Paris Blog: A Trip to A French Costco- Wine tasting, caviar, and so much fromage!

It’s been far too long since I posted in the ‘Paris Blog’ section.  When we first moved over here (5 years ago this month!!!), we posted slightly more often.  Now much of what used to be Paris Blog material has just been rolled into my weekly ‘5 Random Things’ posts.  But today I’ve set out to change that, at least for today.  There’s almost no sports tech in this post, so if that’s not your thing, I’d suggest coming back later today for something else.

Two weeks ago Costco opened their first store in France.  This is after years of pushback from some of the major supermarkets here (ones that can rival Walmart in store size).  Costco had been trying to open up in various Paris suburbs, but kept getting shut down.  Well, they eventually succeeded…by building in a cow pasture.  I kid you not, the parking lot is shared with cows.

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The warehouse is just a few kilometers away from Paris Orly airport on the southern side of the city.  For us, it took about 45 minutes to get there by car in normal sucky traffic (Autolib in fact).  That was lovely since the temperature was about 95°F and the Autolib has no air conditioning.  Still, we were happy to arrive.

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First up was getting a membership here.  The membership fee is quite a bit cheaper than the US is these days.  Here it’s 36EUR (about $40) for a standard family or business membership.  That’s the only two kinds of membership they offer here.  Both options get you two cards.  So one for me, and one for The Girl.

The line to get signed up though is about 60-75 minutes long.  It’s not a super-long line, but rather…just non-Americana in its efficiencies.  Still, the employees were very friendly – more so than you usually see in supermarkets here.  One employee noted the line was far worse on the weekends (we went on a Friday).

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After that was done we took a break to get a Costco hot dog.  Yes, they have them here, albeit slightly more expensive than in the US.  In the US the famed Costco hot dog + soda deal is $1.50.  Here it’s €1.99.  No, not €2.00, but €1.99.  You actually get “un centime” back.  But, the hot dog was awesome, though the soda is from behind the counter (no free refills here – shame).

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Honestly, we were just happy there were even hot dogs at all. Friends of ours went the weekend prior and they had run out of hot dogs!  Had that atrocity happened to us, we’d definitely have boycotted Costco…at least for the day. The Girl would have maybe had a small cry for herself, like mourning the loss of an imaginary friend. We had been looking forward to these hot dogs on French soil for a long time now, and the possibility of them being unavailable was a little unnerving!

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With our pre-shopping fueling complete, we broke in our new cards and headed inside.  Like most Costcos, you start off in the TV section.  I haven’t done much TV shopping lately, so I honestly have no idea whether or not these prices are good.  Meanwhile, to the left, you’ve got the random collection of other products that aren’t usually TV related but occasionally seasonal.  This included the GoPro Hero5 Session.  Like in the US, the Costco bundles are usually different than other retailers – as this had a bunch of random accessories with it too – priced at 399EUR.

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From there the general Costco structure is pretty much the same.  Snacks (largely American brands) up front in the middle, though Haribo is here in full force – something that’s usually harder to find in the US (but is totally the norm here in France).

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And then that transitions into a massive clothing section.  They have some brand exclusives here, and in general, the clothing prices are quite good for France.

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On the right side of the store are non-edible things.  So that includes office supplies, home cooking stuff, and general housewares.  Nothing much here excited us.

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We did note that they had a wine bag system, which we don’t suspect will sell well here.  First off – people here don’t let opened wine just sit around for days.  They drink it.  My semi-recent Twitter photo explains this quite well.  Second, wine is so inexpensive here ($4-7 a bottle is perfectly good wine) that being forced to use a bag system with an expensive machine just won’t likely fly.

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They also had various outdoor things like pool floats, as well as plenty of books.

