Costco searches the globe
to provide members with the
best produce year-round.
Pat Volchok gives
look at Costco
products and services.
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Costco thinks locally and globally
to bring fresh produce home
IT WAS ONE OF THOSE “pinch me” Costco
moments. Walking into the produce area on a cold
and dreary winter afternoon in Seattle, I was daz-zleded by the wondrous summery kaleidoscope of
fruits and vegetables before me: luscious fresh cherries, rosy red strawberries, spring green asparagus
and gorgeous blueberries. Heady with joy, I stocked
up … and that night we ate like royalty.
Wondering how Costco supplies such fabulous
fare to millions of members, at incredible prices and
in the middle of winter, got me snooping. It wasn’t
long before I discovered Costco’s secret weapon: the
global produce team.
This international group consists of approxi-
mately 40 Costco produce experts, including mer-c handising managers and buyers from Canada,
Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan, the United
Kingdom and the United States. These pros participate in weekly teleconferences, travel the globe
together, share fresh perspectives and coveted information on new growers and products, exert immense
purchasing power and take a highly visible proactive
72 T he Costco Connection F EBRUARY2008
stand when it comes to quality and safety standards
within the industry.
The team also meets annually at the Produce
Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit. When I
learned that the October 2007 convention was convening in Houston, I quickly signed up to tag along.
Peak of safety
Fresh Summit is a massive international produce fair with growers, shippers, retailers, processors and suppliers from 70 countries in attendance.
Gorgeous blue-ribbon produce displays, the hum of
numerous languages spoken simultaneously and
exotic, intoxicating fragrances fill the grand hall.
Arriving in time to attend a marathon 10-hour
Costco-only session, I heard Jeff Lyons, vice president of fresh foods, report that Costco is the eighth-largest retailer in the world. He reminded the team
that this status comes with much responsibility, and
he emphatically stated, “We will be out of stock
rather than offer inferior produce.”