Costco's Hot Dog Combo Is Under Scrutiny, Courtesy of Sam's Club
The Costco hot dog is more than just meat and spices stuffed into a casing—it's the stuff of legend.
An enduring symbol of Costco's professed commitment to value, the beefy food court frank, paired with a fountain drink, still costs just $1.50, not a penny more than it did in the 1980s. That price has remained constant despite decades of inflation, let alone the fact that Costco actually loses money on the things. The cheap bite is more of an incentive to attract and retain customers than anything.
The company ethos is so wrapped up in keeping the hot dog price steady that in 2018 one of Costco's founders reportedly told CEO Craig Jelinek: "If you raise the [price of the] effing hot dog, I will kill you."
To be sure: Jelinek has kept the price, his life, and his job intact. During the company's recent shareholders meeting, he said the growing warehouse chain sold 157 million hot dog combos last year.
Rather than raising the price, Jelinek is probably more tempted to lower it now that rival Sam Club's has done the same. Last November, Sam's Club dropped its own hot dog combo to $1.38, a move clearly aimed at undercutting Costco.
The rivalry between the two hot dog sellers ratcheted up yet again this week following a high-profile review of both franks by The Los Angeles Times.
In the review, food columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson determined that the rival wieners "tasted virtually identical" but found the selection of toppings and soft drinks is "superior" at Sam's Club—a verdict that "almost hurts," noted the writer, a longtime Costco member.
The review ignited a furious debate online between partisans of both sides, not just about the hot dogs and soda selection, but which warehouse club is superior overall.
One commenter on a Sam's Club-focused Reddit thread argued that the Walmart-owned club's hot dog wins in a pure "taste comparison," prompting another to reply, "You take that back!" Added yet another, "Unpopular opinion, both suck."
Meanwhile, on a Costco-themed thread, which racked up over 265 comments, the debate shifted beyond hot dogs to other snacks and store-wide issues like cleanliness, organization, and technology.
"I can get out of Sam's faster than Costco [a]nytime because I don't have to checkout. I scan and go in my phone," one writer noted. "Costco is better in almost every way, except for tech," added another.
"I was surprised at some of the things Sam's offered," wrote another Redditor. "Their chip selection beats the crap out of Costco's, both big bags and boxed small bags. Costco offers like 2 or 3 small bag chip varieties, whereas Sam's club has like 10-15 varieties. But the warehouses themselves definitely feel more trash than Costco's."
Others took issue with the dig about Sam's tidiness. One even suggested that Costco could learn a few things about proper order from its rival. "I really appreciate the [a]isles were labeled," one wrote. "At Costco there's no labels and you have to figure out where that things are and yeah after five visit you get used to it but it's a pain."
To which, a Costco devotee retorted: "[Sam's] aisles could be gold plated or some shit and i still wouldnt touch em."
Some questioned whether all the club-based tribalism on display smacked of elitism. "Lots of people here think they are better than 'Walmart shoppers,'" one noted.
"It's so laughable to me how snobbish people get on this sub about a warehouse club," wrote another. "The difference in Sam's and Costco ain't as wide as you want to believe."