Monday, September 15, 2008

A letter to Costco

Muriel Cooper (
Costco Community Relations & Administration

Dear Ms. Cooper,

I was shopping at Costco's newest location in the Denver area today (4000 River Point Parkway in Sheridan) and was chatting with one of the sample folks about how empty the store was. The employee noted that yes, Mondays are usually quiet there, and while this might be pleasant for me, it also results in a lot of waste because there's a lot of product left unsampled at the end of the day that then must thrown out.

Couldn't it be given to a homeless shelter? I asked. No, I was told, it is Costco's policy that all leftover sample products must be thrown away and may not be given away. This included, as the employee noted for example, six cases of diapers the week before, which might otherwise have been very well-received by a women's shelter.

Now, the employee noted that the sample distributors are not Costco employees themselves, but work for a contractor. So I thought I would write to you to find out if this worker was correct about Costco's policy. Is this a company policy or one decided by the individual stores?

I see from your website that Costco does offer charitable grants. Is it possible for a shelter to seek grants not of money but of leftover samples?

It does seem a shame that unused products, either food or nonperishable items, should be thrown away rather than put to charitable use.

I hope you can shed some light on what Costco's policies are, exactly, in this area, and how an individual, charitable group or community might work with Costco to prevent such waste and help people in need.

Thank you for your response,

Denver, CO


  1. Oh, that's terrible! I can see throwing out a dish of salsa, but...diapers? Can't wait for the response...

  2. Yeah, pretty appalling if it's true. But I didn't want to leap to conclusions about the company's policy based on one contractor's report.

    (Much like McDonald's response to my inquiry about gender stereotyping. No, it's not their policy to have their employees ask if you want a "boy" toy or a "girl" toy with a Happy Meal that comes with a truck or a Barbie. That's a failing of the individual employees.)

    And I note that I really should cut back on my use of "note." So much for careful proofreading!

  3. Aww, you're so good! I think your letter was very nicely written and I think it's awesome that you're taking steps to at least see if they could consider other options. Food, I understand throwing out because if someone gets sick it could be a liability but other items (and food that would be less likely to go bad in a few hours) would be excellent to donate! :-)

  4. I am glad you wrote this, too. If they KNOW it's super slow on Mondays they could maybe not give out samples... this is silly and a waste for people who could really use it. Can't wait to see the reply.

  5. Man, I hate waste! I agree with a previous poster... if it's going to be slow, forgo the samples. Anything non-perishible should be dontated. Good for you for taking a stand!

  6. My guess is they must throw away all food samples but the employee misconstrued it to include _all_ samples... good letter!

  7. I hope you'll let us know what Ms. Cooper's response is.

    And thanks, on behalf of all of us, for doing this.

  8. I dont get the gender thing, how else would they say it...I know I answered myself they could just ask if you want a truck or a barbie...In nYc we can ask because the counter person usually barks at you 'which one you want?"

  9. They give out diapers as samples?

    Any food is always thrown away. Regardless of the store. If you buy any food item and then return it - unopened - for whatever reason, it's trashed. They cannot take on the liability for the conditions you might have subjected it to once it left their premises. So Costco, Sam's, Walmart, Safeway, whatever. Same policy. They won't give it to a shelter for the same reasons. Someone eats it and dies, it becomes their problem.

    It's the way this country works, I guess. It is so different from where I grew up - in Kenya and in India. The shelters are just grateful for any help they get. We had the caterer at our wedding dinner party pack up all the leftovers and give them to a nearby shelter.

    Your Costco has a self-checkout? How cool is that! Our Costco is just so darned crowded that it might even compete with Whole Foods in that respect!

  10. No response yet. I wonder if/when I'll get one.

    I do understand about throwing out certain food items, but considering that places like Starbucks take their expired baked goods to shelters, I'm not sure why something that's fully packaged couldn't be donated. e.g. throw out the bowl of salsa, but donate the three jars that were never opened.

    And yes, the self-checkout surprised me, too. It's a brand-new store, so it's got some bells and whistles the older ones don't have.

  11. That was lovely of you to write her and question the policy. Good for you. It really is a shame if they throw away things like diapers. Not cool.

  12. P.S. I never got an answer to this query (which was emailed to Costco, not just posted here).