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So let’s dive into some of the more unique things.  First is that the bakery section sells pain au chocolat and croissants by the dozen.  These are really good prices for these, and I could see in the bakery that they were being made there on-site constantly.  A typical pain au chocolat is about 1.20-1.40EUR or so in a Parisian boulangerie.  So a dozen of them for a 2.20EUR is solid; croissants were about double that at Costco.  Of course, we wouldn’t go out there and buy these for a week as they’d likely suck by the end of it – but if you had an event the next day, then that’s totally fine.

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They did sell some Americana bakery goods.  For example, they had the well known Costco muffins, and they also had both hot dog and hamburger buns.  Finding good versions of either in Paris is tough, and in this case the hamburger buns felt quite nice, but the hot dog buns felt and looked like cardboard (which is the norm here).  For a country that otherwise makes some of the best bread in the world, the hot dog bun is elusive (most of the time hot dogs here are stuck inside baguettes using a pokey machine, as seen here in this post).

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For the meat section, it’s very similar to that in the US.  You’ll find US Costco staples like large packages of freshly ground meat, all assortment of steaks, and even ribs.  We didn’t pick up any meat this time around, tough the quality certainly appeared very good.  Getting beef in general is a mixed bag in Paris.  If you go to a local butcher (of which, they are everywhere) – the quality is very good.  But if you just go to your local grocery store, the quality simply isn’t that good (whereas in the US a random grocery store generally has very good quality beef).

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Next, we get into some fun stuff – cheese!  This was probably the one section I was more curious about.  Would they have an epic cheese aisle?  And the answer is…sorta.  By French mega-grocery store standards (i.e. Auchan, E.Leclerc, etc…), Costco doesn’t have much selection.  However, what they make up for in selection they over-achieve in quantity and price.  You’re not just buying a small amount of that given cheese, you’re buying a ton of it (it’s Costco, duh).  And the prices for that are mostly pretty good.

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This 1KG (2.2 pound) wheel of Brie is the size of my outstretched hand, yet only costs 5.99EUR.  That said, most cheese is incredibly inexpensive in France.  A simple rule of thumb when visiting your US Whole Foods or other store which sells imported cheeses is that we’ll pay about 1/5th to 1/10th the cost here in our grocery store.  And our quality will be better, even for the cheapest stuff.

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Before leaving this area, I stumbled on the caviar section.  I have no idea if US Costcos have caviar, nor do I know if this is considered ‘good’ caviar – but I do know they have it here.  Now you know too.

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After departing the caviar, we noticed they had a little rotisserie stand, like in the US.  We picked up one for dinner, which set us back 5.99EUR.

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We headed towards the fruits and vegetables area next.  The prices here for fruits were all very good compared to local prices, especially for the quality.  While in general we pay less for staple vegetables than you would in the US, we tend to pay more for more ‘unique’ fruits/vegetables.  For example, a watermelon can be incredibly expensive in Paris (like $15).  So the grocery stores here sell little personal watermelons, but they tend to suck compared to a more traditional watermelon you’d find in a grocery in the US/Canada.  Blueberries are another example that tend to be more expensive in Paris, but were cheap at Costco.

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From there it was onto the wine section.  There were not one, but two different wine tasting sample tables.  In fact, it would be my first sample station of the day.  And my second station.  Maybe my third too…but never mind that.

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Yes, they were taste testing a 60EUR bottle of wine below (Stags Leap Artemis – 2014).  Though, this is a rare example of a wine that costs more in France than in the US, since it’s imported from the US.  But still, the point is they were taste testing a 60EUR bottle of wine in Costco.

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After sampling some French wines, I actually sampled a Washington State wine.  Not only is Costco from Washington State, but so am I.  Go figure.  And the guy doing the sampling even knew some basic facts about it too, including which side of the mountains it was on (an important detail to know in Washington State).

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In the event you want to buy some larger bottles – they had that too.  These bottles of Moët would only set you back a mere 1,479EUR ($1,685USD).

