Which Wholesale Club Is Right for You?

We visit the three big — Costco, Sam's Club, and BJ's Wholesale Club — to give you the lowdown on which warehouse club is the best for your needs.

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Membership has its perks, to quote a credit card company. The three major warehouse club brands — Costco, Sam's Club, and BJ's Wholesale Club — offer discounted prices on products, access to offers on everything from cruises to kitchen renovations, and jumbo-sized packaging, often priced not much more than you might pay for a much smaller size at your local supermarket.

For home cooks, warehouse clubs are a great way to save money, reduce your number of trips to the grocery store, and, in many cases, cut down on packaging waste. (Just be sure you have room in your pantry or freezer before you shop.)

But if you only want to join one club, which warehouse club is best for food and cooking-related products? To help you choose the best warehouse club for your needs, we visited the Atlanta-area locations of the three clubs to compare features, selections, and prices. Here's what we found out.

Sam's club sign on a tan wall
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Sam's Club

Around 600 stores in U.S. and Puerto Rico

Membership: The basic membership is $45, while the $100 Club Plus membership offers added perks like two percent cash back rewards, free shipping, early shopping hours, certain free prescriptions, and extra savings. Students and members of the military get a gift for joining. Join Sam's Club.

Food Selection

Fresh Food and Meats: Sam's Club has a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, including a few organic options like carrots and spinach. An in-house bakery offers sandwich rolls, baguettes, breakfast pastries like muffins and croissants, and cakes, including custom orders.

The meat department has a diverse selection of offerings. There was a wide range of steak cuts, including bone-in ribeyes, flank steak, short ribs, and bottom round. We also saw ground American Waygu beef, New Zealand lamb, organic ground beef, and specialty cuts like beef cheek, oxtail, and tongue.

Ready-to-cook offerings included chicken pot pies, stuffed peppers, and enchiladas, and there's even grab-and-go sushi. A small but well-curated cheese selection had a wide range of Mexican cheeses like Queso Oaxaca, Queso Fresco and Queso Panela, possibly because of the store's location near a predominantly Latinx community.

The frozen aisles include even more meat and fish products, including specialty items like Alaskan king crab legs, as well as frozen prepared foods.

Pantry Aisles: There weren't many surprises or special discoveries in the grocery aisle; most of the products were simply multi-packs or large-sized packages of fairly mainstream items.

An enormous bottled beverage section included everything from sodas to nutrition drinks to kids' juice boxes. The coffee department is dominated by various K-cup flavors.

It's a great place to stock up on snacks, whether it be various mixed nut blends, chips of all types, lunchbox snacks, and candy bars (King sized, of course!). On our visit in late February, there was a small selection of Easter candy.

Wine, Beer, and Spirits

Sam's Club has a decent selection of wines at a wide range of prices. There were some Member's Mark blends for around $7 a bottle, plus well-known labels like Bogle and Apothic Red ranging from $7 to $8.

In a nice wooden crate display were wines priced at $12 and up; the highest-end offerings included a $45 bottle of Belle Clos Pinto Noir and Veuve Cliquot Champagne for $50.

Mainstream domestic and imported beers are sold by the case. Some locations sell a limited selection of branded and Member's Mark brand liquor.

Kitchenware

An aisle of cooking-related products features a limited selection of countertop appliances and other cooking equipment. On our visit, there were Ninja Foodi pressure cookers and air fryers; a Power LX Air Fryer Grill; an Instant Pot Lux multi cooker and Ace Nova blender; Keurig and Hamilton Beach coffee makers; and Ninja Blenders.

There was also a large selection of food storage sets, a few cookware sets from Tramontina, Martha Stewart, and The Rock by Starfrit; and a few large appliances, mainly refrigerators and chest freezers.

Other Services

The cafe is a good place to stop on the way out to refuel. It serves churros, pretzels, and ice cream sundaes, as well as meal combos like a beef hot dog and soda for $1.50 or a piece of pizza and soda for $2.50.

Whole 16-inch pizzas can also be purchased for $8.98. Sam's Club members can also use their membership for discounted home improvement services, including kitchen renovations.

Some of the COVID safety services include self-scanning and paying for purchases with the app, curbside pickup, and grocery deliveries via Instacart.

Price Comparison

KitchenAid Stand Mixer: $349.98 for 5-quart Professional bowl-lift
Rotisserie Chicken: $4.98 each
Salmon: $6.98 for Atlantic salmon, $9.98 for wild-caught Sockeye salmon
Milk: $2.42-$2.82/gallon depending on fat content
Frozen Pizza: 10.48 for 4-pack, Member's Mark
Coffee: $12.67 for Member's Mark Whole Bean Colombian Supremo, 2.5 lbs.

