A lot of people don’t associate Costco with food storage since their warehouses don’t typically offer food packaged for long term storage. This isn’t the case though with Costco.com where they offer a variety of long term emergency food storage and survival products.
While they may not offer preparedness products with their in-store brand Kirkland, Costco does take the segment seriously by providing a variety of other brand’s products to chose from. These items are drop shipped directly from their partner suppliers.
Today we are going to summarize our experiences with ordering emergency preparedness products from Costco.com over the last 3 years. This will not be a review of the Costco warehouse business, just their website.
In our 9 years of being a Costco member you could say customer service can vary from terrific to absent altogether but this review is about buying from Costco’s website so we’ve created a few preparedness experiences by calling in to their customer service line to ask a few made up questions to test their ability to help us shop for food storage.
Predictably, the 2 females and 1 male we spoke with knew very little about preparedness products. It was obvious that when a question about a specific product was asked they would pull up the product page for that item on their computer and try to answer the questions by quickly reading up on the product. They stumbled through their answers and essentially read to us what their site had to say about the items sometimes not even coming close to answering the questions. They simply didn’t have a knowledge about the emergency food storage items they sold. This is a stark comparison to when you call a retailer that specializes in food storage and preparedness items.
The lone positive customer service aspect that Costco does well no matter how you buy their items is their willingness to take back anything at almost any point in time. While this is a great thing we must note that the majority of the larger preparedness companies offer lengthy return windows with 100% money back guarantees.
It’s no secret that Costco has some great deals. Their business model of marking up most items only 15-20% (there are exceptions) often works out great for the consumer. They make up for it as they charge a somewhat steep yearly membership fee. In our household it makes sense as savings from toilet paper purchases by themselves pay for the fee.
But when it comes to buying preparedness items online it is a little murkier of a situation. Most of Costco’s food storage items are products you can’t buy elsewhere in the exact configurations, meaning they might sell a 12 can assortment of freeze dried fruits from Nutristore that you can’t compare on their website. Very few food storage items sold on Costco.com are available in the same configuration elsewhere. It seems obvious they are making it harder to compare freeze dried apples to freeze dried apples.
Things get a little more complicated as they advertise all food products by cost per serving. This is a nice idea but we found almost all of their servings to be half the size of other companies. For example their fruits and veggies will often have a serving size of ¼ cup where competitors are almost always ½ a cup.
This tactic can make things even harder to tell how their pricing compares and we (ok my wife) has been shocked several times when she has done the math with Costco items. A few weeks ago she explained to me how bad of a deal their cereal prices are unless a manufacture rebate is included. She looked at several cereals at Walmart and Target and compared their cost per ounce and noticed Costco was considerably higher. This can also be the case with food storage so it’s a good rule of thumb to not assume that it is a deal. To make sure it is you will need to do some basic math if you are a bargain shopper like we are.
Costco carries a variety of food storage options. Thrive/Shelf Reliance, EasyPrep, Mountain House, and Chef’s Banquet are a few of the 17 brands they carry.
Like their warehouse stores, Costco.com carries a limited variety of options. At the time of this review they have 94 items in their Emergency Food category which pales in comparison to an Emergency Essentials or Ready Store that have over 1,000 items to choose from.
You do get a variety of packaging options. You can find emergency food packaged in #10 cans, mylar pouches, and buckets. Of course the Costco bulk buying often applies. For example you’ll likely have to buy 6 or 12 cans of something instead of 1.
This can be a particularly bad if you haven’t tried the food to make sure it is good tasting. As you will read below there is some REALLY bad tasting food storage at Costco so you can’t assume that everything they sell is as good as a $5 rotisserie chicken.
Outside of your typical food storage products mentioned above, Costco.com doesn’t carry MREs, survival kits, and only offer a few items that could be used for emergency supplies. They do have 7 water storage and treatment items but it is tough when you are limited with such a small selection to choose from.
It would make more sense to look around and educate yourself elsewhere then come back to their site to see if they offer the same item at a lower price. If they do, and that can be a big if since they offer so many items, the price could be compelling.
We have had some serious up and down experiences with Costco food storage items. We’ve purchased some of their items that appeared to be great deals but the food turned out to be horrific. So bad we had to throw it away.
For example, we did a video review of a bucket from Food For Health International a few years ago. The price was great. It had a ton of calories worth of meals but it was all super salty and disgusting. At first we couldn’t believe it as we’ve never had a horrible experience with any product we’ve purchased from Costco. We chalked it up to a fluke but then had a similar experience when we bought a Chef’s Banquet 1 month ARK food supply that was equally as bad.
They do offer a few brands we’ve purchased before and had good luck with (Mountain House & EasyPrep to name a few) and would not hesitate to buy those from Costco if their pricing is better but we will no longer buy unfamiliar food brands from Costco.
In the end, you should select respected brands that have earned buyer’s trust. Be wary of the positive reviews on the lesser known brands especially when they are written from people that have obviously not even tried the food. You will see a lot of vague reviews on their site stating they were happy with peace of mind their purchase gave them but nothing about how it tasted. Obviously there are a lot of people buying with the mindset of hoping to never have to use it. Sadly many are going to be VERY sad if they ever have to based on our experiences.
The Costco.com website is easy to use. Something we noticed early on in our Costco food storage review was that they stated Country of Origin on their foods. This was nice to see as not all companies share this so openly. They do offer some foods from China (Nutristore & Thrive) so buyer beware on those.
Another thing we liked was the ability to compare two items and see them side by side. It worked great for some items though on others it seemed to be missing a lot of information.
As you can imagine with a company of Costco’s size navigating to the food storage and preparedness section can be difficult. It is located in the Grocery Floral and Pet section. Seriously, that was not a typo. Thankfully their search works well and you can search for “Food Storage” and get to their categories that way.
As you can expect from a major national retailer, their knowledge and resources on prepping is non-existent. You won’t find knowledgeable staff or information on their site. The magazines they mail to your home might have one article a year on preparing and it is very generic information meant for the beginner.
We include this section in all of our reviews as it’s important to us that a retailer of preparedness products does more than just sell a product. In our eyes they should impart knowledge through a preparedness blog or offer tools that people get prepared. Buying products is only one part of getting prepared, retailers that offer additional resources lend additional credibility that Julie and I value. Costco comes up woefully short here.
Costco is a great store in my wife and I’s opinion. It just isn’t very good at offering food storage yet. The lack of selection and assortment of bad tasting food storage products has us questioning if we’ll ever be back.
Costco’s warehouse stores and track record of quality products has gained our trust (evidenced by our 9 years of membership) but we really have to question if 1.) the product will be any edible and 2.) if it is really a good deal or not due to their sneaky serving sizes and large configurations that are tough if not impossible to price shop.