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Costco shoppers shifting away from specific item; CFO says it’s indicator of recession


(NEXSTAR) – Costco’s shoppers were less often choosing to purchase beef or steaks from the stores’ meat departments in recent months — a trend indicative of a recession or at least “concern” for a recession, according to CFO Richard Galanti.

Galanti, speaking with investors in a third-quarter earnings call last week, said more shoppers were choosing less expensive cuts of meat instead.

“Historically, we’ve always seen, like within fresh protein, we’ve always seen when there’s a recession, whether it was ’99, ’00 or ’08, ’09, ’10, we would see some sales penetration shift from beef to poultry and pork,” Galanti said in a third-quarter earnings call last week. “We’ve seen some of that now.”

He also said he had heard from a fellow executive that Costco was seeing “some switch even to some canned products, like canned chicken and canned tuna and things like that.”

Products from Kirkland Signature — Costco’s private label — were also seeing increased interest over name-brand items, Galanti said.

Galanti’s remarks came in response to a question about the company’s “softer” numbers on fresh food sales, though Galanti claimed those sales, albeit “weaker” than in previous quarters, “have been fine” overall.

He instead said the company’s recent dip in average daily transactions (down 4.2% worldwide, 3.5% in the U.S.) was attributable to fewer customers making big-ticket purchases, like home furnishings or electronics, than during the “two years of outsized growth” Costco saw during the pandemic.

Despite the drop in large discretionary purchases, Costco’s sales of big-ticket items were still “better” than competitors, he claimed.

“Our negative is not as negative as others out there,” he told investors and analysts.

A representative of Costco did not return a request for further comment on the prices or buying habits at the meat counter in 2023.

Costco’s observations likely don’t come as any surprise to economists. The fluctuating prices of meat, in particular, have been the subject of analysis since the early days of the pandemic. After initial rise in prices, the cost of beef had actually dropped a bit by the late summer of 2022, in part due to reduced demand for premium cuts. But even when prices had leveled off, the rising cost of other grocery items may have continued to deter shoppers from their usual beef-purchasing habits.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture also warned of a low cattle inventory for 2023 — the lowest in 61 years — caused in part by drought and smaller returns on investment, Nexstar’s KDVR reported in February.

“It’s probably going to get more expensive,” Curt Werner, a Colorado rancher who spoke with KDVR, said of beef prices. “The concern now is how with inflation in all areas being as high as it is where people quit eating beef on a large scale.”

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