Pros of a Sam's Club Membership:

  • Great meat selection
  • Lots of mainstream snacks and beverages
  • Nice snack bar

Cons of a Sam's Club Membership:

  • Not a lot of interesting or unusual grocery items
  • Housewares section fairly limited

Bottom Line

We were most impressed with Sam's Club's selection of fresh meats and seafood, as well as its sizable beverage department. The company also seems to tailor its offerings to the demographics of the community it serves. However, the kitchenware selection is smaller than those of the other warehouse clubs.

Shoppers walk out with full carts from a Costco store in Washington, DC, on May 5, 2020. - Big-box retailer Costco is limiting consumer purchases of meat in the wake of shutdowns of US processing plants due to the coronavirus.Costco, which has about 440 stores in the United States, is limiting purchases to three items among beef, pork and poultry products, the company said on its website. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
NICHOLAS KAMM / Contributor / Getty Images

Costco

558 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico; 803 locations worldwide

Membership: The Gold Star basic membership is $60. The Gold Star Executive membership, which is $120, also nets you a two percent reward (in the form of a store credit) on eligible purchases, plus additional discounts on certain services. Special membership promotions are available for students, members of the military, and medical professionals. Join Costco.

Food Selection

Fresh Foods and Meats: Costco has a sizable selection of produce, both organic and conventional, including citrus fruits, apples, and tropical fruit, as well as various salad greens, berries, and vegetables.

The bakery offers artisan breads, cookies, bagels, pies, and pastries, as well as cakes and custom-ordered cakes. The meat department includes some specialty items like organic ground beef and ground bison, as well as whole loins and racks of ribs. There are some specialty seafood options on hand, such as littleneck clams, king crab legs, and lobster tails, and a vast range of poultry.

The specialty cheese aisle has a diverse selection, including burrata, imported cheddars, Spanish cheeses, Italian options, and more. There's also a wide range of take-and-bake entrees, including a fajita kit, pot pies, and lasagnas. The freezer cases were full of specialty items like frozen appetizers and prepared foods, pizzas, and frozen meats and seafood.

Pantry Aisles: The packaged food aisles of Costco are a treasure hunt of interesting ingredients: hemp hearts, mochi treats, almond flour crackers, avocado oil, Himalayan pink salt, ghee, Chinese-style sausages, yellowfin tuna in olive oil… The list goes on. These specialty ingredients are interspersed with the more mainstream offerings, and are sure to inspire adventurous home cooks.

The snack aisle includes both healthier options, like assorted nuts and granola bars, as well as lunchbox snacks and oversized bags of chips. This was the only store where we saw a wide selection of Jewish products geared towards the spring Jewish holidays: hamentaschen, matzoh meal, gefilte fish, and handmade matzohs imported from Israel. At the time we were there in late February, Easter candies were also on offer.

Costco Profits Rise In Weak Economy
Tim Boyle / Staff / Getty Images

Wine, Beer, and Spirits

This club has the biggest wine selection of all of the warehouse clubs, with a wide range of prices. Its Kirkland Signature private-label wines are created in partnership with vintners and routinely receive high ratings in tastings. The selection in the stores ranges from $7 bottles of Kirkland blends and other labels like Trapiche, to pricier bottles like Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blank ($34) or The Prisoner Red Blend ($44).

The store also stocks domestic and imported beers by the case, and many stores have an adjacent liquor store that carries both well-known liquor brands and Kirkland offerings.

Kitchenware

Costco's kitchenware aisles have some high-end brands, including Vitamix blenders, Cuisinart Food Processors, and Circulon and Calphalon cookware. Other offerings include Ninja and Nutribullet blenders, Instant Pot multi cookers, Cuisinart and Keurig coffee makers, and cookware from T-Fal, Tramontina, and Gotham Pro. There are also kitchen fixtures like sink faucets and disposals.

Other Services

Costco's cafe is a great place to grab a bite before or after shopping. Its menu includes churros, ice cream, smoothies, whole pizzas, a $1.50 hot dog and soda meal; and the chicken bake, a calzone-like handheld meal stuffed with chicken, bacon, and a creamy sauce.

Members can save on services like water treatment, major appliances, and kitchen countertops. The Costco Grocery option offers two-day delivery for no additional delivery fee for orders of over $75, or you can buy Costco products via Instacart.

