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Dear Costco Shopper

How I found out I had more in common with Costco shoppers than I thought & an invitation to continue the conversation

Costco from the parking lot

I went to Costco with my in-laws some years ago. I don't have a Costco near me, so it never occurred to me to go. My in-laws, however, love it. When we have dinner at their house, there's usually at least one item that includes a "We got it at Costco" preamble. Judge me if you must, but bargain food always makes me suspicious.

My reaction to my first visit will not surprise you. The parking lot was packed and we got a cart from a shopper who had just loaded his tailgate with about 20 bags and boxes. The cart was so big it could have used its own parking space. That was just the beginning. Everything at Costco was big. The strawberries were fist-sized. The ranch dressing my sister-in-law had warned me about came in half and full-gallon sizes. And the toothpaste came in bargain packs of ten with each tube looking like a 5-pound dumbell. I giggled thinking about where in my small bathroom that might live. I don't even remember what we bought that day, but it was the last time I was there.

Fast forward a couple of decades and Costco is still thriving without me. As of 2024, Costco boasts 128 million members globally (two membership levels are $60 and $120 a year) who are motivated by cost savings, quality, convenience, and the overall shopping experience which includes free samples and a bit of a treasure hunt atmosphere. Costco shoppers also have an allegiance to Costco's private label, Kirkland Signature.

Costco Reddit r/Costco

As of today, 661,000 Costco shoppers subscribe to a subreddit about the bargain retailer (up from a recent 400K level.) Reddit is another foreign entity to me, but I entered this universe looking for answers to a recent Costco conundrum. Reddit is a social media platform and forum where users can discuss various topics and share content from humor to bargain shopping. It is organized into subreddits or smaller communities focused on particular topics. A subreddit starts with a lowercase "r" followed by a "/" and the name of the subreddit. So for Costco, it's r/Costco. Here Costco enthusiasts share tips and tricks for making the most out of their Costco memberships including how to find the best deals and hidden gems. Users post texts, images, videos, and links and can comment on each other's posts.

Rotisserie chicken is where my second Costco experience began. Costco shoppers are so enthusiastic about their rotisserie chicken that I am surprised that it does not have its own subreddit. In 2023 alone, Costco sold a staggering 137 million rotisserie chickens, a 20 million chicken increase over the 117 million it sold in 2022. This is a staple item for Costco and it's sold -- a whole chicken, all ready for dinner -- consistently at $4.99 (the price hasn't changed in 10 years). Rotisserie chicken enthusiasts wax on about its taste, convenience, and value. Until recently.

Rotisserie Chicken at Costco, Kirkland Signature

In April, Costco's seasoned rotisserie chicken -- under the beloved Kirkland Signature name -- took a hit. One shopper, having carved the chicken for dinner, noticed something unusual. Some of the meat, deep in the chicken where the breast meat near the bones was a shocking GREEN color. Immediately, the shopper took to Reddit for answers, hiding the image under a spoiler tag so as not to gag any squeamish customers.

The condition of green muscle disease -- diagnosed by many subreddit users and confirmed in theory by the USDA -- occurs when chickens grow too big, too fast and oxygen fails to reach the larger muscles. The subreddit blew up with recommendations about returns and thoughts on what was happening.

What I found in the reactions to the chicken crisis was a surprise, completely unexpected, and where I fell in love with Costco shoppers. I expected a unified defense of the heralded chicken and its purveyor. I thought they would make excuses and say it was probably just a bad chicken, that you could still eat it (you can, if you dare), and nothing to worry about. But I was wrong.

r/Costco subscribers showed a completely different profile on this thread: one of concern, not only about the green meat but about how we raise our meat in this country. They shared their concerns about the humanity of raising chickens this way so they might experience this condition. They admonished the retailer and the industry for its practices of selective breeding that results in raising larger birds too quickly. And at the end of the day, the trust the brand has relied on was tarnished. One customer pointed out "$5 chicken, $5 result," a knock against the low-cost-high-quality mantra Costco has marketed.

I don't know if this episode will have a lasting impact on Costco or if they will change their chicken-rearing practices as a result, but I was heartened by the awareness of the Costco customers about the issues at hand. While I am sure many customers will still expect the $5 chicken despite its issues, customers are at least aware of some of the consequences.

What they don't realize is their power to change things. If Costco's customers decided that they wanted a healthier chicken -- for the chicken's sake and their own family's -- they could demand it. Maybe this will be my third Costco experience.

For any of you who are Costco frequent fliers and have had their rotisserie chicken (secretly high-fiving yourself for conquering a weeknight meal for $5 and with little effort to cook after a long day), I invite you to join me in a continuing conversation.

Here is what you can expect: curiosity, questions, and an approach to food and farming that is neither full of fear-mongering or sweeping issues under the rug. I love the opportunity to explore issues with an open mind. More on this later (including how McDonald's was instrumental in improving how our meat is processed and how a small pasture-raised chicken operation partnered with a big poultry company and made it work) and I hope you will be here for it!


Dana DiPrima is the founder of the For Farmers Movement. For Farmers supports American farmers by sharing their stories, replacing myths with facts, and providing them with mini-grants and other helpful resources. Dana is the host of One Bite is Everything, the podcast that helps you have a big impact on your health, your community, and the planet, through tiny, informed choices. She authors a weekly letter in addition to this blog. You can subscribe here. And you can join the For Farmers Movement to support your farmers here. You can also follow her on Instagram and Threads.


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