If you love a good food-shopping haul, these 12 Costco items will make you want to keep your passport handy and up to date.
Reviewed by Dietitian Jessica Ball, M.S., RD
As a food writer and recipe developer, exploring and shopping for new food products and ingredients outside of my regular routine is something that I truly enjoy. When I travel, I always make it a point to visit local markets, boutique grocers and popular grocery-store chains alike. I love the experience of being introduced to new products, ingredients and dishes firsthand and enjoy the puzzle of trying to figure out whether that particular item is worth bringing home. For me, it's a calculation of many things including availability, price, convenience, our ability to transport it and when I might be back next to get it.
I live in Canada close to the U.S. border, and we travel to Buffalo for day trips frequently to take in some art, have lunch and hit up our favorite spots: Target and Trader Joe's. And if there's time, we also try to add in a trip to Aldi and Wegmans. The wider range of interesting options available in the U.S. and the (often lower) price point makes it a no-brainer. Since the closest U.S. Costco is nearly 2½ hours away, my visits are planned around overnight or weekend trips, which we aim to do every few months. For these trips, I always bring a cooler and plenty of ice packs so that I can bring home some of my favorite products. Fun fact: Your Costco membership can be used at any Costco location worldwide and as of July 14, 2023, Costco has 857 locations across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, Canada, the U.K., Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Australia, Mexico, Spain, Iceland, France, China, New Zealand and Sweden, with the vast majority being in the U.S. and Canada. Here are some of the items I am willing to make the trip for.
1. Organic Dark Truffle Figs
As a little girl, I would occasionally get Polish sweets when a family member traveled to or from Poland or to a European specialty-food store in a bigger city, and śliwka Nałęczowska—a dried plum covered in chocolate—was my absolute favorite. I feel like I discovered a unicorn with the fig "truffles," from the company That's It. With the ingredients being simply dried figs and 60% dark chocolate, these sweets are a healthier version of one of my favorite childhood treats. Since they aren't available in Canada, I stock up while I'm stateside. Though they are a newer purchase for me, these little bites of heaven will now be on my list forever.
2. Sparkling Water
I am a sparkling-water girlie through and through. Each day around 3 p.m., I make myself a drink: I fill my insulated tumbler half-full of ice, pour in a flavored sparkling water, cap it and sip for the rest of the afternoon. This tiny act feels restorative and transformative all at once, and it genuinely makes the water feel like something extra special. It's a ritual that I look forward to each day, and it's the impetus for keeping a regular supply of sparkling water at the ready. Of course, sparkling water is widely available in Canada, and there are some gems here that I buy regularly. But there are a few reasons why I love buying my sparkling water in the U.S.: there's a wider variety of flavors, the price point is typically better and Costco carries several of my favorite brands including LaCroix, Waterloo, Spindrift and Costco's own Kirkland Signature sparkling water. Neither the Kirkland Signature nor the Spindrift sparkling water is available in Canada. And until they are, you'll always find three to four cases in my cart at the checkout.
3. Bear Fruit Rolls
Bear Fruit Rolls are reminiscent of old-school fruit roll-ups, but better in every possible way, if you ask me. The ingredients are simple: blended and gently dried fruit, plus black carrot extract for color. Their fruit-forward flavor and natural texture is second to none. In a blind taste test, I'd bet that it would be hard to discern between Bear Fruit Rolls and a similarly flavored homemade fruit leather. A box of 24 servings is $10.99, and each serving includes two small rolls plus a thoughtfully designed card with a game on it (a delightful surprise we discovered after first buying them). They aren't a replacement for fresh fruit, but they do an excellent job serving as a little sweet treat. The snack/activity card combination makes them excellent for road trips or other types of travel when entertaining kids is necessary for survival. But I also love to tuck them into an otherwise fresh fruit- and veggie-packed lunch on occasion or snack on them when I'm craving a sweet pick-me-up.
4. Fresh Organic Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
Organic and grass-fed meat is much more expensive in Canada. For example, a package of fresh organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts is $5.99 a pound at the U.S. Costco and around $13 a pound in Canada. That's a huge price difference! Because of the environmental impact of producing meat, I try to buy locally and support smaller farms as often as possible. Some farms offer sales or discounts on pre-orders, and I will generally stock up and freeze our meat when that happens. But it's helpful to be able to get some of our go-tos during our trip and save money while doing it.
5. Grillo's Pickles
Pickles have been getting a lot of hype over the past few years, with brands releasing pickle-flavored products like hummus, salad kits, falafel, "pickle de gallo" and much, much more. This is great news from this Polish girl's perspective! The salty, tangy crunch of a pickled vegetable, or traditional cucumber, cannot be compared to anything else. Pickles pair well with so many things, and both the pickles and their brine can be stretched and transformed into other bright and flavorful foods like dips, vinaigrettes and pasta salads, to name a few. I typically buy fermented pickles at my local store, but when I'm in the U.S. I have to pick up a container of Grillo's, as they aren't available up north.
