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Costco Shortages in the Age of the Coronavirus

The arrival of the coronavirus has transformed the Costco shopping experience. Once upon a time, Costco was a convenient place to shop for food and household goods. And, if I visited a store with a familiar layout early enough in the day, I could be in-and-out quickly.

Those days are officially over. Just getting into the store could require an extended wait. With Santa Clara County’s new order that imposed customer capacity limits and a six-feet social distancing requirement when waiting in line, the back of the queue came close to curling out of the parking lot.

Once inside, items that were once in abundance now have strict purchase limits. I’ve seen what happens when someone attempts to buy more units than permitted. The item is flagged at the cash register, and the customer cannot purchase the extra unit.

I’ve also seen Costco reduce the item limits. A few weeks ago, customers could still purchase 2 packages of toilet paper, paper towels, water, Clorox wipes and rice. Now, those limits have been reduced to one per customer. These limits also apply to milk, eggs, and fresh chicken. At first, I didn’t understand why people would be suddenly eating more eggs and drinking more milk. However, now I understand it.

If the adults are working at home and the kids are home from school, that’s a lot more mouths to feed. You might have noticed the same in your household if the food in the refrigerator no longer lasts the week.

Wang Noodles

I first discovered Wang fresh noodles at 99 Ranch Market. The noodles come in three varieties, udon (thick), knife-cut (flat), and somen (thin). My favorite are the thicker udon or knife-cut noodles. Now, 99 Ranch is not exactly the Asian Whole Foods.


So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Korean supermarkets (i.e., Galleria and Hankook) were selling this same brand of noodles for less. Much less. $2.99 instead of $5.39. I would expect that supermarkets would have a 10-15% price difference on certain items, but for 99 Ranch, of all places, to charge 80% more was quite shocking!


Ever since I discovered this, I have been checking noodle prices every time and this price disparity is quite consistent.

Trident Gum

How can you teach math in a way that is relatable to young children? One approach is to look for math lessons within their daily lives. Our lesson was a study in the economics of chewing gum. Target sells a pack of Trident gum for 97¢. The Target website doesn’t show the price for Trident gum, but Google Shopping Express reports a price of $1.12 per pack. (Interesting!)

Costco sells Trident gum for 73¢ per pack, but you need to shell out for a 10-count box. Out of curiosity, I stopped by a Safeway, which was selling it for $1.49 per pack. Yikes! That’s more than double the Costco price. But, the Safeway website has it currently at 99¢ per pack for a limited time with a Safeway Club card.

Shopping at Costco is so much easier because you don’t have to think whether you are grossly overpaying for an item.

Three Twins Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream at Costco

When worlds collide, it could be an epic disaster or the best of both worlds. In this case, a brand of ice cream that I occasionally buy shows up at Costco. Three 32-oz containers of Three Twins Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream for $10.99. That’s $3.66 for each delicious container of sweet ice cream.


Unfortunately, when I went back the following week, it was out of stock. I hope this will be a permanent item.

Safeway v. Costco: King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls

I rarely set foot inside Safeway. However, I had to replenish the supplies of King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls before breakfast one morning. And, Costco does not open until 10:00 A.M. So, Safeway it was.


For the most part, Costco’s game is to sell in bulk. Now, if Safeway and Costco were selling the same quantity of the same item, would there be a significant price difference? 24 Hawaiian sweet rolls for $5.99 at Safeway, but only $4.49 at Costco. 25% cheaper, which probably explains why I go months between Safeway visits.


Zojirushi NL-AAC18 Micom Rice Cooker

The Amazon Mobile iPhone App is a great way to “trust, but verify.” I spotted the Zojirushi NL-AAC18 for “sale” at 99 Ranch Market, with an enticing $30.00 off label. However, just because a product is selling for less than the MSRP, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bargain if everyone else is selling for less.


So, I opened the Amazon Mobile app and scanned the bar code, which revealed a $217.49 price with a $50.51 savings. Not sure how these have different list prices. So much for how bricks and mortar cannot compete with Amazon.


Lifeway Kefir

We love Lifeway Kefir. Costco sells a 12-8 fl. oz. package for $9.99 or $0.104 per ounce.


The question is whether a 12-8 fluid ounce package of kefir would cost less per ounce than a single 32 fluid ounce bottle of kefir.


If a retailer was selling a single 8 fl. oz. bottle of kefir, I’m pretty sure that the 32 fl. oz. bottle of kefir would be cheaper per ounce. Likewise, a single 96 fl. oz. bottle of kefir would probably be cheaper than a single 32 fl. oz. bottle of kefir. However, would 12 8 fl. oz bottles of kefir be cheaper per ounce than a single 32 fl. oz bottle?

I picked up a 32 fl. oz. bottle of Lifeway kefir from Milk Pail in Mountain View, CA for $3.99. The per ounce cost is $0.125.

So, a lot of small bottles purchased together costs less than one larger bottle, despite all the extra packaging.

Michielan Gelato

Our local Costco has started stocking pistachio gelato. I’m pretty sure that it is a permanent item because I’ve seen it in the warehouse for a few weeks now. The first time I saw it, I bought two containers because I wasn’t sure if it would be there the following week. Some items, like the much beloved pog, I’ve only seen once in the warehouse.

Anyways, the gelato comes from Italy, and sells for $9.99 per 2.2 lbs container.



The pistachio gelato is absolutely delicious, if you like pistachios. Costco also carries a lemon sorbet and mango sorbet by Michielan as well. However, without the cream (and accompanying calories), the sorbet just lacks the indulgence that gelato offers.

March Farmers Market

During the winter, the selection at the local Farmers Market is pretty slim. One vendor was selling gorgeous flowers.

However, in terms of food, all I saw was the basic staples: potatoes, onions, and carrots.

I picked up some fresh brussel sprouts and beets. I am looking for some Gold Nuggets, but my favorite citrus vendor has not been there for a few weeks. Sunkist tells me that availability begins in March. My fingers are crossed.

White Truffle Oil

I spotted a 250 ml bottle of Urbani White Truffle Oil at Costco selling for $14.49. If used judiciously, the bottle can last for quite some time. I ran out several months ago, so I was relieved when Costco finally restocked this item.

I use it mainly for the scrambled eggs, which I add to fried rice. Absolutely delicious.