15 Essential Things to Know Before Buying Fruits and Vegetables at Costco

As a savvy shopper and retail industry expert, I‘ve learned that buying produce in bulk can be a great way to save money and encourage healthier eating habits. However, it‘s important to go in with a strategy to ensure you‘re getting the best quality, value, and variety. In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll share 15 insider tips for making the most of your next trip to Costco‘s produce section.

1. Costco‘s produce is exceptionally fresh and high-quality.

One of the biggest concerns people have about buying fruits and vegetables in bulk is freshness. However, Costco has an excellent reputation in this department. "We have extremely high standards and only stock the freshest, highest-grade produce," says Miguel Gonzales, a produce manager at a Los Angeles Costco. "Shipments arrive daily and we cull anything that‘s not up to par."

Costco‘s quality control team carefully inspects each pallet of incoming fruits and veggies, checking for things like proper temperature, color, firmness, and blemishes. They also have strict food safety protocols in place, including regular facility audits and employee training on proper handling practices.

2. You can save big on organic options.

If you prefer to buy organic produce for health or environmental reasons, Costco is a great place to stock up and save. According to a price comparison by Consumer Reports, Costco‘s organic fruits and vegetables cost an average of 13% less than at other grocery stores. Here are a few examples of the savings:

Item Costco (Organic) Whole Foods (Organic) Savings
Strawberries (1 lb) $3.99 $5.49 27%
Baby spinach (1 lb) $4.49 $5.99 25%
Baby carrots (2 lb) $2.79 $3.49 20%
Honeycrisp apples (3 lb) $8.99 $11.97 25%

Of course, prices may vary by location and season, but in general, Costco offers some of the most competitive deals on organic produce. Just be sure to look for the USDA Organic seal to ensure the item is certified organic and grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

3. Bulk quantities offer unbeatable value per unit.

One of the biggest advantages of shopping at Costco is the cost savings that come with buying in larger quantities. While not everyone needs 5 pounds of carrots or 10 pounds of potatoes at once, it‘s hard to beat the per-unit price. Here‘s a quick comparison:

Item Costco Kroger Savings
Bananas (per lb) $0.49 $0.59 17%
Broccoli (per lb) $1.35 $1.99 32%
Red grapes (per lb) $2.29 $2.99 23%

For larger families, those who cook and juice often, or anyone who wants to save money in the long run, buying produce in bulk can really pay off. Just be realistic about how much you can consume before it spoils (more on storage tips later).

4. The selection varies by season and region.

Like most grocery stores, Costco‘s produce department has a seasonal ebb and flow. While you can count on finding staples like bananas, apples, and baby carrots year-round, other items rotate in and out based on growing seasons and regional availability.

"We work closely with our suppliers to source the best quality product at the best time," says Jeff Lyons, SVP of Fresh Foods at Costco. "That means you might see California-grown grapes in the summer, then Chilean grapes in the winter."

Some seasonal specialties to look out for:

  • Spring: Artichokes, asparagus, peas, strawberries
  • Summer: Cherries, corn, figs, peaches, watermelon
  • Fall: Apples, butternut squash, pears, pomegranates, pumpkin
  • Winter: Clementines, kale, mandarin oranges, sweet potatoes

5. It pays to have a plan and stick to your list.

One pitfall of buying produce at Costco is the temptation to overbuy, thanks to the big displays and great deals. However, food waste is a major problem in the U.S., with the average family of four tossing over $1,500 worth of food per year.

To avoid having to throw away spoiled produce, it‘s important to go in with a plan. Take inventory of what you already have, make a list of what you need, and stick to it once you‘re in the store. Consider meal planning for the week ahead and only buying what you know you can reasonably consume before it goes bad.

If you do end up with more than you can eat, consider preserving the extras by freezing, canning, or dehydrating. Many fruits and vegetables maintain their nutritional value when frozen and will last for several months. You can also look into donating surplus food to local food banks or community fridges.

6. Certain items have a longer shelf life than others.

When it comes to produce, not all fruits and vegetables are created equal in terms of durability. Some items are more delicate and quick to spoil, while others can last for weeks or even months with proper storage.

As a general rule, hardier vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, garlic, onions, parsnips, potatoes, and winter squash tend to last longer than delicate leafy greens or soft fruits. Apples, citrus fruits, and melons also have a relatively long shelf life.

On the flip side, more perishable items include:

  • Berries
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Mushrooms
  • Leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula)
  • Fresh herbs
  • Pre-cut fruits and veggies

For the best quality and value, try to prioritize eating these items first and save the longer-lasting ones for later in the week.

7. Proper storage is essential to maximize freshness.

To get the most mileage out of your Costco produce haul, you‘ll need to store each item under optimal conditions. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Store fruits and vegetables separately. Many fruits give off ethylene gas which can cause vegetables to spoil faster.
  • Keep potatoes, onions, and garlic in a cool, dark, dry place (like a pantry) but not in the fridge.
  • Store apples, berries, grapes, and citrus fruits in the fridge.
  • Refrigerate leafy greens and herbs in a sealed container with a damp paper towel to maintain crispness.
  • Leave refrigerated produce unwashed until ready to use to avoid premature spoilage.
  • Freeze any extras that you won‘t be able to eat in time. Most fruits and veggies can be frozen raw or blanched first.

If you‘re not sure whether a particular fruit or vegetable should be refrigerated, ask a Costco employee or consult this handy produce storage guide from Real Simple.

