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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| July 25, 2018
Costco has turned on its head the notion that a store brand is a notch below a national brand. How? By using its coast-to-coast strength to strong-arm suppliers to put quality as well as value into its Kirkland Signature offerings. A quarter of Costco’s annual sales now reportedly come from its Kirkland product lines, which first hit store shelves in 1995.
It’s no surprise. Costco has continually upped its array of Kirkland products, often produced by the same manufacturers who make the name brands. You’ll find the red logo on everything from toilet paper to tennis shoes. We took a closer look at several Kirkland products getting accolades from customers and critics. You should check them out, too.
Whether you’re feeding your children or your own inner child, Kirkland Signature Organic Animal Crackers are off the leash. The sweet snacks, in case you forgot, are in the shape of bite-size animals. Kirkland animal crackers come in a 64-ounce barrel, priced at $9.99.
If you’re not a Costco member, you can order the same barrel of animal crackers on Amazon.com, but you’ll pay nearly double: $18.82. Shipping is free for Prime members. A small box (just 2.125 ounces) of the classic Barnum’s Animal Crackers made by Nabisco run nearly $2 at Target.
If everything is better with bacon, as the saying goes, then everything is super better with Kirkland Signature Bacon. The product-testing pros at Consumer Reports put bacon to the test and deemed Costco’s store-brand regular sliced bacon the top dog – make that the top pig. Testers raved about the taste, “noting its crispiness and balance of fat and meat flavors.”
They also raved about its price: Kirkland bacon typically sells for $1.50 less per pound than name-brand competitors.
Costco’s own craft brews score high marks from beer enthusiasts. On RateBeer.com, the highest rating for any Kirkland beer went to Kirkland Signature Double Bock, while Kirkland Signature Porter Ale earned the top score among Kirkland beers on BeerAdvocate.com.
Prices get high marks, too. A variety pack of Kirkland Signature Craft-Brewed Ales and Lagers was selling for $19.99 a case. Next to that display was a “summer pack” case of Flying Dog craft brews selling for $29.99.
Costco knows nuts, and its Kirkland Signature Whole Cashew are a prime example. That’s not just this nut speaking.
“Costco's nuts are always super-fresh and high-quality,” raves food and cooking website TheKitchn.com. “Unless you're a big-time baker, 2- and 3-pound packages of nuts might seem like a daunting purchase, but don't forget that they freeze beautifully.”
A 40-ounce package of Kirkland Signature whole cashews goes for $21.49, or $8.59 per pound, slightly cheaper than the going rate for Planters whole cashews on Amazon (excluding shipping).
Excessive, yes, but there’s an odd appeal to having your own 72-pound wheel of cheese. Costco knows this and complies. The Kirkland Signature Whole Wheel Parmigiano Reggiano can be yours for $899.99, or $12.50 a pound. I’ve had a piece of said wheel and it’s delicious.
That per-pound price is a bargain, by the way, compared to the Parmigiano Reggiano sold in the wonderful cheese shop inside my local Wegmans, where chunks were going for $22.25 a pound. But alas, the question inevitably arises: What do you do with a whole wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano? One answer: Pasta – lots and lots of pasta.
For home chefs who do a lot of cooking, Kirkland Signature Organic Chicken Stock is a winner in taste and price. But be warned: You’re bulk-buying an entire case of chicken stock.
Still, it's a good investment. Stock has a long shelf life, and the six quart-size boxes of organic chicken stock you'll get at Costco cost just $10.79, or about $1.79 per quart. At Wegmans, a single quart-size box of Swanson organic chicken stock was selling for $2.49.
If you run the dishwasher a lot, costs mount for those convenient dishwasher soap pods, especially if you’re buying name-brand detergent. You don’t have to.
Kirkland Signature Premium Dishwasher Pacs get the job done at a fraction of the price of national brands. You’ll pay $9.79 for 115 pods, or less than 9 cents per load. Costco also stocks packages of Cascade Complete ActionPacs for $15.99 for 104 pods, or more than 15 cents per load. In recent testing by Consumer Reports, Kirkland’s pods bested all competitors including name-brand pods from Cascade and Finish.
We go through a lot of eggs in our home, and the 24-pack of Kirkland Signature Organic Brown Eggs are always on the shopping list. They’ve been consistently good, and they come in at the right price: $5.99 for the 24-pack. That’s 25 cents per egg.
By comparison, a dozen organic brown eggs was selling for $3.99 at Wegmans, or about 33 cents per egg. Even uber-discounter Aldi couldn’t beat Costco’s price when we checked. Its SimplyNature organic brown eggs were priced at $3.29 per dozen, or more than 27 cents per egg.
Popularly known as “Saran wrap,” Costco can’t call its food wrap by that name because SC Johnson owns the trademarked Saran brand. By any name, however, the Kirkland Signature version is a winner on quality and price.
A two-pack of 750-foot rolls of Kirkland Signature Stretch-Tite Plastic Food Wrap sells for just $9.89. That’s 1,500-square-feet of plastic wrap. At Wegmans, a 100-square-foot roll of Saran Wrap (the real deal) was selling for $2.49.
