Saturday, December 3, 2016

Trust Me: You Want My Kids to Taste Your Food

Dear Costco,
   I love you. But sometimes love hurts. Back when I lived in New York, there were no Costco stores in reasonable driving distance, so I just reveled in the stories of your awesomeness, awaiting the day I could trade in my memberships at BJ's Wholesale and Sam's Club for what was always proclaimed to be the ultimate of wholesale club stores.
   Then we moved here to Virginia, and you were just two minutes down the road from the rest of my regular grocery stops. The day toward the end of our Sam's Club membership that we strolled in your doors to see if things were all they were cracked up to be(thus warranting the switch), you did not disappoint. We made the switch and it was love. Deep, true love. You have the usual conveniences, random odds and ends on killer sales, extra perks, obscenely large stuffed bears at the holidays that make my kids scream with delight, and the $1,200 tree house on display that gave my kids the audacity to ask their grandparents on a Skype session if they have the money to buy them a tree house for Christmas, because Mama and Daddy said we do not. You also have the largest assortment of wholesome, organic, American-produced, high end food products in mass quantity of any store I've been to. You're my kind of place, Costco. You make my mom-of-many hippy heart sing.... and spend at least $600 inside your walls every month.

   Until you made it cry. Well, maybe not cry. Cringe? Bite my tongue to bleeding? See here's the thing. I'll eat anything. Even if it tastes awful, I can choke something down if I know it's good for me. My husband and our plethora of children, though? They lack this gift of dietary discernment. They need their tongues delighted- or at the very least compromised with- to get things down the hatch. Going to Costco every other Friday is an adventure for them. Lucky for you, I homeschool so we're there bright and early, the whole lot of us, for our biweekly grocery trips(and often one or two extra throughout the month as well), so you get us all, sans the husband who works his tail of to feed this herd of cuties. They love all the cool new things they're sure to see, and they love putting enormous packages of their favorite things like dried nori(seaweed), clementine oranges, buckets of unsalted cashews, and my go-to convenience grabs like organic veggie potstickers and spinach ravioli into our piled-up cart. The added bonus is when we're running a little behind our typical 'soon's the doors be open' schedule, and ya'll have had a chance to set up some of the sample kiosks. I cannot tell you how many times we've been suckered in to buying things that never would have ordinarily made it to our list simply because ya'll gave me and the nuggets some nibbles and they approved. Like the $15 pack of salmon burgers that are now a staple on our list. Our crowd of seven marched up to your sample counter, we each tried a bite, and now there's always a bag in the freezer. Never would I have thought to try them, the half-gallons of organic salsa we buy multiples of, or the Asiago cheese we now love and buy by the huge brick, and many others that are now mainstays in our cupboards unless we'd had a taste at your fine establishment.
   I also wouldn't have spent $14 on a box of chocolates without trying one when we were there yesterday. Speaking of yesterday, Yeah. Ouch. Did ya'll change your sample policy recently? We saw no sign- we would've noticed. We're homeschoolers. Ahead of the curve. Even our infants can read. Half joking... - but when my passel o' kidlets approached the lady with the tiny, halved macaroons in the cooler section yesterday, she looked my kids over with such obvious disdain in her face, and with a voice dripping with literal disgust said, "Are these ALL yours?!" I get rude comments about my family size often, though rarely with such nastiness, so I responded with my usual broad smile and friendly, "They sure are!" Disgusted Woman then looked down at my 8-year-old who was staring into the cups. He has Autism. Weird things trigger him. No doubt he looks 100% "normal" to others, but see, he can't eat the color green. Not joking. So he stood on his tippy toes, hands by his sides, and looked over the edge of each paper cup until he came to a pink one, and chose that. The woman quickly barked at him, "YOU TAKE THE FIRST ONE!" I recoiled, grabbed my babies(10 years or 7 months, doesn't matter. They're all my babies) closest to her by the shoulders, and we hurried away with our piled-high cart before my kiddo with Autism was triggered into a sensory tantrum by the nasty treatment at such a volume. Yes, Ma'am, I'm sure those three halves of a cookie we took before running away from you broke Costco's bank. I see why you're so defensive of your sample cups.
   Several aisles over we passed a woman sampling spinach ravioli. I wasn't going to stop, but my kids asked if they could try this kind to see if they liked it better than the brand we currently get from Costco each trip. I agreed. Immediately, when I reached for a cup, my offspring crowded around me and my cart, the woman glared at them and snapped at me, "Are they all with you?" OH MY GRAVY, WHAT GIVES, YA'LL?! Again, I gave my reply, though it was admittedly less dripping-with-sweetness than minutes earlier when I gave it. She continued to stare down my children and I, so I pointedly stood in front of her display and used a tiny fork-ish thing to split one ravioli between myself and the four children who want to taste it. They loved it, and declared it was better than the usual brand we get there! Sadly, we didn't buy any. I'd had enough of the nasties from your sample ladies for one day, Costco. I got out as fast as I could. I came home and told my husband about the adventure, and he promptly pulled up all our Costco transactions from the last year on our bank account. $6,500, Costco. That's how much just our one family has spent inside your walls this past year. My husband also pointed out that our cards give us 5% cash back on all purchases at wholesale stores.... Oh, except yours. You don't participate. We have the money to spend and more, but because we are wise with our money almost every way possible in order to keep this large family financially secure, 5% makes Sam's and BJ's look better and better. When we're treated badly in an establishment over the size of our family, it makes your glorious offerings quite tarnished and no longer look worth it. My family comes first, and my budget feeds us. We're but one family. Families our size and larger spend so much more at your stores nationwide, and are what keep you in business! Cooking for my crowd is tough, so when my kids taste your food samples and approve, you've made a consumer for life. Or at least the next 18 years. So maybe think about that when you're training your sample ladies. Or maybe just tell them to be decent human beings to every customer, regardless of age or family size.

12-5-16 Edit: After requesting my contact in response to posting this(yes, it was a real letter I sent to corporate Costco!), I received a telephone call from Bill, the assistant General Manager at the location where I shopped. He firstly thanked me for writing about my experience and apologized for the negativity, and secondly, he agreed that every person of every age should be trying the samples. That's the point! Try it and buy it! Thirdly, he confirmed what a friend told me: The ladies handing out samples are not in fact Costco employees, but contractors from Club Demonstration Services, or CDS. He said he forwarded all the information to Reggie, their on-site CDS manager, and was going to make sure that the demo personnel were all on the same page as Costco: Everyone of all ages should be treated respectfully, and everyone deserves a sample regardless of age. High-five for following up on even the little things, Costco, and being so responsive to your customers. Now about that 5% cash back thing....