Years back, retailers got wise to the ways of store brands. You know the drill: Grocers stock their shelves with food items packaged just for them, from pasta sauces to pinto beans. For most, gone are the days of those products signaling to customers that yes, they’re less expensive than national brands -- and less tasty. I’m looking at you, old-school A&P with your Ann Page line of goods. Rest in peace.
Even warehouse clubs are mastering the game, none better than Costco with its Kirkland Signature line, which includes traditional grocery-list staples as well as non-traditional items such as clothing and luggage. In fact, high marks from readers on the quality of Costco’s store brands helped the bulk retailer place sixth in Consumer Reports’ supermarkets ratings, behind Market Basket, Fareway, Trader Joe’s, Publix and, the No. 1 chain, Wegmans.
Costco has turned on its head the notion that a store brand is a notch below a national brand by using its coast-to-coast strength to strong-arm suppliers to put quality as well as value into its Kirkland Signature offerings. We took a closer look at 10 Kirkland Signature products getting accolades from customers and critics. You should check them out, too.
1. Kirkland Bacon
Consumer Reports actually ran a “bacon test program” and saved Costco’s bacon, so to speak. The respected publisher and product tester awarded its highest score, based on flavor and texture, to the Kirkland Signature brand of regular sliced bacon. In Consumer Reports’ own words, the sliced bacon you can find at Costco “crisped up nicely, with a balance of fat and meat flavors, complemented by wood smoke and a hint of sweetness.”
Oscar Mayer’s thick-cut bacon finished a distant second in testing.
2. Kirkland Batteries
We’ve long recommended buying batteries in bulk at warehouse clubs for the simple reason that you’ll pay a lot less per battery than you would buying smaller packages at supermarkets or drugstores. You’ll save even more at Costco if you opt for its store-branded batteries. While the Kirkland Signature AA Alkaline batteries tested by Consumer Reports didn’t beat out Duracell or Rayovac on quality alone, Costco batteries did earn the coveted “Best Buy” rating, which is based on a combination of quality and value.
3. Kirkland Beer
Yup, beer. And beer aimed right at my sweet spot: light. None of those fancy craft beers. Kirkland Signature Light Beer is your basic watery light, with a hint of plain ol’ light beer taste, without Bud Light’s off-putting (in my opinion) aftertaste. We’ve seen it at very nice prices in 30- and 48-packs. Yes, please.
In fairness, Kirkland’s heartier handcrafted ales rate higher on BeerAdvocate.com, but I’ll stand by the light stuff.
4. Kirkland Coffee
Consumer Reports plugs Kirkland Signature Colombian Supremo whole bean coffee as a “Best Buy,” noting the medium-dark roast has a chocolate edge, with a “hint of dried fruit and some burnt notes.” The review went on to say that the coffee is “moderately bitter” (a good thing) despite exhibiting “a trace of woodiness” (a bad thing, apparently). They already lost me at bitter.
A handful of Colombian coffees scored much higher on taste, including a couple of coffee lines from Whole Foods, but none could compete with Kirkland’s price.
5. Kirkland Ice Cream
At $11 for two half-gallons, it’s a bit pricey in my world considering you can usually find a leading ice cream brand such as Breyers on sale at the supermarket for a lot less. Coupons can bring down the supermarket price even more. (Costco doesn’t accept manufacturers’ coupons.) Still, Costco’s Kirkland Signature Super Premium Vanilla Ice Cream earned a “Best Buy” rating from Consumer Reports, which called it “full and dense with big dairy flavor and complex vanilla-extract flavor,” though “sometimes slightly gummy.”
Vanilla ice creams from Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs scored far higher than Kirkland’s, based on flavor and texture, but you’ll shell out a lot more for both of those brands. Further proof that you get what you pay for: Even though you can find it cheaper, Breyers scored much lower than Kirkland in taste testing.
6. Kirkland Golf Balls
Golfers got giddy over Costco’s new line of golf balls, so much that they sold out, were restocked – and sold out again right before Christmas. What’s the what? Kirkland Signature Four-Piece Urethane Cover Golf Balls are getting compared by the pros to the vaunted Pro V1 golf balls from Titleist, according to Golf Digest.
As of the first week of January, Costco’s hot new line was still listed as out of stock on Costco’s website. When you can find them, the balls come 24 to a pack, selling for $30. Dick’s Sporting Goods is selling a 12-pack of last season’s Titleist Pro V1 golf balls for $40.
7. Kirkland Greek Yogurt
Sour cream notes and slightly chalky texture,” opined Consumer Reports in its comparison of Kirkland Signature Greek Yogurt (plain, nonfat) to like brands, and noted it was the “best tasting nonfat.” It landed a “Best Buy” label. Fage scored higher than Kirkland on taste, but you’ll pay nearly twice the price for the brand-name yogurt.
If you’re a Walmart shopper, the big-box retailer’s Great Value Greek Yogurt trailed Kirkland yogurt only slightly in both taste and cost.
8. Kirkland Olive Oil
Costco’s olive oil rises to the top, notes the University of California, Davis, which conducted a chemical and sensory study of olive oils. Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil was one of only a few imported oils that met international and U.S. standards for extra virgin olive oil. The many brands that fell short in the testing were diluted with cheaper oils and exhibited problems with quality and flavor.
9. Kirkland Salmon
I’ll put it up front: While I eat no fish or seafood (or much meat, for that matter), friends and family swear by the freshness, taste and bargain price (compared to Whole Foods and elsewhere) of Kirkland Signature Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon. The fillets come individually wrapped, and a three-pound package of salmon runs about $29. A recent check found wild caught Coho salmon fillets selling for $17 a pound at a Whole Foods in Northern Virginia.
10. Kirkland Vodka
Wine snobs are already familiar with Kirkland Signature wines, but spirits snobs might still be in the dark about Costco’s store-brand booze. Costco isn’t allowed to sell liquor in all its stores; many states limit the warehouse club to beer and wine. But some states do give the green light to Costco selling liquor, and its vodka is a hands-down winner, raves Bon Appetit.
I stumbled upon Kirkland Signature Vodka while shopping at a Costco on Florida’s Gulf Coast last fall. Not that I’m so into vodka, but I do know good from bad. Kirkland’s vodka ranks up there with my American fav, Tito’s.