Notes the TheKitchn.com: “This is the plastic wrap to spoil you for all others. It's thick, it's wide, and it clings like a champ. And if that's not enough to convince you, consider this: It's the only one Ina Garten uses.”
Not every Costco has a gas station adjacent to it, but the club locations that do have them see steady, and strong, business. What gives? The savings. A Costco in Northern Virginia was selling regular Kirkland Signature Gasoline for roughly 11% less than nearby Sunoco and Shell stations. Sure, the difference is a few pennies per gallon, but on a fill-up you might save $3 or more – not bad if you’re heading to Costco anyway.
Factor in how valuable your time is, though. Even on a weekday afternoon, at least 20 vehicles were waiting in line, sometimes for 20 minutes or longer, to get to Costco’s gas pumps. That’s a lot of idling.
If you like your Italian mineral water sparkling, you might often turn to the classic San Pellegrino. Costco knows that. It stacks cases of its Kirkland Signature Italian Sparkling Mineral Water right next to cases of Pellegrino. I detected no taste difference, but there certainly was a price difference.
A case of 24 16.9-ounce bottles of Kirkland sparkling water was selling for $12.99, while a similar size case of Pellegrino sparkling water was $16.99.
Costco’s olive oil rises to the top, notes the University of California, Davis, which conducted a chemical and sensory study of olive oils. Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil was one of only a few imported oils that met international and U.S. standards for extra virgin olive oil. The many brands that fell short in the testing were diluted with cheaper oils and exhibited problems with quality and flavor.
When my wife finally weaned me off creamy (and delicious) Jif peanut butter and into the world of peanut butter made without sugar (just peanuts; maybe some salt), my snacking world changed.
Our go-to brand had been Nature’s Promise organic creamy peanut butter from Giant, but after diving into Kirkland Signature Organic Peanut Butter, that, too, has changed. It’s just as good as Nature’s Promise, maybe even better, and there’s no arguing with the price. You can get two 28-ounce jars of Kirkland peanut butter for around $10, while just one 16-ounce jar of Nature’s Promise can cost around $5.
Photo by Bob Niedt
The razor wars stepped it up a notch when Dollar Shave Club took off (and Gillette responded with Gillette On Demand). But I’m looking at Kirkland Signature Triple Blade razor blades as a cut above.
Costco recently started selling them in packages of 14 cartridges and one razor for $19.99, or about $1.43 per blade. Compare that to a 16-blade package of Gillette Fusion 5 Proglide replacement blades selling for $44.99, or $2.81 per cartridge.
The Costco I go to in Northern Virginia must roast hundreds of chickens a day in its giant rotisserie oven, which is constantly getting loaded and off-loaded by the white-coated chicken changers. These Kirkland Signature Rotisserie Chickens are always tasty, and what’s not sold is repurposed in other Costco fresh foods made onsite. You can find some of that leftover poultry in Costco’s signature chicken noodle soup.
The best part: Costco has kept the price of each roasted chicken at $4.99. At Harris Teeter supermarket, by comparison, a whole rotisserie chicken costs $6.49.
Yes, bottles of the fruit-flavored, no-calorie and mineral-rich Kirkland Signature Vita Rain Zero are strikingly similar to Glaceau Vitaminwater Zero, which Costco also sells, but I dare you to find any difference in taste. There is a difference in price, which is significant to me; I drink a lot of this stuff.
Costco tabbed Kirkland’s 24-count variety pack of 20-ounce Vita Rain Zero bottles at $9.99. A nearby case of the name brand Glaceau Vitaminwater Zero was $15.99. My only bias against the Kirkland product is that it includes tea as part of its variety pack. The Glaceau Vitaminwater Zero, owned by Coca-Cola, has no tea.
Wine snobs are already familiar with Kirkland Signature wines (more on those next), but spirits snobs might still be in the dark about Costco’s store-brand booze. Costco isn’t allowed to sell liquor in all its stores; many states limit the warehouse club to beer and wine. But some states do give the green light to Costco selling liquor, and its vodka is a hands-down winner, rave spirits experts including Bon Appetit.
I first stumbled upon Kirkland Signature Vodka while shopping at a Costco on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Not that I’m so into vodka, but I do know good from bad. Kirkland’s vodka ranks up there with my American fav, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and it costs less.
Costco is the biggest seller of wine in the U.S., with annual wine sales of $1.8 billion, and the warehouse club’s Kirkland Signature wines are a big reason behind the booming demand. As Annette Alvarez-Peters, who heads Costco’s wine-buying team, told Wine Spectator, "The Costco consumer is very loyal to the [Kirkland Signature] brand. They will always give the item a shot.” And why not? Wine rating websites typically give Kirkland Signature wines high scores in the mid-to-upper 80s out of 100.
One hint for picking especially good Kirkland Signature wines: When you see the Costco brand on the front label, turn the bottle around. You just might find the name of the source winery on the back label. That can tell you a lot about the experience of the wine maker and the quality of the grapes. Alternatively, read reviews online. This Costco-centric wine blog, for one, has taste-tested plenty of Kirkland Signature wines. In my own taste-testing of whites I found a nice Kirkland Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc for $6.99 and a Kirkland Sonoma County Chardonnay for $10.99.
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