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Costco vs. Sam's Club vs. Trader Joe's

by (828)
Updated about 1 hour ago
Created September 07, 2011 at 6:59 PM

I'm considering buying a membership to Costco or Sam's and need some advice. It's just 2 of us, we eat meat and seafood and my boyfriend eats some cheese. I buy organic fruit and veggies when they are on the "dirty dozen." I use frozen veggies a lot. Costco's is $50/ year and Sam's is $40, both are about the same distance away.

I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe's right now- fish/seafood is around $6-7 a pound and chicken breast is around $3.50. I have a cowshare for grassfed beef so that's a nonissue. What do chicken/turkey/seafood/lamb/pork generally run at CC/Sam's?

I'm mainly looking to save money- but am also interested to hear product reviews/ general thoughts on quality and selection.

And are "sample Sundays" a reliable source of a passable free lunch?

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11557 · December 20, 2011 at 10:21 PM

Another "country method" my mom does for potatoes (and turnips, parsnips, rutabaga) is washing them really well, then burying them in sand under burlap sacks in the cellar. Stored like that, the root veggies seem fresh-out-of-the-ground for months! This is probably only useful however if you have a) large containers to fill with sand b) place to put said large containers c) want to feel like a pre-war farmer's wife.

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37187 · December 20, 2011 at 3:56 PM

+1 for helpful advice!

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78417 · September 08, 2011 at 12:17 AM

We live about 7 1/2 hours away from Costco but drive by at least twice a year. We have a membership because we want to stock up on our way by. One year we saved $400 on 8 tires compared to local outlets, so it's not just about the food.

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1373 · September 07, 2011 at 9:30 PM

I buy two pound blocks of Kerrygold Dubliner cheese at costco - grassfed, irish, and delishimus

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881 · September 07, 2011 at 7:41 PM

Costco does sell Kerrygold Irish butter and cheese. Both products are grassfed.

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2435 · September 07, 2011 at 7:38 PM

Over the last few years, more and more of their products are being offered as organics and such. Their red meat only has organic, not grass fed, ground beef. I believe it's about $4/lb, but it's been a while since I bought it. It comes in a 3 pack.

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2435 · September 07, 2011 at 7:34 PM

I have 4 different Costco's to choose from. If you were closer to one I'm sure you'd love it, but being far away, it isn't worth it.

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9 Answers

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2227 · September 07, 2011 at 7:56 PM

Costco. 100x more organic food than you will find at Sams.

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1334 · September 07, 2011 at 7:15 PM

Chicken is a lot cheaper at Costco than at most groceries. I don't really eat much pork, lamb, or seafood so I can't speak to that, and I haven't been to Sam's since I was a kid, so I don't know their prices.

Costco also has excellent prices on beef, usually maybe 20% less than the grocery stores, so if you decide to get some CAFO beef for whatever reason they're a fairly good deal there.

Sample sundays are not a good free lunch for paleo. Almost everything they serve is the processed crap, so even if you're not loading up on the devil wheat, you'll be getting a ton of preservatives, HFCS, etc.

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20 · December 20, 2011 at 2:57 PM

This is off-subject, but in response to "We are a family of 4 and I have never been able to make the leap to a Costco membership"

You say "if you have to buy potatoes by the 10 pound bag and save 20% but 25% of them end up spoiling, you would be better off just buying them at a grocery store."

This is true for VERY perishable items (spinach, green onions, cucumbers, etc.), but NOT for potatoes. My potatoes used to spoil quickly on me too, and I felt the way you do. Then the last time I bought potatoes, I did a few things differently.

  1. I took them out of the bag to store them.
  2. I threw away a couple of potatoes that looked like they had spots that might spoil
  3. I washed (and thoroughly dried) the rest of the potatoes.

They have lasted MONTHS, whereas before, it would often be only DAYS before I smelled something (b/c I had neglected to remove any "iffy" potatoes before storing them.

Washing removes molds and fungi that grow on potatoes naturally b/c they grow underground, as well as any crap they picked up in being stored and shipped.

However, they MUST be completely dry before you put them in the basket or box or bowl or whatever you're going to store them in.

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11557 · December 20, 2011 at 10:21 PM

Another "country method" my mom does for potatoes (and turnips, parsnips, rutabaga) is washing them really well, then burying them in sand under burlap sacks in the cellar. Stored like that, the root veggies seem fresh-out-of-the-ground for months! This is probably only useful however if you have a) large containers to fill with sand b) place to put said large containers c) want to feel like a pre-war farmer's wife.

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37187 · December 20, 2011 at 3:56 PM

+1 for helpful advice!

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11152 · September 07, 2011 at 7:52 PM

For bulk goods such as coffee, household items (detergent, paper plates, toilet paper, etc) and certain meats, I would go with one of the wholesale clubs (I prefer Costco to Sam's, as I have memberships to both through my business).

I'd refrain from buying fresh produce at a wholesale club. Unless you're feeding a lot of people at once, it will go bad before you have a chance to eat it all. Even their pears and apples are coated with some sort of chemical preservative so they'll have a longer shelf life.