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The prices for the higher-end wines were mostly pretty good compared to other local prices.  Running a bakery, we’re a bit lucky in that we can also pick up wine/etc at a major restaurant supply chain/store of sorts, so we compared to those prices as well and in general Costco beat everybody in costs.  I didn’t compare every label, but just a few that we often buy or regions that we often stick to.  I put a bunch more random photos in the gallery below.

After the wine section,  there was the vast frozen food section.  Since we knew our non-air conditioned Autolib might make for a messy journey home, we didn’t pick up much frozen food (we have cooler bags we brought with us, but those only do so much on a 95°F day).  Looking at all the frozen stuff, it was relatively similar to that of the US.  Though, I did notice frozen crepes were here.

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After that, it was into the dry foods area.  Most of this was pretty similar to what you’d find in the US.  Less selection on cereals, but some core ones, and one variant of Cheerios (they don’t sell Cheerios in Paris anywhere that we know of).

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And then finally on to the pharmacy/baby/etc section.  Diapers were of interest here, and looking at Pampers for example, the prices were basically identical to Amazon.fr.  For example, this 76-pack of Size 5 was 26EUR at Costco and a 72-pack is 25EUR on Amazon.fr.

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At that point, I noticed you can even buy a few nights at a Chateau at Costco.  Yes, for real, again.

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After that, it was off to check-out!  The lines were quick and efficient, but then again – it was relatively quiet in there on this Friday afternoon.

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What is of note though is that unlike the US which restricts which credit cards you can use – here you can use any credit card type you want.  Or cash or check.

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Also, as is common here, they have a delivery service you can utilize as well, for 39EUR.  This is handy if you took public transit and didn’t have a way to get it all home.

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With that we headed out to the exit where they quickly checked our receipt/cart and then off to the car we went to pack up our goods:

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We didn’t really buy a ton there, since like most people living in central Paris we don’t have a ton of fridge/anything space.  But in many ways Costco isn’t really targeting us in Paris.  They’re targeting people in the suburbs with far more space and home sizes more akin to that in the US.

So we will certainly make the trek out there every once in a while, especially for a party or something – but it’s definitely going to be less frequent.  Perhaps every 2 months or so, and we’d probably keep a running list going.

Now, somehow I took 171 photos at Costco, which probably explains why my phone ran out of battery on the way home.  Since I didn’t use all those photos up above, I’ve put the non-fuzzy ones into a gigantic gallery below.  I tried to include the prices since that’s what I expect most are interested in comparing – though sometimes I missed them.

With that – enjoy – and thanks for reading!

P.S. – Don’t forget to check out other Paris Blog posts, such as the famed Bastille Day celebrations at the Eiffel Tower (coming up this Friday), the man-made summer beaches of Paris – also starting this weekend, and what it’s like House Hunting in Paris.

P.P.S – No, this post is not paid for by Costco, nor do I even know anyone that works at Costco.  As an American living in Paris, like virtually every other American living in Paris – we’re just all really excited about Costco opening up.  And for those Americans back in the States, I figured you’d get a kick out of some of the more unique items here.

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32 Comments

  1. jan

    Ray,
    did you not get into trouble taking photographs, especially with prices included?
    A high-end restaurant supply chain in Belgium made me delete every picture with prices in it, when I was scouting for a school-parent-party…
    Cheers!

  2. Daniel

    Wow, Costco seems big. But large supermarches are not uncommon in France, so im curious how they will develop their future business in France. Here in Germany WalMart popped up several years ago with big expectations and closed their business some years after entering the german market. Let´s see…

    What im interessted in, is the autolib. Whats your oppinion about it? Does it work for you in a cost / availabiliy aspect?

    • Autolib works well in the city, but it was honestly a horrible choice for this trip. We should have used Zipcar as the cost structure is better for that 2-4 hour range.

      Autolib is great for going between points in the city, it’s awesome and cheap. You can drop-off and pick-up whereever you want. But once you go more than about 90 minutes it gets pretty expensive.

