Big eyes for wholesale club food

April 12, 2013

Clubs wow with fresh-food presentations, insistence on food safety.

If United States VP Joe Biden has fun with food at Costco, could the rest of the country far behind? 

His post-Thanksgiving jaunt through a store had him looking for pies and kibitzing with food samplers.  (Did he skip dessert on the holiday?)

It turns out he’s far from alone in having big eyes for wholesale club food, where it often looks bountiful—and where shoppers know the retailers push themselves and suppliers hard on matters of food safety.

Costco, for instance, has a food-safety staff of 27 under R. Craig Wilson, vp-food safety and quality assurance.  All managers at its 600+ clubs take a food-training course every three years.  All hourly food-handlers are certified in food safety annually through Costco’s online instruction.  All buyers are certified in food safety by an internal Costco program, schedule audits with all new vendors, and strive to audit every food vendor annually, though they haven’t attained that level yet, describes Food Safety magazine.  

Moreover, the chain’s quality assurance arm analyzes food samples against buyers’ specifications.  Wilson told Food Safety that when Costco pathogen tests, it uses “polymerase chain reaction technology all the way through….Our ground beef operation [in Tracy, CA] produces about half a million pounds of ground beef a day, both raw and cooked.  We can effectively collect and analyze data on the microbiological quality of every single grind.”  According to The New York Times, Costco began to test beef trimmings for E.coli before grinding after a 1998 incident in which a woman was sickened by its hamburger meat and a recall ensued.

By 2012, slaughterhouse suppliers to Sam’s Club and Walmart had to comply with stricter beef safety measures imposed by the retail giant; non-slaughterhouse suppliers had to comply by 2011.  New process-control rules went beyond established requirements for ground-beef suppliers to test for E.coli and to be prevention-certified against a Global Food Safety Initiative standard.

Customer confidence can pay off:  food reportedly accounts for 21% of sales, and fresh food for 13% of sales at Costco.  And its visual impact is undeniable.

Meanwhile, a Deloitte study shows 79% of CPG and retail executives surveyed expect wholesale clubs to increase their number of food SKUs over the next three years.