The End of the Costco Love Affair

I had a love affair with Costco.

I shopped incessantly at Costco, buying everything – groceries, deli items, clothing, appliances, computers, tires, dog food and diapers. When I wasn’t shopping there, I was raving to friends and family about the high  quality and low prices I always found at Costco. I had a crush that turned into a full-blown love affair over the course of a decade.

But no more. The love affair is over.

What happened? Well, I blame it on all on Costco (of course!). I’m still the same, but Costco changed. It’s true, Costco just quit caring about me – the frugal customer, who still wants the good things in life, and is willing to endure crowds, lines and bulk-buying to get them.

At the heart of it, I’m a price-driven customer. And isn’t that who Costco is targeting? It’s in the company name, after all. But in the past few years, the price creep upward has been getting me down and driving me look elsewhere for most of my purchases.

Do you wonder if I’m right? Well, let’s take a look:

Produce Gone Wild

I used to rave about Costco’s produce. Great quality, at great prices! I just had to buy it in bulk, like this:

Costco Produce Prices Have Increased
5.5 Pounds of Apples at Costco

I was willing to buy 5.5 pounds of apples, and then do my damnedest to get my family of four to polish them off before they spoiled. I would buy this plastic clam-shell of Fuji apples for $7.99 or $8.99…..even as high as $9.99. But now these packages regularly cost as much as $13.99. That’s over $2.50 a pound! If I want to spend over $2.50 a pound for apples, I can go to Whole Foods and buy just three or four apples – with a mix of exotic names and flavors like Jazz, Pinata, and Snapdragon. But see, I don’t often do that, because, well, I’m frugal!

It’s not just apples though. How about $9.99 for a 4 pound container of grapes? That’s also about $2.50 a pound. Again, no cheaper than most grocery chains, where I don’t have to buy 4 pounds at a time, thank you very much.

Expensive grapes at Costco
4 Pounds of Grapes at Costco

Not Just the Produce Prices

I’m really not up for comparison shopping all of Costco’s prices at the moment, and unfortunately I suffer from mommy-brain, so I can’t remember the prices I previously paid for everything at Costco and report them here. But I can tell you that, over time, I have simply been priced-out of purchasing some of my favorite items at Costco. Especially the “luxury” items that I had grown to love. You know, like the shrimp cocktail, the fresh salmon, the salted cashews, and quality steaks.

But do you know what I really miss? It’s these:

Expensive Bag of Dried Mangoes
At $12.99, These Stay Out of My Cart 🙁

Dried Mangoes?? Yes, it’s actually very sad because I got my kids hooked on these when they were little. I know, I know, they have added sugar, but they must be healthier than fruit gummies, right?? And they are soft – not tough or stringy – with the yummiest mango flavor. But over the past decade, the price went from $8.99 to $12.99 a bag! In fact, once the price went above $10, I refused to buy them anymore. It was pitiful the way my kids would look at them longlingly in the store. They became such a coveted item, that I actually put them in their Christmas stockings one year, ha ha…hey, no judging here!

So maybe expensive mangoes aren’t the end of the world, but items like the mangoes gave my love affair with Costco its zest. Without the little luxury purchases, Costco became just another store. Still servicing my needs, but…meh.

I could have gone on, entwined in this lackluster relationship, but then insult was added to injury. You see, while Costco had been increasing its prices, it also began cutting its costs. While I probably didn’t notice some of the cuts, others were just too much to overlook.

The worst of Costco’s cost-cutting measures was probably:

The Milk Jug From Hell

Kirkland Square Milk Gallon Stinks

The redesign of the milk gallon into a squarish shape was led by Costco (and Walmart). This shape has been referred to as “one of the worst examples of packaging design” for consumers. Although the new jug design saves Costco substantial money in distribution costs, the design has “significantly worse openability, pourability, and handling in respect to the older design.” Lots of Costco customers rant about the shortcomings of the new jugs, and the design receives reviews like this on Chowhound.com:

Does anyone else HATE Costco’s milk containers?…No matter how slow or fast I pour, there is always a stream of milk that goes down the side. I must wipe it off each time before putting it away.

