Bulking up at Costco
April 15th, 2011
08:00 PM ET
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A. Pawlowski writes for CNN Travel and she is nuts for Nutella

There’s something deliciously odd about buying groceries in the same place where you can also pick up a flat-screen TV and a $5,000 diamond ring.

Even more intriguing is the magnetic pull that Costco – the chain of warehouse clubs - seems to have on shoppers, if my local store in suburban Atlanta is any indication. On most days, it’s filled to wall-to-wall with bargain hunters stocking up on the giant portions of food that wholesalers are famous for.

Buying in bulk is big.

I have no need for the truly massive items, but I always gaze at them in awe. Yes, this is the land of two-pound containers of hummus, one-gallon jars of kosher dill pickles and 50-pound sacks of long grain white rice. (I consider buying the 6.6-pound can of pineapple chunks just to be able to say I own one…)

But many of the products will fit a regular household just fine.

I do most of my grocery shopping at Whole Foods and a nearby supermarket, but I added Costco to that routine several years ago because it has a lot of foods I love at really good prices.

On a recent Saturday, I braved the crowds at my local warehouse to pick up a few things and try the freebie food samples the store gives out to shoppers. (You can always tell where they are by the shopping cart traffic jams.)

Here’s a blow by blow account.

1:20 p.m.: The parking lot is a zoo. People are circling the place for spaces near the entrance with the intensity of sharks searching for prey. As I look for a decent spot, a red-headed man in a small blue car nearly crashes into me in his quest for the same thing. Sigh.

1:28 p.m.: I’m in! First things first: I check out the bling in the jewelry case, then head straight for the seafood section.

1:30 p.m.: The first item in my shopping cart is a tray containing two beautiful, thick, crimson ahi tuna fillets. I also love salmon, but I try to avoid the farmed stuff, so I’ll have to wait until the summer when fresh wild salmon is in season and goes on sale at Costco – you can get it elsewhere, but the price here is pretty great.

1:31 p.m.: My first free sample is a dessert! I try a tiny portion of the Sacher torte with a raspberry filling and chocolate ganache frosting. It’s yummy and gone in two bites, but as good as it is, there’s no way I’m getting the cake: it’s enormous and weighs 2.5 pounds. (The torte is located near the similarly huge lattice apple pie, which also looks good but could probably sustain a person for a week.) The wine section is nearby, so I pick up a couple of bottles of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

1:35 p.m.: Another sample is just around the corner: I try a cracker topped with smoked salmon spread. It’s very tasty, but I wish I had it before the chocolate cake. I’m near the dairy case now, so I go for a 3-pack of Boursin cheese (a “garlic & fine herbs” and “shallot & chive” combo – perfect on bagels) and a 2-pound bag of grated Pecorino Romano.

1:38 p.m.: Many of my coworkers will tell you I drink San Pellegrino mineral water all day, every day and here’s where I get it. A case of 12 bottles makes its way into my shopping cart. Oooh, another sample just ahead! I try a small triangle of tangy gorgonzola cheese.

1:40 p.m.: OK, I can’t just walk by when they’re giving out crackers topped with creamy spinach artichoke dip. As I munch on my free sample, I ponder buying a package of “milk chocolate 40 hollow eggs” for Easter for $10.99. I decide against it.

1:42 p.m.: The fridge section holds many of those fascinatingly big items, like 3-pound containers of sour cream 3-pound tubs of cottage cheese. That’s a lot of calcium. I skip those and pick up two big bottles of pomegranate juice, which I like to sip before breakfast.

1:45 p.m.: I know a lot of people won’t touch any canned fish other than tuna, but I’m not one of them. I love sardines in olive oil – they’re meaty, salty and satisfying - so I grab a 5-pack and then reach for a 5-pack of canned anchovies.

1:47 p.m.: My newest tasty find at Costco is “Kona Coast Island Teriyaki Sauce” - it goes perfectly with ahi tuna, so I buy four jars (!) of the stuff in case it disappears. Many items have a permanent place in Costco, but others vanish after they’re all sold, never to be restocked again for mysterious reasons. I hate that.

1:50 p.m.: Mmmm, a shelf stacked high with extra-large twin packs of Nutella, the chocolaty hazelnut spread. But I have a few already at home, so no need to buy more – for now. I succumb to another freebie sample: sun dried tomatoes and cream cheese on a cracker.

1:55 p.m.: OK, final sample before I head to the long checkout line: Chocolate mixed nut cluster. I’m full and my shopping cart is full. Mission accomplished.

soundoff (318 Responses)
  1. Joseph Becket

    I bulk up at Costco all the time! It's my favorite store... however, that seafood issue did scare me tho. Costco is a great company, but like many nationwide businesses it can have some weak spots. I was surfing the internet and I found this site where people can vent about poor customer service or products they received... it can get really funny. I would recommend you to check it out here.

    August 4, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  2. Steve M

    I always wonder if I'm better off shopping sales at the grocery store or buying from Costco. i've found warehousecompare.com is a good place to help me with the comparison.

    April 18, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  3. Katherine

    I'm confused...this is a news site, and it appears I have stumbled across an actual play-by-play of somebody's trip to the store.

    April 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  4. jujubeans

    I got a 5 gallon tub of K-Y Jelly!

    April 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  5. Snowbunny

    Why doesn't Costco or Sam's have bags for the merchandise that you buy? That makes it a real pain in the @ss.

    April 18, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  6. Jason A.

    I love Costco.

    But, I have spoken to a few people who admitted to me that they have no self control and buy
    large container items that they can't use.

    The secret to Costco is to enjoy what you see without buying what you don't need. The store is famous for providing a wide variety of quality items.... but that sure doesn't mean you have to buy everything you see.

