North Taranaki Midweek
Savings and pitfalls at Costco
OPINION: Costco has come to Auckland, and it will change the way my household shops.
The culture of Costco is heavy on the American, and I was not surprised to find that about 95% of what was on the shelves would never find its way into my trolly.
But what I saw last week convinced me Costco has a place in my shopping future. Here’s why.
I try to stay fit and lean, and consider the obesity epidemic to be one of humanity’s greatest stuff-ups, so the prospect of Costco peddling sugary and processed food in bulk quantities in Auckland made me shudder.
Some opening-day sights, particularly in the Costco food court with its greasy pizza slabs and over-sized hotdogs, fulfilled my worst fears. However, I was as impressed with bulk packs of things I currently pay too much for at the supermarket. These are the seeds, nuts, pulses, herbs, spices, oils and dried fruit that are sold in small, pricey packs, jars and bottles in the supermarkets.
The unhealthy stuff at supermarkets (cookies, soft drinks, processed food) seems so cheap by contrast to the stuff that’s good for you.
Looking through Costco fan posts on social media before the opening, I could see there was a Costco customer-subset really into their healthy lifestyles, but I lacked the experience of having ever been to a Costco to appreciate their enthusiasm for the store’s arrival.
Once-a-year, after growing a shed-load of basil in the garden, I make a year’s supply of fresh pesto to freeze, but the pine nuts are a hellish expense.
For 100g at Countdown, you pay $6.36. Costco was selling them for $5.59 for 100g. Almond meal is $17.36 a kg. At Countdown, it’s $30, but I notice Countdown is advertising ‘‘bulk’’ almond meal at $22 a kg has arrived.
That’s probably too early to call a Costco competition effect.
Costco is about ‘‘bigger’’. But that works, if it gets the quality right. I grow a lot of herbs in my garden because of the cost of herbs at supermarkets.
Countdown sells mixed herbs in 15g boxes at $14 per 100g. Costco’s mixed herbs are sold in 135g packs at $5.92 per kg in sealable jars.
My household’s resident home bakers get through a lot of cinnamon. Better to buy it at $2.70 per 100g at Costco than $7 at Countdown.
This is how Costco bulkbuying works. Your onions are cheaper, but you carry out a sack of 5kg. The challenges of this are four-fold. The first is that while buying in bulk gets you bulk prices at Costco, it means you spend more on a single shop.
This is a challenge to cashstrapped families, as is stumping up the $60 to buy a Costco membership.
The second is that buying in bulk means you have to be able to store your purchases. That’s fine for people with large homes with large pantries, a laundry and garaging. It’s much more of a challenge for people in apartments, or smaller houses. And the storage will require some investment for some households.
Great, buy a 25kg sack of sugar at Costco. The total cost would be about $15 cheaper than buying that through Countdown, using its largest packs, but you’re going to need an airtight tub to store it in, if you want to keep it dry and insect free. Ditto for the $49.99 22.7kg of jasmine rice.
I expect freezer sales to spike. Premium beef mince at 11.99 per kg is pretty tempting. Premium beef mince at Countdown was selling for $26 per kg on the day Costco opened. It was $18.99 at my local Pak’nSave.
I saw a woman walking out with four massive trays of fresh chicken breasts. Countdown’s own-brand per kg price was $15 on the day. It was $14.29 at
Pak’nSave. The Costco price will be $10.99. There were opening-day specials that meant the price was lower than it will be. The frozen berries and vege were unfamiliar brands, and in larger packs, but cheaper than I’m used to.
The next challenge for households is that the more food you have in your house, the more temptation there is to eat it. We are a society that struggles with self-control.
By nature, I’m a snacker, especially when tired. So I don’t keep chippies, cookies, and booze at home. It’s a self-defence.
The last challenge for the shopper seeking better-value groceries at Costco is resisting the Costco ‘‘treasure hunter’’ effect. Costco is full of nice-to-have stuff you never knew you wanted. The toilet paper aisle, where its bestselling 48-roll toilet paper packs are stacked, is at the back of the store, so you have to walk past the best part of 14,800m2 of temptation.
It would be so easy for all those savings to vanish in a rash of illthought-through purchasing decisions.