8. You can find great deals on unique or lesser-known items.

Part of the fun of shopping at Costco is discovering new or unique fruits and veggies that you might not see at a regular grocery store. Depending on the season and location, you might come across things like:

  • Dragon fruit
  • Jackfruit
  • Romanesco broccoli
  • Purple sweet potatoes
  • Cotton Candy grapes
  • Watermelon radishes
  • Colored baby carrots
  • Broccolini
  • Meyer lemons

These specialty items are often cheaper at Costco than at other stores due to the bulk pricing. Don‘t be afraid to try something new – you might just find a new favorite! And if you‘re not sure how to prepare or use a particular fruit or vegetable, ask a produce employee for suggestions or look up recipes online.

9. The frozen and canned sections offer convenient, nutrient-rich options.

Fresh produce is great, but don‘t overlook Costco‘s selection of frozen fruits and veggies. They‘re picked at peak ripeness and flash-frozen to lock in nutrients and flavor, making them a convenient and healthy option. Studies have shown that frozen produce can be just as nutritious (if not more so) than fresh.

Costco‘s frozen food section features a wide variety of organic and conventional fruits and veggies, from staples like peas and spinach to more unique finds like dragon fruit smoothie packs and riced cauliflower. You can stock up and keep them on hand for quick and easy meals or sides.

Similarly, canned fruits and veggies can be a smart choice for certain recipes or when fresh options are limited. Look for no-sugar-added fruits and low-sodium veggies to avoid unhealthy additives. Canned tomatoes, beans, pumpkin, and fruit packed in 100% juice are all nutritious pantry staples to have on hand.

10. Keep an eye out for price changes and markdowns.

Like most retailers, Costco‘s prices fluctuate based on factors like seasonality, supply and demand, and supplier costs. Savvy shoppers know to keep an eye out for price changes and markdowns in the produce section.

"We‘re always working to secure the best possible prices for our members, so if we‘re able to negotiate a better deal with our suppliers, we pass those savings along," says Lyons. "You might see prices drop on certain items from week to week, especially if there‘s a surplus crop or promotion going on."

You can also sometimes find great deals on ripe or overstock produce that‘s been marked down for quick sale. These items are still perfectly good to eat but need to be consumed soon. If you have the time and flexibility to use them up, you can save even more.

11. Some organic produce is grown on Costco‘s own farms.

In recent years, Costco has expanded its organic offerings and even started growing some of its own organic produce. In 2019, the company announced that it had purchased a stake in several large-scale organic farms in order to have more control over the supply chain and pricing.

"Our goal is to control the entire process from seed to delivery, thereby ensuring the highest quality produce for our members and the best value," says Lyons. "We‘re able to cut out the middleman and pass those savings along."

Currently, Costco grows a variety of organic fruits and veggies including tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, squash, and leafy greens at its partner farms in California and Mexico. The company says it plans to expand its organic farming operations in the future to meet growing demand.

12. You can get expert advice and recommendations from Costco employees.

If you‘re overwhelmed by the selection or not sure which fruits and veggies to choose, don‘t hesitate to ask a Costco employee for advice. The produce department staff are knowledgeable and happy to share their expertise.

"I always recommend that members talk to us if they have questions or need suggestions," says Gonzales. "We know which items are the freshest, which ones are a particularly good deal that week, and how to pick the best specimens. We can also give tips on storage and preparation."

Some Costco locations even offer free recipe cards or cooking demos featuring seasonal produce. Don‘t be shy about striking up a conversation or asking for recommendations – that‘s what the employees are there for!

13. Costco has a generous return policy if you‘re ever unsatisfied.

One of the biggest perks of being a Costco member is the company‘s famously lenient return policy. If you‘re ever unsatisfied with a produce purchase or find that an item is spoiled or damaged, you can bring it back for a full refund – no questions asked.

"We stand behind the quality of our products 100%," says Lyons. "If something doesn‘t meet your expectations, we‘ll make it right."

This guarantee helps take the risk out of trying new items or buying perishables in bulk. Of course, it‘s always best to inspect your produce carefully before purchasing and store it properly to avoid issues in the first place.

14. Buying Costco produce supports sustainability and social responsibility.

In addition to offering great value and variety, buying produce at Costco can also support important environmental and social causes. The company has made major strides in recent years to improve sustainability, reduce waste, and support ethical labor practices in its supply chain.

For example, Costco has committed to reducing its carbon footprint by investing in renewable energy, improving energy efficiency, and reducing food waste. The company has also pledged to eliminate the use of toxic pesticides and increase its organic offerings.

On the social responsibility front, Costco has implemented strict ethical sourcing standards for its suppliers, including fair labor practices, safe working conditions, and no child or forced labor. The company also invests in local communities through charitable giving and partnerships with organizations like the United Way and Children‘s Miracle Network Hospitals.

By supporting Costco with your produce purchases, you can feel good about contributing to a company that values sustainability, ethical practices, and giving back.

15. With a little planning and know-how, buying Costco produce is a smart choice.

As you can see, there are plenty of great reasons to make Costco your go-to spot for fruits and veggies. From the unbeatable prices and quality to the wide selection and convenience, Costco‘s produce section has a lot to offer.

Of course, buying in bulk does require a bit of strategy and planning to avoid food waste and maximize freshness. But with the tips and insights in this guide, you‘ll be well-equipped to navigate the produce aisle like a pro.

Remember to go in with a list, store items properly, and don‘t be afraid to try new things or ask for advice. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy all the delicious and nutritious fruits and veggies that Costco has to offer!