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2435 · September 07, 2011 at 7:32 PM

The chicken at my local Costco's in San Jose, Santa Cruz, and the surrounding areas, are $2.29/lb for a whole Organic. Trader Joe's Has awesome prices, but not on meat. Costco has a huge bag of organic frozen spinach. They also sell Organic baby spinach (fresh) for about $3 (seasons shift it). Costco also sells organic choices for other fruits and veggies, though not always reliably. I've seen organic celery, carrots, raspberries, grapes, apples, pears, plums, and more. None of their cheese is grassfed. They have organic (but not pastured) eggs for $5 for 24. Their organic milk is 2% and $10 for 2 gallons.

Costco has samples every day. As a Paleo, I doubt you could fill up on them.

I LOVE Costco. When they start bringing in more pastured products, I will be sooooo happy!

Their frozen seafood selection (esp Trident) is sustainable as well. I get Mahi Mahi there for about $6/lb.

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1373 · September 07, 2011 at 9:30 PM

I buy two pound blocks of Kerrygold Dubliner cheese at costco - grassfed, irish, and delishimus

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881 · September 07, 2011 at 7:41 PM

Costco does sell Kerrygold Irish butter and cheese. Both products are grassfed.

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2435 · September 07, 2011 at 7:38 PM

Over the last few years, more and more of their products are being offered as organics and such. Their red meat only has organic, not grass fed, ground beef. I believe it's about $4/lb, but it's been a while since I bought it. It comes in a 3 pack.

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892 · September 07, 2011 at 9:39 PM

Our family shops at Costco all the time. I like the organic salads and carrots. If you get an Executive Membership, you get a rebate on how much you spend and then the membership basically pays for itself (sometimes you can even make money, after subtracting the rebate). I buy lamb, wild salmon, other seafoods, and sometimes organic chicken there. Mine also has organic ground beef.

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305 · September 07, 2011 at 7:59 PM

I shop at Costco and buy the Niman Ranch Prok Chops and Niman Ranch all beef hot dogs (no nitrates or hormones), I buy the organic chicken, the Salmon burgers (which are made from wild salmon) and some of the wild fish that are sealed in individual portions. For produce I buy orangic raspeberries or blueberries since they are low glycemic fruits, and I buy the big packs of organic baby spinach (I often have sauteed spinach with my salmon burger). I also buy my paper goods there, so for me it is worth the membership. Just on the meat and fish I save alot of money compared to Whole Foods. I am not a fan of Trader Joe's meats at all. I shop TJ's for cold cuts with no nitrates or salad stuff. Costco does have good grain fed meat, I try to always buy grass fed, but sometimes a grain fed steak here and there I do not think will hurt you. I will vacumm pack the steaks so that I can pull one out of the freezer when I need it. Costco also has lamb which is always range free. Costco also has ECOS laundry detergent which is a coconut oil based detergent and is biodegradable. I have been impressed that Costco has made the effort to carry better products!

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12174 · September 07, 2011 at 7:37 PM

Of those, I've found TJ's to have the cheapest price for Kerrygold (pastured) butter @~$2.69/gold brick (8 oz.).

TJ's also has several options for organic produce, which I'm said to say I've not found at Sam's Club. I wish that Sam's would stop stocking 3-4 varieties each of conventionally raised apples, grapes, and berries and stock at least one organic option!

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15385 · September 07, 2011 at 7:29 PM

We are a family of 4 and I have never been able to make the leap to a Costco membership. The nearest one is a bit of a hike for me and we have a lot of grocery stores in the area (Giant, Safeway, Harris Teeter, Wegman's, Whole Paycheck, Balducci's) so there is a lot of other options that are closer.

Even so, I have not noticed that the prices, in GENERAL, at Costco are that much better. Occasionally they will have a good-to-great price on one thing that friends will tell me about (i.e. chicken parts, or beef strip steaks, or farm-raised salmon) but that isn't enough to justify a membership and special trip (I'd probably spend more in gas than I'd save).

For perishable items like produce, it only takes a bit of wastage to offset any savings, like if you have to buy potatoes by the 10 pound bag and save 20% but 25% of them end up spoiling, you would be better off just buying them at a grocery store.

These days as my food purchases tend towards higher quality, I am getting less price sensitive and feel that it is worth it to pay 20-25% (or even 50%) more for higher quality foods such as grass-fed beef, organic produce, etc. If Costco provided good price and selection for these items I might be interested.

Really my preference would be to have the European model of one store for each item (i.e. beef, pork, cheese, produce, sweets, etc) that specializes in that item and provides much more variety and quality than a supermarket can have.

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78417 · September 08, 2011 at 12:17 AM

We live about 7 1/2 hours away from Costco but drive by at least twice a year. We have a membership because we want to stock up on our way by. One year we saved $400 on 8 tires compared to local outlets, so it's not just about the food.

1fc9c11cf23b2f62ac78979de933ad83
2435 · September 07, 2011 at 7:34 PM

I have 4 different Costco's to choose from. If you were closer to one I'm sure you'd love it, but being far away, it isn't worth it.

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