The Costco Report: Eating My (Cheesy) Words

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

I received some criticism for yesterday’s post – some silly (“Why do you even shop at Costco?”), and some quite fair (“Maybe it’s uneconomic for smaller local dairies to supply Costco.”). I like to think that I can take it as well as I can dish it out and, while I sometimes like to play rough, I also like to play fair, so here’s my mea culpa de fromage: While I may decry my inability to source local cheeses from the Santa Rosa Costco, and while I may now have to drive further and pay more to procure some of my favorite products as a result, that is not necessarily any fault of the Big C.

Case-in-point: I just got off the phone with Linda, the delightful and very helpful national account manager over at Fiscalini Cheese, the producer of what I believe to be one of America’s finest cheddars as well as an exceptional smoked mozzarella (try it on pizza with spicy sausage and caramelized onions – outrageous), who took time out of her morning to set me straight on a few things:

  • Fiscalini often chooses, of their own accord, to restrict distribution to Costco due to capacity constraints and Fiscalini’s need to maintain a diversified distribution base.
  • Costco has always respected Fiscalini’s position and, when supply contracts have been negotiated, the economics have been fair and reasonable.

I also got to speak with Ken, the CEO of Redwood Hill (home to one of my favorite goat’s milk cheddars, which happens to be downright revelatory in my Custard Style Mac-N-Cheese, as well as a fantastic Camembert-style cheese called Camellia), who explained that their situation is a little different:

  • Their foray into the Costco cheese aisle was only ever intended to be a “pilot” program (Costco apparently does quite a bit of this “rotation”, by design). Ken also emphasized that the program was a great success in terms of sales, that Redwood Hill had the capacity to keep delivering, but when the program ended (after 3 months), that was simply that.
  • He also told me that he found the negotiation of the original deal to be fair and that he hoped to be on-board for another program in 2011, and at which point I’ll be stocking up on that ethereal goat’s milk cheddar.

Finally – if for no other reason than because I’d prefer not to be printing retractions all day long – I also rang the lovely Leah at Point Reyes Cheese (producer of what, with its salty tang and pitch-perfect balance between crumbly and creamy, has become my go-to bleu for salads and dressings) who again had a slightly different experience:

  • Point Reyes maintains a supply contract with Costco, has the capacity (and desire) to deliver whatever Costco orders, but remains at the mercy of Costco purchasing, and Costco purchasing has historically viewed the Point Reyes produce as a “seasonal specialty item” for the holidays.

I remain in mourning for their absence (yes, I know where I can buy all those cheeses, but I like to buy good local products and I like to be efficient about it), and I sincerely wish that Costco would procure a bit more from my local faves, but I still have to credit them for doing it at all, and I certainly have to admit that my implicit characterization of the big, bad retailer abandoning the small, downtrodden supplier simply wasn’t fair. There, I said it.

Author: Proximal.Kitchen

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  1. For what it’s worth . . . A little more digging turned up that fact that Leah, who apparently works as a receptionist but not a PR person, for Point Reyes Farmstead, was technically inaccurate: Costco does not in fact buy any cheese from Point Reyes directly, but rather works with a distributor that sells them the Point Reyes line.

  2. @smurf – indeed, I filled out a comment card with that very request.
    @Joe – from my perspective, it’s got far less to do with carbon footprint per se, and much more to do with the simple fact that I happen to love the stuff that we produce right here in this county, and it doesn’t hurt that I like to drink wine with it, you know, “if it grows together, it goes together” (and it’s hardly an exclusive – I enthusiastically purchase all sorts of cheese – and wine – from all over the world). That being said, the local dairies I mention – Fiscalini in particular – are very conscientious with respect to environmental and animal welfare issues, but really that wasn’t my point.

  3. I don’t know why the big push for local cheese. It is shipped on ships and rail both extremely efficient means of transportation. Rail brags that they can ship a ton of freight “cheese” with a gallon of fuel. I love getting cheese from around the world and not just Sonoma County. The cheese you buy from elsewhere is local somewhere.

  4. Did you talk with Costco about reversing the “holiday” rating for the cheese you like? Perhaps they will change it and carry it year round if enough people call and ask?

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