Kevin Drum, whom I usually agree with, says he's found the secret behind Trader Joe's. He says, "basically, they sell a limited selection of generic stuff but they put fun labels on it."
I kind of wonder if he's been there. True, you can buy some stuff at Trader Joe's that you can buy at other places, but can you imagine a grocer's that only sold unique items? I've been in a few, and they were rank and dusty and way too exotic for me.
But I go to Trader Joe's to buy things that I can't find everywhere else, or pretty much of anywhere else, and there's plenty of them. In fact, I've just come back, and my bags - Trader Joe's canvas bags, far sturdier than any others I've found - are full of:
*frozen quick-pan-cook meals, of which my favorites are Kung Pao Chicken and Seafood Paella
*other frozen meals, of which I've had the Korma Fish Curry before, and some new to me: Bibimbap Bowl, Shrimp Seafood Burgers, and (this looks excitingly multicultural) Philly Cheesesteak Bao Buns
*snacks: Popcorn with Herbs & Spices, which I've never seen anywhere else; Popcorn with Olive Oil, which Safeway carries sometimes, but not consistently; Blister Peanuts, a particularly tasty form I've not seen anywhere else; Marcona Almonds, usually findable elsewhere but only in gourmet groceries
*Challah, and I've never seen that outside a Jewish bakery
*Jicama sticks, not unknown in this form but not very common
Other items I saw on the shelf but didn't buy this time:
*Lobster Ravioli, another variety of which Lucky used to carry, but not any more
*Baby Red Potatoes, B's favorite, which may sometimes be found in general markets but not consistently
*Salmon Fillets, BBQ Cut: everybody carries salmon, but these are an unusual cut of even thickness and thus good on the grill: my usual choice if I want fish for a summer bbq
*Frozen Minced Garlic Cubes: while it's now often possible to get minced garlic (my preference) in jars elsewhere, you used to have to go to the garlic outlets in Gilroy to find it; and this is cubes, which is different.
I didn't see the Gravenstein Apple Juice, which is probably seasonal, and I guess they no longer carry Riced Broccoli, which was slivers of cut broccoli designed to be used in place of rice: an interesting idea which I found didn't quite work.
Trader Joe's has also carried lots of irreplaceable items that they've dropped from their stock over the years, and none of them have ever appeared elsewhere. The one I most miss is the only really good Canned Chili I've ever had.
That's for my taste: I'm sure you'd have plenty others of your own.
I don't do my normal staples shopping at Trader Joe's, in part because their selections are sketchy, but they have plenty of things worth going there for that, no, I can't find everywhere else.