Price Comparison

KitchenAid Stand Mixer: $259.99 for KitchenAid Professional 6-quart bowl-lift
Rotisserie Chicken: $4.99 each
Salmon: $6.99/lb for Atlantic Salmon
Milk: $2.99/gallon
Frozen Pizza: $11.99 for 4-pack, Kirkland brand
Coffee: $11.99 for Kirkland House Blend, 2.5 lbs.

Pros of a Costsco Membership:

  • Lots of organic and gourmet offerings
  • Great selection of wines
  • Good deals on high-end housewares

Cons of a Costco Membership:

  • Most expensive membership

Bottom Line

Costco's membership is the most expensive of the three, and its prices aren't always the lowest, but it is the best option for specialty ingredients, organic products, higher-end kitchen equipment, quality wines, and spirits. And the store's free samples are legendary (although, of course, that's on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic).

BJs Warehouse Clubs Voluntarily Recall Mushrooms
Jeff Fusco / Stringer / Getty Images

BJ's Wholesale Club

221 stores in 17 states, mostly in the Eastern U.S.

Membership: The basic Inner Circle membership at BJ's Wholesale Club is $55 per year. The Perks Rewards membership is $110 per year and includes two percent cash back (plus additional cash back benefits during special events, as well as travel services). Members of the military are eligible for a discounted membership. Join BJ's.

Food Selection

Fresh Foods and Meats: The in-house bakery turns out cookies, breakfast pastries, rolls, and specialty breads, as well as cakes and custom-ordered cakes. There's even a Carvel ice cream cake freezer.

A deli sells lunchmeat sliced to order — something we didn't see at other warehouse clubs — and the butcher department has a fairly mainstream selection of meat, poultry, and fish. A small cheese section had a few international cheeses, but not many.

The produce section was small with very few organic options. A large frozen food section has everything from frozen fruits to appetizers and plant-based meats like Beyond Burgers.

Pantry Aisles: The grocery aisles are dominated by the store's house brand, Wellsley Farms, throughout the packaged food products, bakery, and freezers. One of the house-brand products that has become a cult favorite among customers is Wellsley Farm Italian-Style Marinara Sauce, which the company has been stocking for more than 15 years.

Many well-known supermarket brands are also represented on the grocery shelves. While there aren't a lot of gourmet ingredients, there were a number of products geared towards special diets and nutrition, such as gluten-free snacks and flours, energy drinks and protein supplements. On our visit, there was also a large display of Easter candy, ranging from marshmallow Peeps to fancy Lindor eggs.

Wine, Beer, and Spirits

A very small wine selection focused mostly on under-$10 options, from labels like Yellowtail and Bogle. The priciest offering was a $50 bottle of Veuve Cliquot Champagne.

A small selection of beer is also available by the case, and some stores have a liquor selection, including products under the store's private label brand, Wellsley Farms.

Kitchenware

BJ's has a nice selection of kitchenware, including smaller items that the other warehouse clubs lack, like cutlery, kitchen utensils, and gadgets. We saw cookware sets from Cuisinart, Gotham Steel, Lodge, and T-Fal, cutlery from Farberware and Cuisinart, and flatware and dinnerware sets.

The countertop appliances included countertop ovens and microwaves, plus Ninja brand air fryers, grills, and blenders, and coffee makers from Black & Decker, Hamilton Beach, and Keurig.

Other Services

Most BJ's Wholesale Clubs do not have in-store snack shops, with the exception of three stores in Michigan and one in Florida. Members can get discounts on home improvement services and up to 20 percent off major appliances. BJ's offers same-day delivery for many items.

Price Comparison

KitchenAid Stand Mixer: $299.99 (5-quart Artisan Series tilt-head)
Rotisserie Chicken: $4.99 each
Salmon: $7.99/pound for Atlantic Salmon
Milk: $2.64/gallon
Frozen Pizza: $10.99 for Red Baron 3-pack
Coffee: $11.99 for Wellsley Farms Columbian Supremo, 2.5 lbs.

Pros of a BJ's Wholesale Club Membership:

  • Good selection of well-known brands
  • In-store deli
  • Wide range of housewares products at good prices

Cons of a BJ's Wholesale Club Membership:

  • No snack bar
  • Not a lot of locations

Bottom Line

The food selection at BJ's Wholesale Club has similar brands and offerings that you might find at a mainstream supermarket (but at prices as much as 25 percent lower than what you'd pay there), and because of services like the deli counter and the fact that not everything is mega-sized, you could easily do your weekly shopping at this club.

The Wellsley Farm proprietary brand dominates the offerings, but there are also lots of other popular food labels throughout the store. It's also a great place to score good prices on kitchenware, with a great selection to choose from.

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