Even the New York Times addressed the milk jug redesign when it hit the shelves in 2008. The Times reported that customers were not impressed. Customers’ feedback included: “I hate it,” “It spills everywhere,” and “It’s very hard for kids to pour.”

Personally, I learned to accept the squarish milk jugs, wiping spills off counters and the sides of the jugs for years. However, sometimes when buying a jug, I noticed that milk had already leaked through the pour spout during shipping. After encountering the issue for a while, I noticed that Costco enhanced the jug (apparently to counteract the leaking) by putting a foil seal on the jug spout.

So, to pour a glass of milk, I would unscrew the milk top and then peel off the foil using one of the little tabs on the side. Fine. But then a few months ago, the tabs disappeared! Nothing left to grasp to pull the foil off.

The first time I encountered the tab-less foil seal, I felt helpless. I poked my fingernail at the stiff foil and it didn’t budge. After a minute, I realized the only way I could remove the foil was to stab a knife through it and pry it off. Seriously? To open milk?? And the results aren’t always pretty. Here’s what it looked like this morning:

Square Milk Gallon Spout Problems

So does a company that gives me this milk container really love me? I have my doubts. And these doubts extended to one of my favorite old standbys of Costco…the $9.95 pizza.

But Mommy, Why is the Cheese Slimy?

Costco has offered an 18 inch pizza at their food court for $9.95 for as long as I can remember. The company likes to brag about it. Which, okay, I get it, I used to brag about the price too, until…something changed.

It’s hard for our family of four to eat an 18 inch pizza in one sitting. So I’ve been re-heating pizza for years. Now I can’t tell you exactly when, but for the past several years, no one has wanted the re-heated Costco pizza, because the cheese takes on a very un-cheeselike, slimy texture. The Costco pizza still tastes good when fresh out of the Costco pizza oven, but after that…yuck.

At first I thought I just wasn’t heating the pizza enough, and I tried a couple of different heating techniques (oven, skillet, grill – don’t worry, not the microwave!). But no, nothing was working. I just knew something had changed with the cheese.

I found my explanation on Chowhound.com, where a reader asked:

[P]lease explain the slimy cheese that has been turning up on my pizza lately…It seems okay when the pizza is hot, but it is absolutely disgusting when the pizza is cold or re-heated. It’s opaque looking and is very slimy…

Experts responded that: “it’s a lower quality cheese with a higher fat content” and that “[t]he price of mozzarella is incredibly high so they are probably switching over to a cheaper product. Pricing for pizzerias is very, very competitive so they probably do not want to raise prices.”

Although this Chowhound inquiry was not about Costco in particular, I think it gave me the answer I was looking for. Costco has held the pizza price steady by decreasing the quality of the ingredients. And now, as one Reddit user said:

Costco pizza just doesn’t taste like love.

No, the pizza, the milk jugs and the overall prices don’t feel like love to me anymore. And sadly, my heart is a little bit broken.

How About You?

Is it just me or have you also fallen out of love with Costco? Any thoughts on Costco’s prices, products or store experience? Are you shopping elsewhere these days or are you still standing in line, just waiting for the gates to open?

Shoppers Line Up for Costco To Open
Did someone say Samples??

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18 thoughts on “The End of the Costco Love Affair

  1. I think it’s really hit or miss depending on what you buy. For us, the big winners are dog food/medication, bacon, butter, and eggs. We rarely buy anything there that’s perishable in short order (milk, produce, etc). But the dog food and meds alone more than make it worth the trip.

    1. I actually agree that there are some wins to be had at Costco. I still have a membership and I still shop there for certain items. I just don’t do the majority of my grocery shopping at Costco any longer – they’ve lost me for that.

  2. It’s usually just my fiancé and I who live together so we don’t buy bulk.

    We usually buy their pre made food because it is cheaper than dining out but yes, more expensive if we were to make from scratch (sometimes we just don’t have time). When we have friends over, we would buy bulk for that day.

