Costco's samples are a big draw for its loyal customers and they've been sorely missed since the coronavirus pandemic prevented the store from handing them out. Now, some devoted Costco shoppers have started to spot samples — or, rather, a "new-normal" version of samples — in some stores. Last week, one Instagrammer posted a photo of some "dry" samples along with a recipe demo behind plexiglass in the store.
"Great News..Demos R Back!" posted user @costcoguy4u. "A little different than what we are used to but we will take it! It looks like they will be giving out prepackaged dry samples and not on all demos... The new normal," read the caption accompanying a photo of an in-store setup with a finished pasta dish and sauce in a glass case and two ingredients — Garofalo organic spaghetti and Victoria organic marinara sauce — placed in front of the plexiglass.
Costco stopped serving free food samples back in March at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. It's unclear whether Costco will be handing out full-size dry-good items for customers to sample, or how exactly demos and samples will work going forward, but members were mostly frustrated that they were being tempted with tasty-looking food they could not immediately try.
"This does absolutely nothing for me...I want to TASTE or at least smell before I buy," commented one person.
"Whats the point if you cant taste the food," asked another.
"Wait are they letting you take that for free?" another commenter wanted to know.
In July, Jared Plushnick, a meteorologist in Nashville, Tennessee, posted a video on Instagram showing that his Costco was offering dry samples of packaged foods for customers to take.
"So if you're at Costco, you'll see sample booths like this, plastic protected ... and now you take a whole sample like this," he says, grabbing a pack of noodles. "Keeps everybody safe. Wear a mask."
Back in May, Costco said they were working on bringing the popular samples back but that they would no longer be grab-and-go style.
And then in June, Bloomberg reported that some of Costco's 547 U.S. locations had already brought back sampling stations but that many of them were offering demonstrations rather than food samples.
For many devoted customers, the suspension of samples was the thing that brought home the seriousness of coronavirus.
"No free samples at Costco today?! Okay, now this #CoronaVirus has officially gone too far. Make that vaccine already," tweeted one fan of the big-box store back in early March.
Costco management provided this statement to TODAY Food via email: "Club Demonstration Services is in the process of returning to our warehouses around the world. This process will be managed with CDC and local health department guidance in each region where we do business. Based on these guidelines, product demonstrations may look different in different regions."
A Costco store administrator in New Brunswick, New Jersey said no samples of any kind are currently being given out. A store worker in Easton, Ohio said that there were food demos only so that customers could see what a finished recipe looked like. And at the Costco in Tempe, Arizona, individually wrapped items have been given out as samples, but mostly "sundry items" — not food.
EDITOR'S NOTE (Sept. 1, 2020, 12:15 p.m. EST): This article has been updated with Costco's statement.