One Year Update: Can You Save Money Shopping Healthy at Costco




One year has officially gone by since I joined Costco.  I know many of you wonder if it's worth getting a membership, so I thought I'd do a one year update to my Can You Save Money Shopping at Costco post.  Back in January 2014, we were spending over $1400/mo for a family of four adults on groceries.  My goal was to shave that down to $1100.  How did we do and will I renew our membership?




Why buying in bulk does not always save you money

 


When it comes to healthy foods, Costco does carry a great selection.  You can see everything I found here.  Many things can be purchased singularly (pineapple, milk, butter, etc), but most items are bought in bulk.   I quickly realized this presented challenges:
  • Many perishable items come in big bags. On the one hand, this would encourage us to eat more fruits and veggies, especially the week right after a Costco shopping day.  But, it also meant that sometimes there was waste.  Buying in bulk didn't necessarily save us money on food, but just provided us with more of it. 
  • The kitchen was almost always stocked with baking staples...I always had nuts to make nut butter, chocolate chips to make cookies, and apples to use up in an apple crisp....understand where I'm getting at :) 
  • Some of the bulk products come in bulk variety packs that didn't work for our family.  For example, we love Larabars and Taste of Nature bars, but we'd often end up with one variety that no one wanted to eat.
  • Some of the products, though of lesser quality or not organic, are just too good a deal to pass up.  Which leads me to...


 Are Costco Nuts Healthy?


There are many good deals to be had in Costco.    One of the best deals is nuts.  But, are the nuts sold in Costco healthy?  I received a few emails and comments about this, and did a little research.

After two salmonella outbreaks, where over 100 people in the US and Canada got sick, including one who died, the Almond Board of California (where practically all almonds come from) created a rule requiring all growers sterilize their almonds before distributing.

This can be done with heat, but the most common and cheapest method is with chemicals, specifically propylene oxide fumigation.  PPO use is banned in the European Union, Canada, and Mexico AND has been classified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as Group B: a probable human carcinogen.   I thought as a Canadian, this meant good news for me, but products processed with PPO can still be imported.  The Canada Food Inspection agency says:  "While it is not registered for use as a fumigant/pesticide in Canada, Canadians may be exposed to this chemical via consumption of imported finished foods and food ingredients".

Here's where the deception lies.     Manufacturers are not required to disclose on their packaging which pasteurization method was used.  The only way a consumer can avoid purchasing almonds treated with PPO is to ask the manufacturer directly or buy certified organic.  Furthermore, unbeknownst to most "raw foodies", unless purchased DIRECTLY from the farm, all organic raw almonds have been heat treated, even though legally labeled as "raw".

I did ask and here's the good news from Costco Canada.  "The almonds are raw but are heat pasteurized (product enters a Steam Chamber for 10 seconds at 215 degrees Fahrenheit and then goes into a dry Heat Chamber for 20 seconds at 405 degrees Fahrenheit). PPO is not used on Kirkland Signature almonds sold in Canada". 

Sadly, Costco USA chooses manufacturers who treat their almonds with propylene oxide instead of heat.   I find this surprising (well not really), because Costco proudly boasts having higher ethical and quality standards than other retailers.  So why doesn't Costco just choose a manufacturer that steams instead of fumigates?  My guess is cost  and as is often the case, taking advantage of consumer ignorance. So let your local Costco know PPO almonds are NOT OKAY!

What about other nuts?  Because nuts are high in fat, they greatly absorb pesticides, so it's always best to buy organic.  But let's be real.  With organic nuts costing twice to ten times the price of conventional, most of us can't afford to buy organic.   Although I'm unsure of the price, there are retailers, like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, who refuse to carry PPO fumigated almonds.

In the end, it comes down to budget vs. location vs. family size vs. quantity vs. quality...Makes me tired just thinking about it.



Did I Save Money Shopping Healthy at Costco Canada?


This Costco experiment has been an interesting one.    Basically, my Costco grocery spending diet failed.  Some months we spent more than our original budget, sometimes less, so I had to rethink our grocery strategy. Like most people who enter Costco, we always ended up with more in our carts than we planned on going in.   I have one receipt that has:  milk, nuts, butter.  Every other receipt is a mile long.  However, I love some of their products (like their huge never-ending rolls of toilet paper) and they do have a good selection of healthy products.  But is a Costco membership necessary?  No.  One could achieve the same savings on most items by shopping for sales and freezing in bulk.

Because we love some of the products, we will be renewing our membership, but only the basic one.  Last year we opted for the executive membership, but our refund check was just over $56, barely covering the difference between the two memberships.  I foresee spending even less this year.  However, everyone's circumstances are different.  There are five big reasons we don't spend much at Costco:
  1. While I do pick up some fruits and veggies at Costco, I still prefer buying them from our local health food store.  The organic selection is greater, greens are fresher, often local, and not sitting in plastic packaging for days.  We also plant a big garden in the summer and freeze what we can for winter.
  2. We buy a whole side of beef, and most of our chicken & eggs direct from an organic, grass-fed farm.  Doing it this way is cheaper and the quality is better than Costco.
  3. I have yet to find truly non-toxic home cleaning products at Costco. ECOS and GreenWorks products do not score well at ewg.org. 
  4. Except for coconut oil, which is a great Costco buy, I have yet to find truly non-toxic body products at Costco.  I continue to shop for those at iherb.com  
  5. We rarely buy big ticket non-food items at Costco. 
The truth is, an empty cart at Costco is a dangerous thing.  It is much safer to make bigger bulk shopping trips...less often.  Costco will get you more food for your buck....but will NOT leave more money in your bank.



Sources:
United States Environmental Protection Agency
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Cornucopia Institute cost of fumigating vs. steaming
The authentic almond project
Cornucopia.org
World Wellness Education



5 comments:

  1. Love your costco posts! Thank you for your thoughts. I have a family of 4+nanny to feed and we do shop there quite a bit. But only for our staples. We're in Ottawa and our selection on organic products is not as great as you listed in your previous costco post. I almost cried when I saw the price of organic butter. I've been holding my breath for a few years now waiting to our local costco to carry it!

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    1. Honestly, I JUST saw the organic butter, the organic ground beef and a few of the other items I've updated this past week. I was impressed with all my new findings! This was at the brand new Guelph Costco. Hopefully they'll be coming to a Costco near you :) I do think they are truly committed to bringing organic products in and the more people demand it, the more motivated they will be!

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  2. As a recent Costco member who like you delayed Costco membership for so long, I find your posts very informative. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  3. Thank you for your time and effort with this! I'm trying to make our clean eating more efficient as far as number of trips to stores and costs, and agree that there are some things Costco excels at, but I dread going there. I prefer other stores for produce, and we get all our meat and eggs locally (or our own hunting). But when we first forayed into eating gluten-free and dairy-free, Costco was a good starting point.

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  4. Thank you for your kind comments! I hate shopping at Costco too. Thankfully my husband's taken over the Costco shopping :)

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