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Costco ditches grass-fed beef, so I get my protein from tentacles

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Update (3/14/13): Thanks very much to commenters Denise, John, and Jeremy (see comments section below) for sharing what they've learned by looking into this issue. In an email from Costco, Denise was told that "The organic ground beef is NOT 100% grass fed and is not labeled as such. The majority of the animals that are utilized for the program are exclusively grass fed but some of the animals are finished on organic grain. This is true and consistent throughout the US." Check out the comments for details.


When I signed up for my Costco membership, I was thrilled to see that my local store carried 100% grass-fed ground beef at a price considerably lower than the co-op at which I usually buy meat. I recently noticed that, in the section where I had normally picked up the packages of grass-fed beef, Costco was now offering "Organic Ground Beef." This beef is USDA Organic, with no added antibiotics or growth hormones, but nowhere on the package does it say anything about grass-fed, so I must assume that the cows are not grass-fed. (*see update below)

I contacted Costco via their website to express my disappointment and ask whether there was any possibility that the 100% grass-fed ground beef might return to stores. I received this reply:

We appreciate you taking the time to email Costco Wholesale.
Our buyers occasionally review the possibility of re-introducing products.  I will forward your e-mail to them so they are aware of your interest, as we value our member's input.


If you are a Costco member and are also interested in seeing 100% grass-fed ground beef return to stores, call or email Costco.

Does your Costco carry grass-fed ground beef? Has it, like South Seattle, switched over to "Organic"? Let me know in the comments.


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While I walked around Costco, looking at the massive amounts of the foods I used to love but no longer lug into my cart, I thought about how different my diet has become over the last few years. As a child, when I would agree to eat at all, I would only eat macaroni with butter or the stuff from the blue box, and later I grew to like Top Ramen. Costco's aisles are replete with juvenile indulgences: half an aisle offers dozens of different candy brands, including my recently-kicked addiction, Hi-Chew.

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After today's Costco visit, I swung by Uwajimaya, the amazing grocery store in Seattle's International District, to pick up some chicken feet for making broth. Last month, I had been looking for organic chicken feet at the farmer's market, but nobody had them. So I decided to check Uwajimaya.

I made my way to the meat section through the back of the store, and without meaning to, I acquired an armload of stuff, much of which I can't find at my usual grocery stores: kombu (edible seaweed), $2.99/lb;  wild sockeye for $8.99/lb; a bit of octopus, $18.99/lb; frozen squid, $5.49/lb.

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Eventually, I found the meat counter. When I asked about chicken feet, the man behind the counter brought out a huge bin. I could have as many as I wanted. Price: $1.99/lb. I wanted a lot.

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When I arrived in Seattle, I was a vegetarian. Even when I started eating paleo, I wasn't thinking about chicken feet. They feel like little hands. They'll make a good, gelatinous broth.

Although Costco offers competitive prices on some of my dietary staples, like canned salmon and tuna, these items are carried by Costco because of their popularity. I don't know the first thing about how seafood pricing works, but I do know that some species of salmon in the Pacific Northwest are in decline, and the tuna population is under even more pressure. I try to eat fish almost every day if I can, because I digest the fats in fish more easily than any other animal fats, and eating fish just makes me feel all-around awesome. But drawing from populations under pressure is not only costly, but taxing upon our environment.

Looking at the massive case of frozen seafood at Uwajimaya, I realized that there is an alternative to cutting back on salmon and tuna: there are varieties in that case about which I know nothing, and many are more affordable than my favorite varieties. Squid is not as high in omega-3 fats as wild caught salmon, but it does have some, and the squid populations are not currently in danger. NOAA's FishWatch site provides information about which populations are overfished and which are thriving. Other good choices include Pacific sardines, Atlantic sea scallops, Pacific halibut, and Atlantic herring. Check the site for more.

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While I'm happy about Uwajimaya's prices and the prospect of incorporating more sustainable seafood into my diet, what excited me most about the shopping trip was leaving the store with almost nothing I had ever bought before. I definitely didn't know what to do with squid, octopus, or kombu, but I was going to have to figure it out, and there's nothing wrong with that. I didn't have any grass-fed ground beef, but I didn't care.

I compiled a list of some potentially paleo-friendly Costco items and added a few to the list today. Visit that post to see the list.

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Tagged in: Costco groceries paleo

Comments

  • Isla McKetta Friday, 28 December 2012

    Thanks for the great information, Elissa. One of my plans for 2013 is to consider my diet much, much more carefully and you've given me a lot to think about.

  • Elissa Friday, 28 December 2012

    Sounds great, Isla. Luckily, 2013 is a great time to eat with consideration--there's such an abundance of information out there that it's easier than ever to eat well, especially in our fair city of Seattle, where we have such nutritional riches available. Let me know if you ever want to talk about food! (Or books! Or writing!)

  • Alina Saturday, 29 December 2012

    This is some fantastic information. I'm glad to know that there's a way to identify and avoid eating declining fish populations. Matt is heavily into diet, and loves making stock, so the chicken feet particularly piqued his interest. Great post, Z!

  • Elissa Sunday, 30 December 2012

    Awesome, Z! I just got another 3 lbs of chicken feet today at another Asian grocer in Seattle, Viet-Wah, which is even more awesome than the other one I went to. I'm going to have to drink up all the stock so I can make some more.

