Costco Wholesale Corporation, the largest membership-only warehouse club in the United States, and the world’s second-largest retailer, has a solid reputation for worker-friendly policies, including a recent announcement of plans to hike their employees’ minimum wage.
There may be more reasons to like the company, not the least of which is simply the quality of the products that fill their shelves. Nowhere is this more evident than in the category of olive oil, an industry fraught with counterfeits and one especially suspect as marketed by some of Costco’s large competitors and most American supermarket chains.
In a recent On Olive Oil podcast, Olive Oil Times publisher Curtis Cord spoke with Costco buyer Chad Sokol, who handles the commodity and dry grocery buying for the company’s warehouse stores throughout Northern California and many more in Nevada.
Cord began by acknowledging that Costco’s house brand extra virgin olive oil, Kirkland Signature, receives consistently high marks for quality in off the shelf, controlled taste tests and reviews, and he asked Sokol about the warehouses’ buying practices.
For all stores, nationally and internationally, Sokol said, “our Kirkland Signature brand olive oil is purchased and coordinated out of our corporate office” by a team of buyers dedicated to olive oil. The extensive controls in place every step of the way in the oil’s production, from grower to miller to shipper to warehouse, ensure the product is always fresh and of the highest quality.
“We independently test all product at every level and rely on third party audits for all the Kirkland Signature products. We’re very hands-on at Costco. We want to taste, touch, feel every product we sell. We are buyers versus selectors,” Sokol said, and it’s this dedication to the integrity of what they’re selling that is what he believes sets them apart. “What the bottle says it is, it better be that.”
Lending further depth to Costco’s offerings in categories like olive oil is the flexibility provided by the company for regional, market-specific buys that take the whole process up a notch. It’s the ability to tap into and look at the demographics, find small, local producers and offer members one or two additional, high quality, organic, and local products, that sets the company’s offerings apart from competitors.
More and more, Sokol noted, what customers want in his market are quality and health-enhancing items.
The company, once heavily reliant on Italian producers to create their Kirkland Signature, has recently expanded to Greece’s groves as a resource, along with those of growers like California Olive Ranch.
Sokol said he believes that as the public begins to become further educated on the health benefits and complexities of the category of high-quality extra virgin olive oil, as he himself has made a study of, demand for the good stuff will only continue to increase.
“It’s an important category,” he said to Cord, “and we want to be known for it.”