It seems my wife and I dispose of about 85% of our disposable income at Costco.
We go there weekly, sometimes multiple times per week.
Many of their consumer staple items are indeed staples of our consumer household... things like the Kirkland bathroom tissue, paper towels, and even socks and blue jeans are regular purchases.
And when it comes to the Kirkland brand, it has always been on the shelf at Costco. But lately I wonder if there is too much Kirkland at Costco?
Generally speaking, the Kirkland brand seems good enough.
And when I go to other grocery stores, I'm certainly used to seeing their store brands on the shelves, although almost always displayed with a national brand on one shelf and the lower-priced store brand on the shelf underneath.
But due to Costco's preference for lack of selection (and correspondingly not confusing consumers with too much choice), there isn't usually a comparable national brand next to the Kirkland brand product.
So my choice is either Kirkland or nothing. Or at least "grumble to myself and stop at another store on the way home for the product i wanted in the first place," if that counts as a choice.
In fact, it often happens that the national brand that is at Costco one week is replaced by a Kirkland brand the next.
I call this the ol' "Costco Switcheroo."
The latest example was Bel Gioioso mozzarella cheese. We've been buying the Bel Gioioso two-pack at Costco for years. We buy it regularly, as we often make homemade pizzas and my wife likes the Bel Gioioso fresh mozzarella for her margherita pizzas.
Then a couple of weeks ago we went to the cheese aisle to buy another pack and found this:
Kirkland Fresh Mozzeralla!
The ol' Costco Switcheroo had struck again!
I notice they bumped up the weight from 16 oz. to 18 oz. per pack. I guess they think extra cheese will assuage the annoyance.
If the people who run Costco were looking for annoyance and disappointment when they decided to swap Bel Gioioso for Kirkland, they got it.
So, what happened? I don't know if Costco simply paid the Bel Gioso company less money and had them make a run of the exact same, but un-branded, cheese specifically for its warehouse stores.
I don't know if there was a contract dispute behind the scenes. Maybe one side got greedy? Maybe Bel Gioioso got a better offer from Sam's Club?
Maybe Costco demanded such a low wholesale price that Bel Gioioso bowed out?
Maybe Costco saw that Bel Gioioso was making a nice profit and decided to kick them out and try to make cheese for themselves.
And, as a consumer, do I even care?
We were completely happy with the Bel Gioioso two-pack, it was a regular purchase at Costco for years, and then it was gone. And replaced by a seemingly similar substitute.
We reluctantly bought a pack of the Kirkland. My wife says it wasn't as good as Bel Gioioso, and she thought the texture was different too.
We were kind of left with a bad taste in our mouths, both literally and figuratively.
My wife notices that the ol' Costco Switcheroo happens quite often. In fact, she says that sometimes she likes a new product at Costco so much that she worries it won't be there the next time because she knows Costco will replace it with their own.
It's happened with nut mix. It happened with Johnsonville brats. I see it about to happen with La Croix. It happens over and over and over.
Which is Costco's right. I get it. And competing with Amazon, Wal Mart and everyone else, they have to fight for every scrap of profit.
But at some point, maybe they go too far. Maybe their desire to lower costs so much crosses a line from inexpensive to seeming cheap.
Do I really want to pay over $100 per year for an executive membership to buy off-brand/store-brand merchandise?
Why should I pay a fee for the privilege of buying lower-quality store brand merchandise?
Why should I pay a fee to buy "good enough" Kirkland brand merchandise, when I can pay no fee and just get the premium brand instead?
Regarding the Kirkland brand, if some argue that "it's really not lower-quality, it's the exact same thing in different packaging," I would push back and say that it is definitely lower in terms of brand image and expectations, and those affect the perceptions of brand quality in consumers' minds.
Or in mine, anyway.
So what have I done about it? I haven't cancelled Costco, but I have added a Sam's Club membership to the mix. They seem to have more national brands.
And we'll see what happens.
UPDATE: Maybe there are some other people out there who are tired of the ol' Costco Switcheroo, because when my wife and I went yesterday, we noticed that Bel Gioso is back, baby!
Maybe sales of Kirkland mozzarella plummeted.
Maybe people who buy Kirkland socks aren't convinced that Kirkland knows mozzarella cheese.
Who knows? Let's hope, though, that someone at Costco HQ knows that one Switcheroo too many will have us going to Sam's Club instead.