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The retail curmudgeon agrees with top retailer’s ranking

costco avocados
Mexican avocados at Costco.

I feel the need to prove, if only to myself, that I am not entirely a retail curmudgeon.

So I can point with satisfaction to the Forbes Halo 100—the companies in America that customers hold in the highest regard. At the top of the list is Costco BB #:150902, of which I am a great fan.

I have always been impressed by the quality and range of their products. It’s true that if I see a set of wineglasses, I should pick it up immediately, because it may not be there next time.

That in fact was my thinking when I scored a Le Creuset Dutch oven for a price that was, if not cheap, better than I could have gotten elsewhere. So what if I had to hide it for four months to give to my wife as a Christmas present?

It is also the place where if, like George Costanza in one Seinfeld episode, I wanted to eat a block of cheese the size of my head, I could supply my urges.

Produce is not a strong suit for Costco. The selection is limited, and the big-box sizes, especially for perishables, are more of an impediment to purchase for my family than they are in many departments.

Sure, I can buy dishwasher detergent or paper towels and stash them away; they won’t go bad. The only limitation is space (although it probably keeps some urban purchasers away).

But even with a family of four, I can’t be sure that five pounds of apples are going to last to the point where they will all be eaten. (I suppose I should put them in egg cartons)

During a visit this week, I saw a mesh bag of six avocados. This is not exactly a truckload, but the last time I bought the same quantity, one had gone bad, and one had gone very close to bad by the time we got around to eating them.

This time, I contented myself with 2 pounds of assorted small tomatoes (the “Wild Wonders” brand), which I am confident our appetites can handle.

But I remain a great admirer of Costco and use it for everything from prescriptions to eye exams and contact lenses.

I am also pleased by the fact that Costco has a high reputation for the way it treats its employees, both in pay and in other respects.

Yes, it makes a difference to me. There are large retail chains who have the opposite reputation, and I will not patronize them. (Names will not be named.) Conceivably I am not the only person in the U.S. who feels this way.

The other 99 winners on the Halo List offer some other insights. Of the top five, two were retail groceries: Publix and Trader Joe’s. If you count Costco, that is three out of the five top slots.

Other retail groceries on the list: H-E-B (19); Stater Bros (35); Sprouts (49); WinCo (75); and Kroger (86).

Of e-commerce sites, Amazon made it to 42.

I think it’s important to think of these things in relation to current anxieties about the survival of retail grocery. A huge number of consumers have great affection for certain stores, whether they are big-box stores like Costco or conventional supermarkets such as H-E-B and Kroger.

I personally believe that this fact points to future survival, even prosperity, for retail grocers who know what they’re doing.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.