Saturday, October 8, 2011

What the media don't tell you about Costco

CostcoImage via Wikipedia

The poor economy has been generating media stories about Costco Wholesale and other warehouse stores, where shoppers can save a lot of money on electronics, food, toilet paper and a wide variety of other essentials.

"Bargain Bonanza!" declared the July/ August 2011 cover of AARP The Magazine. "Save up to $1,000 a year on groceries, gas, meds and more."   

But when you turn to the story on Page 26, AARP's focus shifts to how warehouse shopping clubs can "drain your wallet."

"Then there's the so-called Costco effect," the story reports on Page 28, "familiar to every warehouse clubber who pulls up for a few essentials and drives home with a new flat-screen TV and enough prime rib for a football team."

Does AARP The Magazine really expect readers to believe shoppers make such purchases on impulse? Are we mere robots or under the influence of an all-powerful shopping elixir?

I've been a Costco Wholesale member since 1996, and in January 2005, I researched and wrote a story for a daily newspaper about all the great food available at the Hackensack store. The food offerings have only gotten better.

I would never make a major purchase there unless I needed it. And when I was eating meat, Costco's prime beef was never on my list, because it is raised conventionally with antibiotics and growth hormones.

The AARP story mentions Costco and Sam's Club "do not accept manufacturers' coupons," but doesn't tell readers that Costco sends members its own discount coupons every three weeks or so.

AARP readers also are told that if they spend more than $2,500 a year, "consider springing for a more expensive membership level -- you'll get money back in perks such as 2 percent rewards program offered at Costco and BJ's."

However, the story fails to mention the no-fee credit card from Costco and American Express available with a basic membership ($50, going up to $55 on Nov. 1) gives you a cash rebate of 1% on all purchases, including Costco, plus 3% back on gasoline, and 2% back on restaurants and travel.

Kirkland Signature pepperoni pizzaImage via Wikipedia
Costco's 18-inch baked pizzas are only $9.95.

I've also seen stories about Costco recently on CBS 2 News. The reporters interviewed customers pushing shopping carts piled high with goods, but didn't seem to take the time to walk through the store and see the high quality of the food and the low prices.

And the TV reporters never mentioned Costco shoppers' cash rebates more than cover the annual membership fee.

The AARP story claims "product turnover is so fast that selection varies from week to week, which can be irksome if you're devoted to certain brands."

That's nonsense, and certainly doesn't apply to the Hackensack Costco, where I've been buying the same brands for years, including Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix ($3.99 a pound in 2005 and $4.99 a pound now -- at least $2 cheaper than most supermarkets).

Kirkland Signature, the Costco brand, has introduced many products that are as good as national, regional or store brands and cheaper, such as three 32-ounce bottles of Marinara sauce at $2.09 each.

And like the pasta sauce, many food items come in quantities that are manageable for a couple or small family.

Examples are four half-gallons of Tropicana orange juice, two dozen Eggland's Best Eggs, 2 pounds of Jarlsberg sliced reduced-fat Swiss cheese and three half-gallons of Kirkland Signature organic low-fat milk.

I do agree with one suggestion in the AARP story: "Don't swear off your local supermarket."

Starting Sunday, ShopRite supermarkets in northern New Jersey will be selling 59-ounce plastic containers of Tropicana for $1.88 each, a better buy per ounce than the four 64-ounce containers from Costco.

Also, Eggland's Best large white eggs will be $1.87 a dozen -- 12 cents cheaper than at Costco.

But Costco is closer to my home than the ShopRite in Hackensack. And the ShopRite often can't match Costco's quality, with the exception of Nature's Reserve free-range, grass-fed beef from Australia.

Costco doesn't sell Australian beef, but it does offer naturally raised lamb from Down Under at its usually low prices.

Still, you won't find free samples at ShopRite, such as the 7-cheese tortellini I sampled the other day at Costco, along with broccoli kugel, lobster spread and Greek yogurt with fruit.
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