Does Costco offer a lot of real food at affordable prices? That is the question this series seeks to answer. Join us over the next few weeks as we explore what Costco has to offer.
What stores is it safe to trust? Many find this the really pertinent question when it comes to choosing where to shop. They have good feelings about one store over another. They ask themselves if the stores buyers do a good job vetting companies products? Do they ensure that the products on their shelves are what they say they are? For that matter, do any of the big retailers do anything above what the law requires to assure food quality?
I think the arguments on the internet against Costco really boil down to this one question. Some feel strongly that any of the big box retailers are thoroughly untrustworthy on this score. Yet, they place some faith in the quality standards of some other very large chains. These chains also buy from the big agribusiness food distributors. And they make what are, in my humble opinion, weak carefully worded claims of ensuring only foods with quality ingredients are stocked.
Do Big Food Retailers Verify the Products They Sell?
When it comes to the big box stores, no one it seems expects that they do much of anything by way of ensuring their products are as expected. But when it comes to smaller grocery retailers, it’s a common expectation that the buyers for these stores do a lot of quality checking to ensure all is well. Is all this true though? How do we know?
Let’s take a look at what the retailers themselves have to say on the subject. Whole Foods as you would expect does have a statement on their website with a long-ish list of unacceptable ingredients. Very positive. However, that list does not include a number of things that a reasonable shopper would guess from their branding to be forbidden ingredients. Little things like GMO’s for example. They do have a rating system for humane treatment of animals designed to encourage better treatment amongst producers. However, I don’t believe a consumer would be aware of the rating for a specific product in the store, nor does it disallow many questionable farming practices. Maybe it’s just me, and call me a cynic but I feel like these quality assertions are mostly about reinforcing the store’s brand and less about ensuring only very high quality products are sold in their stores.
Sprouts states that they make no judgement and offer a wide variety of products. Natural Grocers on the other hand assures us of their desire and efforts to ensure their products are the safest and best available.
Big box retailers generally make no statements of this kind. We are left to assume that they take suppliers statements about quality at face value, and rely totally on the government of the suppliers country for enforcement of food quality. Costco however, takes things a little further by supplying a confidential global hotline for anyone aware of issues with supplier quality. So there’s a little comfort in that, I suppose.
Faith in Retailers to Research Products is Misplaced
We as food consumers would do well to NOT depend on stores to vet the quality of their products. We need to do this kind of research as best we can ourselves. If these store’s buyers may also be making inquiries, well, that’s helpful too, but shouldn’t be relied upon for your product decisions.
We really have little idea of what kinds of investigation they may be doing, or what profit or political motives may be affecting their choices. We must rely primarily on ourselves!
But what does that mean in practical terms?
The Fewer People Between You and the Producer the Better
As a guiding principle to help ensure you are getting the best food your grocery dollars will buy you’ll want to reduce the number of people handling your food. Perfectly ideal would be producing it yourself :-). Impractical though, few of us can produce enough food for our families entirely on our own. Next is buying it directly from the producer. Practical and doable in many cases.
Many of us don’t have these options available to us. What can we do to reduce the number of hands handling our food? You can buy from stores that buy direct from the producer as a next best option. Failing that buy brands that you have researched yourself. There is no substitute for educating yourself about each brands quality standards. Call the company if you need to. Google around for complaints. Last option is to depend on a favorite stores quality standards.
Trust Your Gut!
And what about Costco and other big retailers and the occasionally voiced, vaguely worded claims of quality issues? I take it as one persons opinion. It’s their gut talking to them. And absolutely and unequivocally they should listen to their gut! So should you! If you pickup an item at Costco, or anywhere else for that matter, and you simply feel that it isn’t quality, then don’t buy it. Sometimes I even feel that way at a Farmer’s Market, believe it or not. We should all trust our intuition when it’s telling us that’s something is off. I’m just not sure you can say your gut feeling should be used as a basis to advise others. I wouldn’t listen to someone else’s gut though ;-).
An educated intuition is your best guide. Learn everything that you can, then trust yourself to decide!
Photo by Orin Zebest