      Whereas Zipcar has to be brought back to its same little ‘home parking spot’, so it’s ideal for longer trips where you come back to home, as the billing rate is only 6EUR an hour for most cars we use, and eventually that tops out at about 50EUR a day. So I used that to go out to the TdF or other events, plus, it has more storage and has A/C.

      Here’s an older post I did on the Autolib: link to dcrainmaker.com

  3. Pete

    Greetings from Australia, where Costco membership is ~AUD60 annually.
    Can you explain the credit card situation of US Costcos? Restricting which cards you can use..?

    • Until last summer they only accepted AMEX, as they had a partnership with them. Then they switched to Visa (but dropped Amex), which was a pretty big deal. They also accepted debit cards as well as checks. But most Americans really want to earn reward points, so they’d be using a credit card with it.

      Fwiw, here’s a bit more history on it: link to mybanktracker.com

    • Robert

      They used to do the same in Canada – restrict you to the credit card they had a deal with, which was AmEx forever, then MCard more recently – but they dropped the restriction a few years ago.

  4. Rob

    I know I shouldn’t judge, but I find this both sad and disturbing. Costco is killing small business in my community. I do see the appeal though – they have quality goods at unbeatable prices. Just a sad statement of what people now expect in a retail experience – dining indoors on a concrete floor with harsh lighting (but I suppose you have the patio umbrellas for that) with your cart full of loot to look at.

    Rob

    • It’s actually interesting for us – I don’t suspect it’l impact our support of local stores here in Paris. That’s largely because it’s too far away from us to make it routine.

      And also because the things we buy locally are the higher quality stuff. For example, as much as I might want that much cheese – I don’t have any need for that much cheese (aside from the Annual DCR Party). And in the case of the annual DCR party we actually just buy about 2/3rds the stuff from the restaurant supply store, and the rest from local vendors here (to round out some more interesting options).

      Things that we plan to buy there are more mundane – like diapers, toilet paper, maybe some frozen foods or large fruits that just aren’t priced well locally (or even available). For example I picked up one of those large seedless watermelons. I can’t even buy that at my local Tues/Thurs/Sat farmers market if I wanted to. It’s simply not there.

      Now, I think in the US it’d be different. Or if we happen to live on the other side of that cow pasture, then we’d probably more buy more meats/etc from it.

    • Bikeman

      Here in the US, Costco pays their employees well and has excellent benefits. Local companies, not so much.

    • The Real Bob

      This is what is missed alot by costco. I get the disdain for “big box stores”, I can’t even go into a walmart without feeling, icky.

      But costco treats and pays there employees really well. The stores are always clean and organized and the employees are almost always nice. Probably the two best chains (large chains anyways) that truly treat their employees well are costco and Chic fil a.

  5. “But, the hot dog was awesome, though the soda is from behind the counter (no free refills here – shame).”

    Is that Costco’s choice, or due to a difference in regulations?

    • It’s just a local thing. For example, at 5 Guys (yes, we have it – including the largest 5 Guys on planet earth), they use those fancy Coca Cola vending machine things with the touch screen. But…and this is really interesting…each cup has a RFID tag on the bottom of it. You can only use the cup once. If you try and use it again – it won’d dispense.

      When you flip over the cup, you’ll see the little RFID tag sitting there on the bottom. Subway here locally has also switched to requiring a small token to get your drink out. You’ve got 20 seconds from when you start till it ends.

    • John Winters

      Actually this is now the law in France as subway have stopped free refills as well.

  6. Chris

    How’s your French Ray? Are you speaking and reading in French throughout the store (guy serving wine, signup for Costco Card)?

    • As always, depends on the topic. I can generally read most French just fine. I can also understand most conversations. I’m less comfortable speaking, since my job never really required me to speak in French (and I never went to the local office).

      But for things at Costco, since it’s mostly food related – I’m usually good. So the wine guy I chatted in French. The sign-up lady quickly switched to English when she realized we were Americans…mostly because she had grown up in the US, so it might have been easier for her in English.