  • John Monday, 04 February 2013

    Coscto Organic Beef comes from Australia , Canada and the USA. The beef from Australia is 100% Grass Fed and the Canadian and USA Beef is 50% Grass Fed and the other 50% is grain finished. I too was trying to find out when I found this from the Costco Connection from May 2012. I love this beef. http://www.costcoconnection.com/connection/201205?pg=107#pg107

  • Elissa Monday, 04 February 2013

    Thanks for this update, John--fantastic information.

  • John Monday, 04 February 2013

    Here is a link to the company that supplies the Costco Organic Beef - From what I can see - it seems its all grass fed now. Not sure why they do not label it that way if it is now. http://www.verdefarms.com/resources/faq.php :)

  • Elissa Thursday, 07 February 2013

    John, thank you so much for sharing the results of your research! This is really helpful.

  • Jeremy Sunday, 10 February 2013

    I contacted verde farms and they confirmed that the meat that they supply to Costco is 100% grassfed and grass finished. I asked since the most recent thing was from last year(the May 2012 article)after someone said they contacted Verde for updated information.

  • Elissa Sunday, 10 February 2013

    Thanks, Jeremy! It's so great of you guys to share the work you've done to find out the whole story here.

  • Sara Tuesday, 05 March 2013

    Jeremy and John, thanks for sharing this information. I noticed on the Verde Farms site you linked to that it says "Verde Farms provides the raw material for the Kirkland Signature organic ground beef sold at Costco." Do you think the term 'raw material' means anything was added to the beef? I'm so skeptical of 'green labeling' things that I might be overthinking this!

  • Denise Wednesday, 13 March 2013

    That assumes that Costco only has one US supplier. When you go to Verde's website and search "where to buy" it only shows east coast Costcos. I'm on the west coast. I too will contact Costco directly (they are headquartered here in Washington state) to inquire whether they are 100% grass-fed (meaning grass-finished). Thanks all you have saved me a lot of groundwork.

  • Denise Thursday, 14 March 2013

    The reply I got back from Costco today (3/14/2013) is copied and pasted below:

    "service@contactcostco.com

    7:41 AM (1 hour ago)

    Dear Denise,

    We appreciate you taking the time to email Costco Wholesale.

    The following information was received back regarding this inquiry:

    The organic ground beef is NOT 100% grass fed and is not labeled as such. The majority of the animals that are utilized for the program are exclusively grass fed but some of the animals are finished on organic grain. This is true and consistent throughout the US.

    Thank you,

    Jon T
    Costco Wholesale Corporation"

  • Carlena Peightal Sunday, 06 October 2013

    Good work, keep it up!

  • colleen Harmon Thursday, 21 November 2013

    Any info on whole beef? Pot roasts, tips. steaks.
    I'm trying to find out what's up with that from Costco. ...
    Thank you

  • Susan Hobbs Saturday, 21 December 2013

    I asked the Costco butcher in Spokane (Division Street store) if the organic ground beef (as pictured above) was indeed 'grass-fed'. He said YES, it is grass fed and that he'd let his suppliers know their signage ought to indicate this. I asked "are you sure, because the packaging could be intentionally misleading with the greenery", and he assured me it was grass fed. He was going to suggest that they at least change the signs adjacent the organic ground beef so as not to miss the market. He said he sells $9,000 per week out of that section.

    Duped again it seems.. Sigh..

  • giada Friday, 21 March 2014

    I would love to have the grass fed beef
    In long Island they only have the Organic one.

  • Moe Wednesday, 26 March 2014

    Just thought I would add the reply I received:

    "Dear Sir/Madam,

    We appreciate you taking the time to email Costco Wholesale.

    While some of the cattle for the organic beef are grass fed until slaughter, there are some that are grain fed (All organic). There are no hormones or antibiotics and the cattle come from Uruguay, Canada and the US.

    Thank you,

    Ernesto R
    Member Service Center
    Costco Wholesale Corporation"

  • Richard Wednesday, 08 October 2014

    FYI: Costco.com sells 100% Grass Fed Organic Ground Beef (85/15), however, there is large price differential from the Organic Ground Beef available in my local warehouse here in Colorado. A month or so ago I bought 40 lbs. of grass-fed online because we hadn't found the organic in store; that is until this past weekend. I bought the grass-fed online, on sale for $10 per pound, incl. shipping (regularly $12 per pound incl. shipping), and this past weekend there was organic in the store, but for half the price I paid, i.e., $5 per pound.
    I was somewhat flummoxed by the price difference at first, but after researching the issue learned what your readers have already figured out. I just thought you and your readers might like to know that Costco does carry 100% grass-fed, but only online (in Colorado anyway), and at a price.
    We love the quality and taste and consider it worthwhile. As a side note, since dramatically changing our diet for the better we have found the food we buy is much more expensive than that purchased previously, however, the higher quality (less processed) foods go further in that we eat much less of it.

  • Elissa Wednesday, 08 October 2014

    Thanks for the update, Richard. I allowed my Costco membership to lapse but am going to go back soon to rejoin, so I will check my store to see whether we have the same situation in Seattle.

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