Why Costco and Trader Joe’s sometimes stop selling your favorite foods

Costco’s strategy of discontinuing products can be frustrating for shoppers. (Gabe Ginsberg/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes

ATLANTA – Chances are, you’ve been there: You go to Trader Joe’s to buy caramel popcorn, churro bites and roasted gorgonzola crackers, or to Costco for its Kirkland Signature mini peanut butter cups and pick-and-bake pizza.

But when you go to the store, your favorite foods are not on the shelves. And, to your horror, you learn that they are not coming back.

They have stopped.

This is one of the most disappointing experiences as a grocery shopper. Why a beloved product has disappeared is one of the most common questions asked by the store. Fans run social media accounts dedicated to tracking discontinued products at Trader Joe’s, and others blog about long-lost items at Costco.

Strategy play

“We understand that it can be disappointing — devastating, even,” Trader Joe’s said in “removed product feedback” contact page for customers.

There are several reasons Trader Joe’s, Costco and other stores suddenly stopped selling customer favorites.

Sometimes the product is seasonal, or the manufacturer always plans to make it for a limited time. Also, for stores like Costco and Trader Joe’s, discontinuing items can strengthen the treasure-like appeal of these stores.

But more often, other strategies are played.

One major factor: It’s hard to get shelf space inside Trader Joe’s and Costco and keep it there. These companies sell a limited number of items – only the products that are most in demand from customers.

It’s a slightly different strategy from supermarkets, as well as Walmart and Amazon, which offer a variety of foods and brands. Costco, for example, sells about 4,000 different products at any one time. Traditional supermarkets usually sell 40,000.

Supplier problem

Both companies’ ability to keep prices below most of their competitors depends on turning over the volume of their best-selling items every minute, every day.

If an item isn’t selling fast on the shelves at Trader Joe’s or gathering dust in a Costco warehouse, the company has to move on to something else that customers will grab.

“If you don’t have high volume or high volume, the cost of producing and handling such a slow-selling product doesn’t make business sense,” Trader Joe’s Vice President of Marketing Matt Sloan said in a previous company podcast. this year.

If I know it’s going to go away, I spend it.

-Angela Ackerman

Other times, it’s the product itself: The company will withdraw the goods if the suppliers raise the price too much or the quality drops.

“Costco would rather not sell something than sell it at too high a price,” said Chuck Howard, assistant professor of marketing at Texas A&M’s Mays Business School. “It would be off-brand for them to sell things that consumers think will be too expensive.”

For example, about five years ago Costco replaced a $27 product, a 10-pound boneless skinless frozen chicken breast from Perdue with a $21.99 version from Wayne Farms, said Marcus Walker, assistant frozen food buyer at Costco from 2005 to 2020.

There are several reasons Trader Joe's, pictured here, in Florida, Miami Beach, and other stores suddenly stopped selling their customers' favorites.
There are several reasons Trader Joe’s, pictured here, in Florida, Miami Beach, and other stores suddenly stopped selling their customers’ favorites. (Photo: Jeff Greenberg/Universal Picture Group/Getty Images)


Cheaper items in other stores are also important to eliminate.

Costco wants its products to be the cheapest option. It attracted Hot Pockets because it couldn’t match Club Sam’s prices on that product, Walker said.

The Costco team buys their supplier’s products at competitor stores and tests them to compare the quality against Costco’s. If they find a better item elsewhere, they’ll ask the supplier to upgrade Costco, Walker said — and if that doesn’t happen, Costco will replace it.

Another problem, highlighted by the pandemic, is the stability of product supply. If the manufacturer cannot produce enough goods, the company will stop selling them and replace them with goods that can remain on the shelves.

In 2020 and 2021, with sky-high demand from customers supplying groceries during the pandemic, manufacturers stopped production of many secondary products in favor of only the highest-demand items. And while demand has eased this year and factories are back on the road at a more normal capacity, manufacturers still aren’t making as many items as they did before the pandemic.

Hormel Foods, maker of Skippy and Spam, and Mondelez, owner of brands like Oreo, are among the companies that recently said they are reducing the number of products they sell to focus on the best performers.

Angela Ackerman, who runs the Instagram account @Costcoguide with more than 230,000 followers, said Costco fans often ask her why they can’t find their special Costco dark chocolate mango.

“They fall in love with something and want to see it again,” she says.

Scarcity can fuel sales, as Ackerman knows. When he saw a notice at Costco that it would no longer sell the prized item, he bought it again before it ran out. “If I know it will be gone, I stock up.”

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