    April 18, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  7. Huh

    This is news?

    April 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • juicius

      You know what's news? This crop of intellectually vigorous critics who take CNN to task for its shoddy journalism. It's so refreshing that these literary giants are tackling the menace posed by these light-hearted, fluff blogs that dare to occupy a miniscule spot on the virtually unlimited digital expanse that is CNN. We never had people like them before.

      April 17, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  8. mcaito

    I read all of these comments (1st time ever and 1st time i've responded with one of my own.) lot of complainers here, esp. fiona and ficheye. boy aren't you nasty little creatures. glad i don't know you personally, but of course i wouldn't. i like costco. i'm a single guy, so a lot of their bulk items aren't right for me but i still find some good deals. they have good deals on casual clothing, like the cargo shorts every spring. about 10 dollars less than other stores. i babysit my 2 toddler grandsons a couple of days each week while my daughter finishes her education, and we love to go to costco. we think it's a fun outing and they have 2 kid shopping carts. xlnt. we like to try the samples, look for bargains (always plentiful), and watch all the funny people. most are friendly and courteous (probaby because we live in oregon), but occasionally we will find someone who is rude. we just regard those people as learning experiences. so thanks costco, for the future memories.

    April 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  9. Fins4ever#1

    Costco is the king of the wholesale stores. The Kirkland brand is as good or better than the best well known brand names and customer service is excellent. They consistenly rank 1st in Consumers Report. I agree with the outsanding quality of the dog food!

    Although we are a family of only two people and three dogs, we routinely buy our paper products, honey, spices, condiments, ink, photos and prescriptions at Costco. Just recently tried the meat (very good) and bought some computer equipment. My favorite is the huge bag of the best fresh spinach I ever ate for 4 bucks! Oh, the cafe is awesome. Pizza and dogs are delicious and CHEAP!

    April 17, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  10. valueshopper

    I really like Costco – been shopping there for over 20 years. Excellent quality at a good price. Good marketing – all the fun seasonal stuff in the aisles – easy to grab stuff you don't really need, but its fun and the price is good. I do like the meat, the produce and the bakery goods. But the value is in the dry goods and personal products if you can find a brand you like. I once read that Costco sells most of its items at cost – it makes it money with the annual membership fee. The other thing I like about Costco is that it treats its employees well. Everyone gets medical, stock options, and a living wage – even the last person hired. Compare that to WalMart which has a business model of keeping hours down so many of its employees are not eligible for benefits. Wall Street does not like Costco as it is too good to its customers and its employees. But I think its a good business model and I am a loyal customer.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  11. Natalie

    Has anyone else here had a terrible experience at Costco? One opened by my house about six months ago and we were excited to join but after a few month the employees became rude, snotty and incredibly un-helpful. They also decide to clean the floors with this giant ride along thing in the middle of the afternoon on the weekends. I've seen them almost run over a few customers.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  12. GRS

    It's so nice to see someone's shopping trip featured on CNN, complete with top billing and a photo. C'mon CNN, how about some news.

    April 17, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  13. David

    The sesame cracker + cream cheese + sundried tomato sample is dangerously delicious. I usually find myself wandering back to that one 2 or 3 times before I check out...

    April 17, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  14. Jim8

    Of course you think Costco is a great place to shop, because you buy food at Whole Foods.

    I decided it's hard to justify shopping at Whole Foods, the prices are just too high. As for Costco, you have to be very careful of overbuying and packages of foods that spoil that are too big.

    Their parking lot isn't worth the risk of accident.

    I don't go to Costco anymore either.

    April 17, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  15. wowlfie

    And their electronics are almost always more expensive than online deals elsewhere. WalMart consistenly is cheaper than Costco as well for the exact same items. Newegg is almost always cheaper and usually free shipping. Costco does have a better return policy however than most places (except WalMart).

    April 17, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  16. wowlfie

    I rarely buy anything there as there prices are not all that good. I can buy most things online for cheaper. I do buy a few toilet papers or paper towels there. That's about it. Even food isn't cheaper. For example, a dozen frozen beef patties with only 80% lean cost $13 at Costco, but 94% lean cost only $11 at King Soopers. Costco is just like all the other big warehouse stores with a few price gimmicks to get people into the stores and no real value.

    April 17, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  17. Movitar

    @mike654, actually I got my iPad2 for $198.75 when they cost $829.99 at the apple store. Snagbids.com

    April 17, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  18. Jenfish

    I find it interesting that the author names Costco and Whole Foods, but not her "nearby supermarket?" What, not trendy enough to name?

    April 17, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  19. flabbernood

    I don't think the word "Zen" means what CNN thinks it means. What gluttony this article promotes! It's time to grow up and start paying the full cost for externalities created by this industrial food system. The author should try consuming less mass produced, highly processed, globally-transported (read: polluting) chemical-laden laboratory creations and more organic or at least locally-raised food.

    April 17, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • juicius

      Please, English is flexible in its colloquial usage. I'm sure there are some hardcore Tibetan monks who would sneer at your definition of the word, "Zen."

      April 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
      • drt

        Just so you know, Zen is Japanese, not Tibetan. Even the most hardcore of Tibetan monks don't practice Zen.

        April 17, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  20. d

    Look.....this artcile was by someone who has the balls to write it and then act like they discovered something. Its like someone who is a photographer. they snap a picture and then talk about it for effin hours. Get a real job.

    April 17, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  21. guy

    Another poor soul brian washed to think we NEED all that STUFF...how sad!...I'll bet the people who shop at Costco all the time have garages and basements full of stuff they'll never use:)!!!!hahahahah!

    April 17, 2011 at 8:33 am |
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