Costco food sample giveaways return — behind plexiglass

Halted early in the coronavirus scare, the demo program now offers packaged goodies in 16 unidentified states.

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Easy access to unwrapped food (demonstrated here in 2002 at the store in Niles) will no longer be part of Costco’s sampling program.

Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Costco has started to bring back its legendary free samples to some clubs, but it’s no longer the free food smorgasbord it once was.

Samples are now packaged items and kept behind plexiglass shields, according to Bloomberg, which reported Thursday that sampling has returned to as many as 30 Costco locations.

The retailer suspended its popular samples in its wholesale clubs in early March amid the spread of the coronavirus. It was one of the first programs to be cut as the threat of COVID-19 grew.

Club Demonstration Services, a vendor that has handled sampling for Costco for years, says on its website that clubs in 16 unidentified states are in the first phase of the return, which began June 16.

“Starting slowly will allow Costco and us to make sure we are taking the right steps to engage members safely, while maintaining the proper controls around the demo cart,” Don Dohanyos, the company’s president, said in a June 4 post. ”We will take the lessons learned in our early demos to improve our overall processes while we prepare for future rollouts.”

Costco officials did not respond to a request for comment on the sampling and which clubs have added samples back.

During Costco’s quarterly earnings call in May, CFO Richard Galanti said the samples would start rolling out in June.

“It’s not going to be where you go and just pick up an open sample with your fingers,” Galanti said.

While samples are coming back, Costco has stopped selling its half sheet cakes at all U.S. clubs, the company confirmed, noting, “as of right now, we have no immediate plans to bring back.”

“We are focusing on our smaller 10-inch White and 10-inch Chocolate Cakes that seem to be resonating with our members,” the company said in a statement.

Costco announced the change in late May in a Facebook post promoting the round cakes.

Many begged Costco to reconsider the change and said the sheet cakes froze well.

“Please bring back the sheet cakes, even if just for preorder. The round are not large enough for larger families,” one member wrote on Costco’s Facebook post. ”Our grocery store cakes are good, but not Costco good.”

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