  7. Kyle Demerath

    This may seem an odd question but did you see any of the big paper towel or toilet paper bundles there like you would see in American stores. Something like this
    link to m.costco.com

    Or this

    https://m.costco.com/Bounty-Advanced-Select-A-Size-White-12-Rolls–117-Sheets.product.100283865.html

    for instance?

    • I’m 99% sure I saw it. We bought a massive package of napkins like those there. But commented that we should have bought the toiler paper one too…since we then ran out the next day. Sigh.

  8. Brian

    Ray regarding hot dogs in Europe you should try Denmark at some point. The hot dog is almost a national food we also have the pokey hot dog know as a french hot dog here. I’m pretty sure Americans will look at this hot dog as an abomination using ketchup, remoulade(mayo based condiment), mustard, onions(several kinds) and sliced pickles.

    • I can totally understand the toppings, I won’t discriminate there (because let’s be honest, outside the classic – some Americans put some pretty funky stuff on theirs too).

      But the bun to meat ratio is off. :)

  9. Gary

    Ketchup on a hot dog???? Faux pas?

  10. Anonimouse

    You should be ashamed of yourself for putting catsup on a hot dog!

  11. M

    I remember reading somewhere that the rotisserie chickens are a loss leader in the US, but I stopped buying them after I kept getting birds with broken wing bones. Hope they’re treating the animals better over there, cause those things are delicious.

  12. Scott E

    Hint: the Costco croissants are a great for freezing and thaw like they were fresh. That said, seriously, I’d take a fresh croissant from one of the many Paris boulangerie because, well, Paris is ground zero, right? Think Pierre Hermé. Understandably there is a cost differential, but come on, a quick jog or bike ride from your place and there are some choice options. But I digress and probably being a bit obsessive thinking about some of your past Paris postings of fabulous food……Cheers

  13. How to buy a Costco rotisserie chicken: Since the chickens are sold by the unit and not the weight, pick the one that has the breast touching the plastic cover or looks like it barely fits in the container, this one will have the most meat. It can make a difference in weight by over 270 grams.

  14. Heather Jacobs

    Hi Ray! Thank you so much for this post! You say you don’t know anyone who works at Costco – well now you do! I’m a recent transplant to Seattle (BEST CITY IN THE US!!) and I just started working for Costco when I heard they were trying to open warehouses in France. I even attended the pre-opening event as an employee – but didn’t have a chance to take many photos or make detailed observations. Now that I’m back home, I want to write a little article for our Redmond store employee newsletter. I googled “Costco France Hot Dog” and your post came up. It’s so great! You are so thorough and informative, and I love your “American in France” perspective. I look forward to reading some of your other posts, as well. Cheers!

  15. Bob Hayssen

    Seattle best city

    That was a joke, right?

  16. John Winters

    Thanks for a really informative blog and all the pictures. We are doing a house sit in Paris in a couple of weeks and we used costco in the UK a lot. This will save us a trip to the UK which is always a bonus for us. We visited costco in seville and madrid during trips to Spain recently and the goods are pretty much the same. I just wish they would open one in south west France.

  17. Tracy Dillon

    Taking my daughter back to Paris for college in August. Does anyone know if I can use my US Costco card at the French Costco. It would come in handy for large quantities of toilet paper for poor college students! I would hate to go all the way out there just to be turned away.

    • I’m not sure if they’re valid across countries. My bet though is a quick e-mail to either Costco France or Costco US would resolve that (personally I’d suggest e-mailing Costco France, since I suspect the accuracy of the answer would be higher). Or maybe e-mail both. ;)

      Failing that, even for 36EUR, I’m sure your daughter and her friends might use it a couple times over the course of the year.

  18. Dave

    Great post. Do you know if they would honor my US Costco card that is still valid, or do I need to buy a French one? Thanks.