The next time you shop at Costco, get a little nosy and peer into other shoppers’ carts. The one item you’re likely to see in almost everyone’s basket is the astonishingly cheap, yet plump and juicy, rotisserie chicken.
Costco’s rotisserie chicken may not be as legendary as its $1.50 hot dog-and-soda-combo, but it comes close. It can be eaten plain, sliced for sandwiches, shredded for tacos, turned into soup or chili, or used for any of dozens of other recipes, all for less than the price of your average fancy coffee drink. No wonder the warehouse store’s deli workers are almost constantly replenishing the stock.
Here are some facts you should know about this beloved product.
1. It’s still $4.99
How does this bargain bird stay priced at under $5, despite inflation and climbing chicken prices? It’s an example of loss-leader pricing, where crafty stores offer a good deal on a certain item to get shoppers in the door, knowing they won’t just buy the chicken and leave. In 2023, Costco’s CEO said keeping the chicken price low helps drive membership and sales.
2. There was one short-lived price hike
Believe it or not, you’d have paid a whopping $1 extra per chicken back in 2008, when Costco did briefly raise the price during that year’s financial crisis. The store lowered the price back to $4.99 in 2009, and it’s stayed there ever since.
3. It’s not the healthiest rotisserie chicken available
Costco isn’t the only store selling rotisserie chicken, of course — and while their birds may be popular, they’re not the healthiest you can buy. Consumer Reports called out chickens from Costco and Sam’s Club for excessively high sodium. Instead, they praised the birds from Kroger’s Simple Truth brand, which have just 40 milligrams of sodium per 3-ounce serving compared with Costco’s 460 milligrams per serving.
4. They’re in the back on purpose
Costco’s store layout is strategic, and to get a chicken, you’ll have to walk through 60% of some stores. That’s on purpose. It takes an iron-willed shopper to pass up everything else they’ll see along the way, from the fresh fruit to the delectable baked goods to the electric toothbrushes, mixing bowls and fluffy towels that tempt from the shelves.
5. Costco runs its own slaughterhouse
The chain has made a big bet on chickens — make that a billion-dollar bet. Forbes reports that Costco built its own Nebraska slaughterhouse from the ground up to ensure its bird supply stays consistent. It’s the only retailer to own one.
6. Its chicken facility has been controversial
Operating its own slaughterhouse hasn’t been controversy-free for Costco. The conditions under which the birds are raised have been the subject of criticism, including a 2021 undercover investigation by animal advocates and even a 2022 lawsuit filed by two shareholders alleging animal cruelty.
7. Additives are an issue
We’re always coached to read labels carefully, and on Costco’s chickens, the third ingredient on the label, after chicken and water, is a “seasoning” mix whose first ingredient is salt. As mentioned before, Consumer Reports has called out the Kirkland Signature product over its salt content. The chicken also contains carrageenan, an additive that Consumer Reports cautions against. It causes inflammation, which is tied to many major diseases, including cancer, arthritis and diabetes.
8. The chickens sit out no longer than two hours
If you think the chickens fly off the Costco shelf, you’re right. The store only allows them to sit there for two hours so it tastes its best, according to the authors of “The Joy of Costco.” After that, employees remove the chickens that haven’t sold and repurpose the meat in soups, salads and other dishes.
9. They’re meaty birds
The chickens are different sizes, of course, but shoppers who’ve weighed and measured say that you can expect between 1 and 2 pounds of meat per bird. So if you remove both bones and skin from your rotisserie chicken, you should expect about 60% of the chicken to be meat, or 1.7 pounds of meat off of a 2.2-pound bird, The Daily Meal reports.
10. More than 100 million are sold every year
Additives aside, many shoppers refuse to call fowl on Costco’s rotisserie chicken. In fiscal year 2022, 117 million were sold, and 106 million — roughly the weight of six Statues of Liberty – went out the door with shoppers in 2021. Business publication The Hustle points out that, if lined up end to end, the chickens would almost circle the Earth.