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June 1, 2021, 1:19 p.m. EDT

Costco is slowly bringing back food sampling and food court dining

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Tonya Garcia

One more sign that things are slowly returning to normalcy as vaccines roll out: Costco Wholesale Corp.’s popular food sampling is making a comeback.

Paused last March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Costco /zigman2/quotes/201191698/composite COST +1.04% tried different ways to have sampling events in the time since as health guidelines allowed, for instance, offering single-serve cookies or crackers and no cooked items.

But with restrictions easing, the warehouse retailer says the sampling events that members are used to will be an option once again.

“I’m happy to report that over the next couple of weeks, we’re beginning a phased return to full sampling,” said Richard Galanti, chief executive of Costco, on the company’s late Thursday earnings call, according to a FactSet transcript.

About 170 of the company’s 550 U.S. locations will see sampling return during the first week of June with others returning through the end of the month, depending on state-by-state restrictions. Safety protocols like plexiglass dividers and small-batch preparation for closer monitoring will be in place.

Read: Noodles & Co. launches its first ghost kitchen in Chicago

Food court dining is also returning, with seating and tables back by June 7. Costco began moving tables back into warehouse locations a few weeks ago. Customers will find more space between tables and smaller seating capacity due to COVID.

The pandemic also drove a paring down of the food court menu. The company has been bringing back items, with “new and improved” churros available nationwide by July 4 and “high-end” soft ice cream replacing frozen yogurt.

Costco customers may want to load up on those free samples given the impact that inflation and supply chain pressures are having on some items.

“From a supply chain perspective, port delays are continuing to have an impact,” Galanti said.

The company reports a shortage of pallets and containers, causing delays at a time of pent-up consumer demand. Increased freight and transportation costs, and a scarcity of items like oils and chemicals, among other hurdles, are also weighing.

All of these factors are translating into higher prices at the cash register.

“Beef in the last month has been up as much as 20%,” Galanti said.

“Some of that is due to feed and labor and transportation costs,’ he said. There is also greater demand as restaurants start to reopen, “and the list could go on and on.”

See: The price of meat this Memorial Day weekend may force you to reach for the veggie burgers

Also: Brace for economic data to be ‘extremely messy’ for a while, and roughly 2% Treasury yields by year-end, say these market pros

On Tuesday, Walmart Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite WMT +0.22% membership-based warehouse retailer Sam’s Club followed by saying its sampling and demo program, Taste & Tips, was officially relaunching this week. Sam’s Club had also paused its sampling program last March as a result of COVID-19 concerns.

/zigman2/quotes/201191698/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 429.72
+4.44 +1.04%
Volume: 2.28M
July 30, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
40.40
Dividend Yield
0.74%
Market Cap
$189.97 billion
Rev. per Employee
$610,846
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/zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 142.55
+0.31 +0.22%
Volume: 5.44M
July 30, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
33.14
Dividend Yield
1.54%
Market Cap
$399.45 billion
Rev. per Employee
$243,109
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