between prohibitively expensive organic stores like Whole Foods and discount chains like Wal-Mart. Even college kids scrapping together their change for ramen can sometimes afford a trip, yet wealthier folks can also be found searching its aisles for cult products like Cookie Butter.

Because of that huge — not to mention loyal — mixed market, Trader Joe’s has developed the kind of brand recognition that grocery stores can only dream of. For four years running, it has been selected as America’s best supermarket in a survey carried out by Market Force, but on Wednesday it lost that title and slipped into third place — overtaken by smaller chains Wegmans and Publix.

Trader Joe's best super market grocery store Trader Joe’s has lost its title of America’s best grocery store. [Graphic via Market Force]Rankings are based on the answers of 10,000 respondents who rate their satisfaction with the food quality, value, checkout speed, and customer service. Trader Joe’s only slipped five percent in its overall score, but unfortunately for the grocer, Wegmans and Publix managed to improve their own customer satisfaction rates.

If you’ve never heard of Wegmans, you’re not alone. While Trader Joe’s has spread to 40 states, Wegmans currently only operates in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia; but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most lauded supermarkets in the country. Wegmans has been named as America’s best by both Food Network and Consumer Reports in the past, and Fortune regularly names it one of the best companies to work for in the U.S.

Despite all that fanfare for Wegmans, Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer of Market Force, told CNBC that the loss of the lead didn’t necessarily spell trouble for Trader Joe’s. All of the stores at the top performed well in the survey compared to the truly bad scores for places like Wal-Mart, which received consumer satisfaction of 35 percent or below in all categories.

“When you look at the top brands, I do want to be clear that the top three — Wegmans, Publix, Trader Joe’s — they are very, very competitive. There is hardly any difference in between the three of them.”

Market Force also found another trend in the survey that may be buoying Trader Joe’s popularity. Consumers are becoming more and more demanding of organic products. Among the most popular are produce, meat, and dairy, but organic packaged foods are also quite popular. When asked if they sought out organic products, 49 percent of the survey’s respondents said yes.

Trader Joe's best super market grocery store
While it's true that Trader Joe's no longer holds the best supermarket title, Market Force says its brand is still doing quite well. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

With the rollout of grocery store competition Amazon Fresh, Trader Joe’s and other supermarkets alike are no doubt eager to jump on the wave of the future. Supermarkets wouldn’t be the first industry to take a huge hit from the online marketplace giant. According to Market Force, however, that day hasn’t come yet. Almost everyone is still acquiring their groceries in the same way they always have.

“Despite the rise in alternative shopping and delivery methods, 99% still do their grocery shopping traditionally – a trip to the store to buy and bring home products. In the past 90 days, just 5% ordered online for home delivery, 2% ordered online and picked up groceries in-store, and 2% used ‘Click and Collect’ – ordering online and collecting through the grocer’s drive-up. Of the 4% who have ever tried Click and Collect, 73% were satisfied with the experience and nearly half are repeat users.”

Do you think Trader Joe’s is America’s best grocery store?

[Image via Michael Nagle/Getty Images]