Costco shoppers are having a range of reactions after the company announced it has stopped selling its popular half-sheet cakes. The warehouse giant subtly made the announcement on social media weeks ago, but the news only recently made headlines.
In a May 29 Facebook post, Costco wrote: “Big achievements deserve a celebration! Share the love with your grad by picking up a round 10” cake at the bakery. Please note: Half-sheet cakes are currently not available to order or customize.”
Costco has not publicly stated its reasoning for discontinuing the half-sheet cake. When contacted for comment, a Costco spokesperson gave the following statement to Yahoo Life: “Currently we are not selling our 1/2 Sheet Cakes at any US locations and as of right now, we have no immediate plans to bring back. We are focusing on our smaller 10” White & 10” Chocolate Cakes that seem to be resonating with our members.”
However, the company responded to a comment on its May 29 Facebook post that the move was, at least in part, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “To help limit personal contact and create more space for social distancing, Costco has reduced service in some departments,” the company said.
Reactions have been mixed online. Some are now begging the chain to bring back the half-sheet cake. “Please bring back the sheet cakes, even if just for preorder,” one wrote on Facebook. “The round are not large enough for larger families. We've had 3 birthday[s] we would have bought them for, another coming up soon as well as graduation. Our grocery store cakes are good, but not Costco good.”
“Love the sheet cakes at Costco, we missed them in all this mess going on!” another said. “We bought them for all occasions, and we would freeze some ... unthawed cake would be just as fresh! …I will write corporate for sure!”
Others seemed unsure of what the company is hoping to achieve with the move.
Interesting way of discouraging large gatherings. Limit quantities purchased on round cakes? https://t.co/SUTCHe73Vf— Rakesh Agrawal (@rakeshlobster) June 26, 2020
I'm so curious whether this is a staffing safety issue or a passive aggressive "stop throwing parties" issue. https://t.co/55ypkekF2r— Maggie Koerth (@maggiekb1) June 26, 2020
And some even made it political.
Maybe now Trump will take it seriously. https://t.co/LWllqB0cGO— Just Jillian™. 🐝 (@jackrelax) June 26, 2020
It’s an interesting move for Costco at the same time as the company is bringing back free samples at some stores – a feature the chain removed after the pandemic hit.
Meanwhile, other companies continue to churn out large servings of cake. Fellow warehouse competitor Sam’s Club still offers several types of half-sheet cakes. BJs also has several half-sheet cakes and even full sheet cakes available, according to an online order form.
Reduced access to popular party foods doesn’t seem to be a trend just yet. Some brands are even rolling out new products designed for crowds, like Stouffer’s new ‘Mac on Tap’ dispenser. The company plugged the new offering Friday on Twitter and sent a press release to Yahoo Life that points out that people can enjoy this oversized serving of mac and cheese at tailgates and wedding receptions.
What will Costco’s move achieve, if anything?
Experts in both infectious diseases and consumer behavior don’t think the discontinuation of half-sheet cakes will lead to much. When it comes to helping to encourage social distancing and reducing the spread of COVID-19, “I don’t think it will be helpful,” Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life.
While the move is “highly influential” given how beloved Costco half-sheet cakes are, Costco also “risks pissing off consumers,” Ayalla Ruvio, an applied consumer behavior researcher at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Life. Yanking these cakes can be especially upsetting for people on some level because they may already feel like they’ve sacrificed a lot for the pandemic, Ruvio says.
The fact that it is cake getting the cut is even worse. “This is comfort food and makes people feel better,” Ruvio says. “People may feel like they’ve already given up so much for COVID.”
Costco is hardly the only company to take a stand to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Some grocery stores, restaurants and major retailers across the country have required that people wear masks to enter their stores, even in areas where local government doesn’t mandate it. That can be helpful in reducing the spread of the virus, Dr. Adalja says. “No place of business wants to be a focus of spread, so it’s important for them to take appropriate measures, even if it goes beyond the legal requirement,” he says.
While some customers may applaud those moves, they can also be polarizing and even confusing, Ruvio says. “This is a big problem because there is no one universal or consistent policy,” she says, citing shoppers needing to use one-way aisles at Walmart, but not at Target as an example. “Also, [many] stores do not really enforce their own policy,” Ruvio says. Overall, “this creates a sense of chaos and confusion,” she says, adding that it also “makes consumers less trusting in both companies and local governments.”
And, when it comes to decisions on what to sell or not to sell, Ruvio says it can be a slippery slope. “The question is, ‘Where do you stop?’”
“At some point, it’s up to the consumer what to do with their product, not the companies. This feels extreme,” she says.
Ultimately, Ruvio expects that the pandemic will continue to impact consumer behavior. But whether it means you’ll still be able to get your (non-Costco) half-sheet cake or other oversized party items elsewhere in the future remains to be seen.
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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