Costco is a viable option for those on a mainly fruits and vegetable diet and also on a budget. You need a membership, however, (they are not exclusive like they once were) but once you are in the club, I think it is $40 a year. Not surprisingly, what you will get in quantity, does not necessarily correspond to quality here. There have been many articles about the price differences between Costco and regular grocery stores, but this post will focus only on buying fruits and vegetables.
I had an engineering job once that sent me all across America measuring JC Penny’s stores that were to be remodeled. I always joked that you could be at any mall in the entire USA (even Hawaii) and not know where you are, because they all look the same. Costco is the same way. No matter what Costco you go to, you know where the frozen stuff is, the books, and the clothing. Nothing changes. For some, that’s a comfort, but it makes me a bit depressed knowing that every store is a carbon copy. Costco is synonymous with “big box” stores and, I feel, is a dirty word in Portland, because when you talk about shopping there, it seems like it basically implies that you do not care about the environment, buying local, buying “green”, or have any moral guidance about what you eat or where you shop. But for a cheap ass like me (frugal is the word, Nick), saving money is important. I think the balance between saving money and eating good is a difficult one. This is a whole blog topic on its own and one I wish to explore as this blog progresses. But, eating well need not only be for rich people. Buying everything organic will surely turn your budget to dust very quickly………
The key is to eat well. That is all. It’s simple.
We all want to eat organic, fresh produce, straight from the farm, right? But, for me, that is too expensive to justify on a daily, lifestyle diet. In my opinion, it is worth whatever risk there is buying high nutrition foods for cheap, than it is the risk that we are poisoning ourselves and are supporting large, corporate, farms. Maybe there are people out there that refuse to eat a non-organic strawberry. I understand why, but if they cannot afford the organic strawberry, than they are not eating strawberries. And that is bad. Pesticides, ignoring local farms, obnoxiously large fruit, and GM foods may or may not be prevalent at your local Costco. I am not sure and that takes a helluva lot more investigative prowess and research (time) than I have. This post will not dissect all the moral implications of Costco, this post is about taking advantage of Costco’s bulk and using it to supplement with farmers markets, Fred Meyers, fruits stands, wherever else you shop for this stuff. It is possible to use Costco if you want fruits and veggies in bulk.
Well, now that THAT is out of the way (haha anyone seen an elephant around here? Why am I so defensive about this?), we can move on to the TASK AT HAND……as far as fruits and vegetables—what do they sell at Costco, how much do they cost, how long do they last, and is it worth going there for this stuff.
Fruits: The strawberries at Costco are obscene. For $6.49, you get 4lbs of beastly, ripe berries. They are huge, just look at them!
They are from Mexico, and they taste great. Oranges come in the mandarin variety ($6.99 for 5 lbs) and the larger Naval variety (and seedless, strange, I didnt notice that before) for $8.99 for 13 lbs. That is $.69 a pound, very cheap. From California. There are 3 different types of melon…Honeydew ($3.99 each), cantaloupe ($6.49 for 3 melons, that’s about the going rate everywhere else too), and Watermelon (huge melons $7.99 each). We had one recently and it was delicious. Seedless of course. Nice to be able to get good watermelon out of season, a lot of times those little personal ones are very watery, low on flavor. The seedless red grapes are good at Costco too, they are fat and flavorful. $7.99 for 4 lbs worth, that’s $2 a pound…at Fred Meyer’s they are usually $3 a pound. Black seedless grapes are $7.99 for 5 lbs. Thats $1.60 per pound. The seeded grapes are $7.49 for 5 lbs, so if you dont mind the seeds, they get even cheaper. I havent bought plums at Costco but they are $5.99 for 4 pounds. Bags of Bijou pears are $4.99 for 6 pounds, but we have found that they are not as fresh as at Portland Fruit Company and at $.83 a pound, not as cheap either. They have 6 lb bags of large D’Aniou pears too, for $3.99 so you have options. Costa Rican pineapples are $3 each and are HUGE. At Fred’s a small pineapple is $3. A plastic case of kiwi fruit is $5.49 for 4 lbs, much cheaper than Freds, where small ones are 50cents each, unless on sale. Surprisingly, papaya ($6.99 for 4), and mangos ($9.99 for 6) are also sold here in bulk. In the cold room in the back, there are blueberries ($8.99 for a large bin) and raspberries ($5.99 for a large bin). Apples come in multiple varieties and are in these weird plastic containers so the fruit doesn’t touch one another. We have not had good luck with Costco apples, so I recommend buying local if you can. They work out to be $1 a pound here, so are affordable. Large bags of TART grapefruit are $7.99 for 10 lbs, which is a good deal, but they are too tart for our liking, so we tend to buy the big White variety at Fred’s or Portland Fruit. And here we are at the bananas….bagged bananas from Ecuador are $1.39 for 3 lbs. That is incredibly cheap and makes me wonder. They are often very green so dont plan on eating them for 3 days or so. Crazy how they can be so cheap, I hope those farmers are getting paid. It is staggering to think of how many bananas Costco must sell. There were 4 large palates of bananas at this one store and lots of people buying them. I bet they go through a couple palettes a day. Multiply that by all the Costco’s in the US…THATS ALOT OF BANANAS, NICK.