The Costco dairy section is a baker's delight! The array of butter options at U.S. stores is vast compared to Canadian stores, with something for every butter-lover. First off, the popular and beloved Kerrygold butter is readily available in the U.S. market, and Costco sells it for a really great price. In addition, Costco also carries grass-fed butter options as well as their Kirkland Signature sweet cream butters, both salted and unsalted. All butter is available in 2-pound packages, compared to the 1-pound packages I have access to at home, and everything is a fraction of the price at around 50% off. Yes, you read that correctly: more options for half the price. If you enjoy this delectable dairy item and are willing and able to make the trip, buying butter at Costco is a must. Since the options are so much better, I recommend buying a little more than you think you need and freezing it for when you do need it. Butter keeps well in the freezer for up to nine months.
7. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is always in our fridge. We eat it and use it for meal-prepping weekly. I prefer the taste of at least 2% fat Greek yogurt, and a 750-milliliter (about 2-pound) container at a regular Canadian grocery store tends to run between $6 and $7. I can buy a three-pack of smaller containers (about 5 pounds in total) of the Kirkland Signature fat-free Greek yogurt for around $14, which is a steal of a deal. Costcos in Canada don't sell 2% yogurt, so on my trips to the U.S., I like to buy the Fage Total 2% Greek Yogurt, which comes in a 3-pound container for $6.99. And for an easy lunchbox addition or quick grab-and-go snack, I'll also pick up a multipack of lower- or zero-sugar Chobani Yogurt Cups, which aren't available anywhere in Canada and feel like a special find.
8. Cottage Cheese
We all know that cottage cheese is having a moment. With new and innovative ways to eat it popping up almost daily, I'm regularly adding this high-protein dairy food to my cart. Cottage cheese isn't currently available at my local Costco, and a 2(ish)-pound container at my local grocer typically costs $5 to $7, depending on whether it's a store brand or not. I'll often buy 3-pound containers of cottage cheese at Costco for $5.99, which means a lot more high-protein ice cream, edible cookie dough and pasta sauce on our plates.
9. Wine and Prosecco
If we stay in the U.S. for two or more days, I'll almost always pick up a couple of bottles of wine, sparkling wine or Champagne. The guidelines for bringing goods across the Canadian border prohibit alcohol if you travel for less than 48 hours. After 48 hours, however, each person of legal age can bring in two 750-milliliter bottles of wine (or the equivalent in spirits and beer), and we try to take advantage of that opportunity whenever we can. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the price point is significantly better, especially for Kirkland Signature bottles (which are not available in Canada at all). And via Costcos in the U.S., we also have access to varieties of wine that we can't get anywhere here. It's a great opportunity for us to try new wines or save a few dollars on the wine we like.
10. King Arthur Flour
Any visitors to my home will almost always be welcomed with a loaf of banana bread, homemade sourdough or a batch of healthy cookies or muffins ready for eating in my kitchen. I'm an avid baker, and to serve my baking needs I periodically buy 22-pound bags of both all-purpose and bread flour at my local Costco. I store the flour in food-safe containers and it lasts me for several months. The flour is great; I couldn't be happier with the quality and the price. But King Arthur's reputation for being consistent and reliable extends far beyond the U.S. border, and I am an easy sell when it comes to high-quality baking products. Though the flour ends up being more expensive than my go-to brands at home, I appreciate that so many recipes have been tested with it for reliability and consistency and especially love using it when baking from one of my favorite King Arthur books. Not to mention, the company is 100% employee-owned, so it feels like I'm supporting the families directly when I buy King Arthur. All in all, it's a great buy!
11. Cholula Hot Sauce
Tangy and spicy, with a subtly earthy backbone from the blend of arbol and piquin peppers, Cholula is a versatile and popular hot sauce choice for any type of food. It's even smartly used to make one of Cameron Diaz's favorite snacks. It's a little harder to find here in Canada: Cholula isn't sold at every grocery store, which sometimes means making multiple stops just to be able to pick some up. Also, a standard 5-ounce bottle goes for about $7, unless it's on sale. But when I buy it at a U.S. Costco, I can get a two-pack of 12-ounce bottles for $10. Are you ready to have your mind blown? When I do the math of buying the equivalent amount of hot sauce (factoring in the exchange rate), I save around $20.
12. Cheddar Whisps Cheese & Pretzel Bites
This other new-to-me product is a spinoff of the Whisps Cheese Crisps, and they are every bit as savory, crunchy and snack-fulfilling as they sound! The ingredients are just cheese and pretzels (with a further breakdown of ingredients in each of those), but the first ingredient is cheese and that cheesy flavor and texture is at the forefront. Yes, they are excellent for snacking on. But I also love adorning soups and salads with them in place of traditional croutons, adding them to a seasonal fruit and cheese board, and I look forward to trying them in place of the bread in a cozy French onion soup come fall.
The Bottom Line
Grocery shopping as part of a full travel experience can be fun and exciting, and may even save you some money in the long run. For my fellow Canadians reading this, you can rest assured that I buy 90% of my groceries at home. But like an art-lover enjoys visiting galleries while abroad, I love exploring and trying new restaurants, new products and ingredients, and shopping at different grocery stores. Shopping at home is routine, and it can often feel monotonous week after week. Hopping over the border for a visit and a shop just hits differently and scratches my curiosity itch quite well.
For any readers in the U.S. who live close to the border or plan to visit in the near future, you should know that many of the products in Costco (and other major grocery chains) have the same price tag whether in Canada or may even be priced lower. And you'll definitely find things that aren't available in the U.S. So it would be fun and beneficial for you to shop here, as well!