- Costco and Trader Joe’s both have their devotees.
- Both stores sell groceries and have their own in-house brands that help keep prices down.
- Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand and Trader Joe’s namesake brand are almost always cheaper than regular name brands products because they get cut out middlemen in the supply chain that can drive up costs by buying goods directly from the supplier.
- We tested five products from Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand and five from the Trader Joe’s brand to see which was the better private label.
- Trader Joe’s won almost every time.
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Trader Joe’s and Costco have more in common than people think.
Though the warehouse store sells everything from jewellery to clothes, it also has a large grocery section and sells dozens of products under its own in-house label, Kirkland Signature.
With 488 stores across the US, Trader Joe’s is primarily a grocery chain, but it also has its own private label.
Both Trader Joe’s and Costco get certain products directly from suppliers and rebrand products under their own in-house labels. This move cuts out middlemen in the supply chain that can drive up prices. As a result, these products are often of the same quality – or higher – than name-brand products, but are generally much cheaper.
When we compared the shopping experience of both stores, the grocery chain came out on top. But for this comparison, we put products from both in-house brands in five head-to-heads to see which brand was superior. We compared peanut butter pretzels, popcorn, animal crackers, granola, and almonds.
The products from Trader Joe’s were naturally cheaper because Costco sells its merchandise almost exclusively in bulk. For this reason, we did not include prices in this comparison, as Trader Joe’s was cheaper in every instance.
With the exception of two comparisons, Trader Joe’s was the superior brand, when it came to taste.
Here’s was our experience:
We started with Costco. We ordered a bunch of Kirkland Signature products that would be easy to match with products from Trader Joe’s. The food we ordered came in massive boxes.
Our order consisted of popcorn, peanut butter pretzels, animal crackers, granola, and almonds.
Next, we stopped by a Manhattan Trader Joe’s to find products comparable to the ones we got from Costco.
Luckily, we found items that were extremely similar to the ones we had found at Costco. Our shopping complete, we commenced with the tasting, starting with pretzels.
1. PEANUT BUTTER PRETZELS — Both Costco and Trader Joe’s offer their own version of the famed salty snack.
We opened the packages excited to dig in. We noticed right away that both brands had given their own unique twist to the snack. The Trader Joe’s pretzels were more rectangular while the Kirkland Signature ones looked like small puffy squares.
This difference in shape affected the taste. The Trader Joe’s pretzel had a thinner pretzel shell, which made for a favourable peanut butter-to-pretzel ratio. Plus the peanut butter was extraordinarily creamy.
WINNER: Trader Joe’s — The rectangular pretzels were the perfect blend of crunchy and creamy. The snack was everything we could have hoped for and the clear winner over Costco’s brand.
2. POPCORN — The Trader Joe’s we visited didn’t sell microwavable popcorn, so we opted for the pre-popped bag of movie theatre popcorn instead.
Once the Kirkland Signature popcorn was fully popped, we opened both bags to check out the difference.
Unsurprisingly, the Kirkland Signature popcorn tasted fresher. But the Trader Joe’s brand tasted saltier and genuinely like popcorn we would get at a movie theatre.
Unrelated, but we loved the design of the Trader Joe’s bag, which was definitely more exciting than the brown paper bag of the Kirkland Signature popcorn.
WINNER: Trader Joe’s — The Trader Joe’s popcorn won by a long shot because of its superior taste and accurate representation of popcorn you’d eat at a movie theatre.
3. ANIMAL CRACKERS — This iconic snack is one of our favourites, so it was was very exciting to buy two whole tubs of them.
The crackers clearly had a different design. The Trader Joe’s crackers looked like the name-brand animal crackers we had grown up with.
The Kirkland animal crackers looked different as if the animal design had been pressed into the cookies with a stamp.
The Trader Joe’s animal crackers tasted exactly like the name brand ones we had grown up with, which was nice. But the Kirkland Signature crackers were infused with a mouth-watering vanilla flavour, which made the taste unforgettable.
We also tested both cookies in some soy milk and found that the Kirkland Signature cookies absorbed the liquid better overall, making for a richer taste.
WINNER: Kirkland Signature — From taste to milk absorbency, the Costco brand had the superior animal cracker.
4. ALMONDS — For both brands, we picked out almonds that were dry roasted and salted.
Except for a slight difference in colour, the almonds looked pretty similar.
The Trader Joe’s almonds had just the right amount of salt and were perfectly roasted. The Kirkland almonds were a little too smokey for our taste and seemed over-roasted.
WINNER: Trader Joe’s — Once again, the grocery chain came out on top with its craveable almonds that had the perfect amount of saltiness.
5. GRANOLA — We couldn’t find bags of granola that were identical. We went with Trader Joe’s fruit and seed granola and the Kirkland Nature’s Path granola with almonds.
Both came in similar packaging — the Kirkland bag was obviously slightly larger.
The Trader Joe’s granola was extraordinarily crunchy and had an interesting mix of ingredients including coconut, cranberry, and seeds — there weren’t any oats in the granola at all.
The Kirkland granola was more “classic,” and also had interesting ingredients like spelt, quinoa, and amaranth.
WINNER: Kirkland Signature — The Costco brand wasn’t too sweet and boasted great flavours with interesting ingredients. The Trader Joe’s granola, though unique, could simply not compete.
With the exception of the animal crackers and granola, the Trader Joe’s products were superior to the Kirkland brand overall.
Costco might the best place to get your items in bulk, but when it comes to the taste and quality of in-house labels, Trader Joe’s came out on top.
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