Vegetables: Cherry tomatoes are very popular at Costco, there are enough tomatoes here to keep many festive Spaniards very happy.
“Greenhouse Grown”, $4.99 for 2lbs. That is pretty similar to normal. They have vine ripened tomatoes for the same price. They have red bell peppers, 6 for $5.49 and mixed bag of colored bell peppers, 6 for $5.79. All from Mexico. That is not much cheaper than anywhere else. Fred’s usually has them for $1 each. A mesh bag of avocado’s is $5.49 for 5. Thats a good deal if you love avocado, which we do, but it is rare that we would eat that many in a week, before they got too squishy. I am lazy that way. There are large 10 and 20 lb bags of potatoes, but we do not eat that many, so we never buy them here. They are $4.99 for the 10lb red potatoes and $6.99 for the 20lb white potato.
Let’s go into the COLD ROOM. Inside the big fridge are the greens, mushrooms, and carrots. This is where Costco really will save you money, if you are looking for bulk greens. A normal box of mixed salad greens (or spinach) are $4.99 at Fred Meyers, but are $3.99 here. Butter lettuce are 2 heads for $2.99 and 6 heads of Romaine are $2.99. That is cheap. Three very long cucumbers are $3, that is not much cheaper than buying local but they have them all year round here at that price. Brussel sprouts (get some beano too, while your at it) are $3.79 for 2 lbs. Bags of just brocoli florets are $4.39, so that saves you money and time. There are organic “broccollette” for $5.79 for 2lbs. They are tasty. Mini bell peppers are really good for dips and such, they are $5.49 for a huge bag. There are some amazing pre-washed sugar snap peas in a bag here for $5.99, they are like candy, man! The organic carrots are very good, 10lbs for $5.99. Great for juicing, if you roll that way. Finally, mushrooms are $3.99 for a large vat of white ones, and $4.49 for a large thing of brown ones. They seem to last us 1 week, so we buy them here quite often.
Other stuff: Passing all the cakes and the chickens getting a suntan, you will find some really good hummus ($5.99, 40 cals per serving) and salsa ($5.29, 10 cals per serving). The salsa has gone bad after a few days, and the container is huge of course, so check the date on that. There is a great jalapeno tzaziki dip for $6.59. Its 50 calories per serving, so not too bad. If you eat lots of rice, you can’t go wrong here. For Lundberg organic brown rice, its $13 for a 12 lb bag, and they have a 3lb bag of organic wild rice and organic dry beans for $9.99. They are healthy and last a long time. We love garbonzo beans on our salad (it’s our fave bean) so we sometimes buy an 8 pack of organic cans for $5.79. They have the other beans (kidney, black, etc) for the same price.
BEWARE: Anyone who has shopped here knows that it is way too easy to spend $100, like its $30 at a normal store. Maybe because of the big carts, it never looks like you have too much, even with that 52″ plasma TV box in your cart. Plus all the distractions of buying toilet paper in bulk, books, clothes, yard utensils, it adds up! Our last trip was $103.40 for fruits and vegetables only. This is one weeks worth of food and there is no need to go to any other stores. This is alot of fruit and vegetables though, so you better eat them quickly or they will go bad. You never know how long the oranges have been sitting there, they could be well on their way to ripe. Costco is a great place to go if you are on a juice fast!!!
To conclude, shopping at Costco is a contradictory experience. On one hand its nice to have the huge amount of fruit and veggies for cheap, on the other hand I feel a bit guilty about where this food is coming from.
This is analogous to our lives right now…living local in a global world.
Here are the pictures I took on our last excursion (April 14, 2012)….