Shoppers who joined Costco with cheap TVs and bulk toilet paper in mind may not have considered all the health-related goods and services available at the warehouse club. Cheapism.com compared prices on a handful of items at Costco, Walmart, a regional supermarket chain in Columbus, Ohio, and online sources. The warehouse club undercuts the competition, sometimes by significant amounts, on products from organic food to medication to insurance. Here's where consumers can find savings to keep the whole family healthy -- even the pets.
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that organic produce is the top seller in the organic food space. Costco meets the demand with an array of fresh fruit, such as organic strawberries, at budget prices. Two pounds of the sweet, tangy orbs go for $6.99 at Costco compared with $9.98 for two 1-pound boxes at the supermarket.
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Demand for organic food products may be outstripping supply, but Costco is well-stocked with large quantities of organic vegetables and undercuts other retailers on price. Spinach, for example, sells for $4.49 a pound at the membership club and $5.99 at a local market.
WHOLESOME CHIPS AND DIP
Healthy snacks for easy after-school nibbling include products such as organic Wholly Guacamole and Food Should Taste Good multigrain chips. Costco sells the dip in a 20-pack of 2-ounce cups for $10.99 (27 cents an ounce) compared with a four-pack of 2-ounce cups for $3.48 (43 cents an ounce) at Walmart. The chips come in a 24-ounce bag for $6.99 (29 cents an ounce) at Costco and a 5.5-ounce bag for $3.49 (63 cents an ounce) at the local supermarket.
Skinny Pop Popcorn, another family favorite, contains 150 calories, 3 grams of fiber, and 75 milligrams of sodium in each serving. Costco charges $4.99 for a 14-ounce bag, the equivalent of 35 cents an ounce, while Walmart's $2.83 price on a 4.4-ounce bag comes out to 64 cents an ounce.
Gluten-free food is all the rage these days, and Costco is a price leader on Udi's, a well-known brand. The price for a 30-ounce loaf at the warehouse club is $7.59 (25 cents an ounce). The same brand in a 24-ounce size sells for $7.94 (33 cents an ounce) at Walmart.
LEAN LUNCH MEATS
Prepare a healthy brown-bag lunch for any member of the family by pairing gluten-free bread with lean, oven-roasted turkey breast. The sliced lunch meat is available at Costco for $6.89 a pound compared with $3.99 for a half pound at the grocery store.
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Almond butter is an excellent source of fiber, protein, and unsaturated fatty acids, and a particularly good snack for people with diabetes. Costco, again, takes the lead on low price. A 27-ounce jar of almond butter costs $9.99, or 37 cents an ounce, at the warehouse club. At Walmart, the per-ounce cost is 58 cents for a 12-ounce jar costing $6.98.
ORGANIC APPLE SLICES
Add a touch of almond butter to pre-sliced organic apples for a healthy grab-and-go snack that will appeal to young and old alike. The apple slices are tagged at $7.99 for eight 4-ounce bags at Costco. Nothing similar was available at either Walmart or the local supermarket.
In a Consumer Reports study conducted in 2013, secret shoppers called 200 pharmacies, including Costco, inquiring about the cost of commonly prescribed medications without insurance. Costco was the cheapest by far. For example, Costco priced the anti-depressant Lexapro at $7 compared with $126 at CVS.
More than a quarter of American adults 40 and older take the cholesterol-lowering medications known as statins, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lipitor, a commonly prescribed statin, cost $17 at Costco and $150 at CVS, the Consumer Reports study found.
Count the number of over-the-counter medications in the medicine cabinet. Then check out the savings to be had at Costco. A 220-tablet bottle of women's One A Day 50+ multivitamins costs $19.99 compared with nearly $24 for a 200-count bottle ordered from Amazon.
Costco offers members living in California, Pennsylvania, and Texas individual and family dental insurance with premiums starting as low as $83.31 a year through a third-party provider. Coverage includes orthodontics, preventive, basic, and major services. Compare this against an average yearly cost of more than $200 for an individual plan, according to the National Association of Dental Plans.
Costco Optical (not available at all locations) can save members money on contacts, glasses, and prescription sunglasses with a current prescription. Many stores also host independent optometrists who conduct exams. Costco charges $130 for high-definition progressive lenses with anti-reflective coating and UV protection, according to Consumer Reports -- about half off the $255 price at Walmart. That said, Costco faces some stiff competition in this category, particularly for consumers with simpler prescriptions. It's possible to buy a pair of single-lens specs from an eyeglasses website for less than $50.
Costco typically provides flu shots to members and non-members alike for $14.99, no insurance required. Last year Sam's Club charged the same price, but consumers had to pay $10 more at Target or Walmart and more than twice as much at Rite Aid, CVS, or Walgreens.
Costco even throws a bone to the family pet: The warehouse club fills more than 150 commonly prescribed medications for dogs and cats. For example, Temaril-P, prescribed for itching and coughing in dogs, could be a daily medication the animal takes for life. The cost is 77 cents a tablet at Costco and 95 cents at 1-800-PetMeds.