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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.
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.
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).
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).
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
They also had various outdoor things like pool floats, as well as plenty of books.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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.
At that point, I noticed you can even buy a few nights at a Chateau at Costco. Yes, for real, again.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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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