With just a few weeks left before Costco opens in Champaign, the big question is “What can I get at Costco that is any different than Sam’s Club?”
We took a little road trip to find out the answer to that question as you decide whether a Costco membership is the right choice for your family
Champaign-Urbana already has one warehouse buy-in-bulk store and has for quite some time. With Costco coming to town and shaking things up, we hear people asking over and over, “What makes Costco different?” We took a drive to Peoria to see what’s on the shelves right now and give you some ideas on what sets Costco apart.
Looking for specific info on membership choices at Costco? We’ve got the scoop here.
Costco has different membership tiers and you’ll have to decide how much shopping you’ll do at Costco to determine which one is right for you. The basic gold membership gets you in the door so you can shop to your heart’s content for one year. But the upgraded executive membership is where you head when you expect to do quite a bit of shopping (the tipping point to make it worth it is $3,000 a year, pre-tax, for your reference). Want to feel out Costco a bit before upgrading? No sweat! You can always start with the gold and upgrade midyear if it seems like you’re doing a ton of shopping there.
Now back to that popular question — what is different about Costco?
Well, Costco is the world leader in sales of organic foods annually, having eclipsed Whole Foods in 2015. That should give you a clue as to the first part of the answer to the above question. You’ll find organic food (in LARGE quantities) all throughout Costco. Is every product in the store organic? Nope! But you will find a ton of options at a pretty incredible price, too. Find two displays of bananas back-to-back, organic and otherwise. And at our recent trip, the bunch of organic bananas was just 30 cents more than the others and nearly a dollar cheaper than an average bunch of bananas at Meijer, for example.
Aside from organic foods, you’re going to encounter a lot more wholesome items among the aisles of Costco than you would at other stores in the area — and certainly compared to Sam’s. (But yes, you can still buy packages of Oreos and other things at Costco, too.) If you’re looking for gluten-free items, following a vegan diet or staying away from all food dyes, Costco is full of options. When the Champaign store officially opens, you’re going to want to earmark some time simply to peruse the aisles if you have a special kind of item you’re looking for, just so you can get used to what’s available.
10 items you can buy at Costco that you can’t get at Sam’s
All information in this article is based on a September shopping trip to Costco in East Peoria and is not guaranteed to be available in October when the Champaign store opens.
- Soup by the pound
Soup in large batches, yes please! One thing you’ll notice about Costco’s presence is that it is going to help solve the “what’s for dinner” question in a variety of ways. These soups are made on-site at Costco using Costco rotisserie chicken and really do taste like homemade. A large bowl (container? bucket?) should feed a whole family and will come in at less than $10. Stop by the bakery and pick up some fresh bread to go with it, too.
- Rotisserie chicken breast meat — already pulled
Remember what we said about making dinner prep a whole lot easier? Not only can you get the whole chicken itself (which many argue is supreme to the competitor’s rotisserie chicken) but you can pick up a TON of sandwiches, wraps and full dinners that use the chicken in there. Want to make something on your own but don’t want to pull the meat off the actual chicken? Get a package of hand-pulled rotisserie chicken breast meat from the deli counter. It’s just begging to be thrown in a soup, chili, casserole, or otherwise. You’re paying roughly $4.50 a pound for it, so certainly more than if you were to buy raw chicken and prep it on your own, but consider the convenience.
- Organic ground beef
Technically, you can sometimes get organic ground beef at Sam’s. But from someone who shops at Sam’s often (until now), it is almost always out of stock. You can get good-quality organic ground beef at Aldi, one pound at a time, but buying it at Costco is likely to save you close to a dollar a pound. Heck, you can even get already-shaped organic beef hamburger patties from the frozen section that work out to $4 per pound for 1/3-pound burgers.
- Gluten-free bread
Champaign-Urbana families who eat gluten-free can get excited — an affordable gluten free bread is available in a two-pack at Costco. We found Franz-brand GF white bread on the shelf in the regular grocery aisle but touched it and it was cold so it had likely been frozen until recently. We haven’t tried this one yet but it’s made from a whole grain sorghum flour and we’re eager to hear from our gluten-free community in C-U what it thinks. There’s a gluten-free frozen pizza sold in three-per-pack, too.
- GF flour for less than $2/pound
This is another that you can sometimes find at Sam’s. We compared prices and the Costco flour came in at nearly a dollar less per pound than Sam’s. We found the Namaste brand in a five pound bag for $8.99, for those who are curious. A GF friend of ours pays nearly double that to buy GF flour of a different brand in bulk on Amazon.
- Food court of hot food
Due to COVID-19, Sam’s food court has yet to reopen to serve hot food. But on our recent trip to Costco, the hot food stand was open for business. All the tables had been removed, so you would have to take your food to eat on the go. We still haven’t tried the famous “chicken bake” but hope to get our shot in October. Also, get their hot dog combo (which includes a soda) for just $1.50 — a price that hasn’t changed in something like 35 years of business.
- Vodka slushy pops
Um, need we say more? The Costco product line (which is called “Kirkland Signature”) has a ready-to-freeze vodka cocktail (with no artificial sweeteners; it does have food dye). Think freeze pops for grown-ups. The rest of the adult beverage section is impressive as well. We couldn’t find the wine advent calendar that we hear is already out.
- Collagen water
Looking for protein shakes, supplements, bars, powdered collagen, or a number of other items for health-conscious customers? Costco has a HUGE section of them. Now Sam’s does sell many of these items, but collagen water by Vital Proteins was one that stood out that we’ve never seen on the shelves of Sam’s. It’s also worth noting that Costco seems to have a good relationship with the brand “Orgain”, a protein line that makes a variety of organic shakes and more. On this trip and earlier trips to Costco, there have always been instant savings on these items. The price at Costco comes in cheaper than the Amazon subscribe-and-save price that we already receive on this item. And they had peanut butter cup as a flavor!
- Peanut butter without added sugar
This is a random one, yes. But peanut butter is one item that we use a LOT of and the Kirkland brand is just right! All of the peanut butter at Sam’s has added sugar in it and let’s face it: It gets slathered on a sandwich with jelly, that’s sweet no matter what, so we like to get peanut butter that doesn’t have a bunch of sugar in it.
- Uncured deli meats in a meat/cheese tray
Final one, and it’s random, too. In any other year, we’d say, “Man, these meat and cheese trays make having guests over during the holidays soooo easy” but, well, that doesn’t exactly apply to current circumstances. Instead, we’ll say, “Man, this meat and cheese tray is going to make charcuterie for dinner (aka grown-up lunchable night after the kids go to bed) soooo easy.” In Costco fashion, the deli meats packed into this whopper of a tray are all free of nitrates and nitrites. If this is something you look for in deli meat, you’ll know this is hard to find in a salami or soppressata. Pick up a box of crackers from the cracker area to go with them and you’re rocking for a(nother) ridiculously easy meal courtesy of Costco!