    Yes, I feel that some of their items are more expensive than regular supermarkets especially when the latter are on sale and/or have coupons. Still loving the roasted Costco chicken though… sooo juicy >.<

    Btw those dried mangoes are awesome but I never bought the huge bag.

    1. Oooooo, love the dried mangoes! And it’s true, I do pick up a chicken every couple of weeks at Costco – tasty and still a good deal!

  3. You articulated well what I have been thinking over the past couple of years.

    Prices at Costco seem to be getting less and less competitive, and the large sizes can end up being wasteful when buying perishables. In the past it seemed like I could get the best value at Costco on most of what I was purchasing. Now it seems closer to 50/50 whether I can get a better price at the grocery store, WalMart/Target, or online.

    I recently downgraded to a normal membership from an Executive membership. If things don’t get better at Costco over the next year I probably won’t renew at all in 2019.

    1. We are on the same page! I’ve also had an Executive membership for years and I almost downgraded last year (because I didn’t think I would spend enough anymore). I will certainly downgrade this year and I may let my membership go altogether. Costco, are you listening??

  4. I’m still a big fan of Costco and haven’t noticed such a steep increase in price in the things I regularly buy there (I’m in Canada though).

    For me the biggest win is dog food. We have a super sensitive pup with food allergies and their Nature’s Domain food works for him, is good quality, and is way cheaper than the stuff we used to buy at high end pet stores. I also buy most of our meat at Costco and keep the freezer stocked…the price is comparable to the grocery store but the quality is consistently better. Usually I do a once a month stock-up on particular things but the weekly shop is done at our local grocery store.

    1. I’m with you on certain items, especially the pet food. “Chai” the CashflowKat-Cat eats only Costco kitty-kibble. It’s called “Maintenance Cat,” which for some reason I find funny. No fancy branding on that one! Just good old utilitarian Maintenance Cat. Fortunately, Chai is not sensitive or picky (he eats everything from stray Cheez-its to unlucky lizards), so Maintenance Cat suits him just fine.

  5. We still shop at Costco but a lot less since I have been trying to reduce our grocery budget! Dog and cat food are still great (just bought both yesterday) and meat is still a winner mostly with the quality. Produce is where I have cut back and been saving a lot. Just like you I was buying too much of one fruit when I can go and buy it in smaller quantities somewhere else.

    1. Yes, the produce seems to be the worst deal there these days. But you are right, the meat quality is always good and reliable, especially when it comes to steaks!

  6. I stopped going to Costco a couple of years ago. I tried to go one weekend and there was a line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot so I just kept driving. It became equatable to going to the DMV.

    Haha, I was curious about how those milk containers worked out though.

    1. I do hear good things about the corporate climate and the Costco employees are certainly a loyal bunch. After seeing the same Costco cashiers year after year, I always recognize them and say Hi when I see them elsewhere in town. They are about as close as I get to a celebrity sighting around here, haha.

  7. We have been Costco members for a long time. To address some of your comments: First we don’t generally buy produce. I think only bananas is what we normally get. Outside of that, the stuff goes bad too quickly when you consider how much of it you get.

    Second the milk jugs are very annoying. I guess the trick is that you’re not supposed to pick them up and pour. You’re supposed to leave the edge on the counter and tilt it until it pours out. It actually does work to not spill, but we’re so conditioned to pick up the jug and pour that I still forget at least 40% of the time, and end up making a mess. But milk prices have come down so much that the benefit to buying at Costco isn’t really there right now, so we usually buy regular shaped jugs from the grocery store.

  8. I tried to get into the Costco thing a decade ago but gave up when I realized that bulk buying for one person just led to wasting most of what I buy. I totally agree that if the per unit/pound price is the same as everywhere else, why not buy elsewhere instead of being forced to buy so much more because it’s in bulk.

  9. As a single guy, I haven’t had much use for CostCo, but it does seem that the shine has worn off in recent years. In fact, you are probably the fourth person just this month (nay, this year!) who has mentioned a decline in product and store experience along with an uptick in prices. What a shame. I have such fond memories of cruising through CostCo with my mom and siblings scooping up samples and gawking at massive containers of gummy bears 🙂

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