An Instagrammer spotted prepared samples hiding inside of plexiglass boxes.

By Mike Pomranz
August 28, 2020
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Costco Exterior
Credit: slobo / Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has become so entwined in our everyday life, it can be hard to remember when it began. But, as a food writer, I recall one moment as an odd harbinger that something serious was approaching: In the first week of March, Costco locations in the U.S. announced they were pulling free samples to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Let’s be honest: The loss of free samples is never a good sign.

Well, if the removal of Costco samples presaged the beginning of this mess, maybe this latest news—fingers crossed—indicates that things are getting better? Free Costco food samples are being spotted again … though if you see one, you may do a double take.

Earlier this week, the Costco fan Instagram account Costcoguy4u posted a couple in-store photos, stating, “Great News..Demos R Back! A little different than what we are used to but we will take it! It looks like they will be giving out prepackaged dry samples and not on all demos... The new normal.”

Specifically, one image shows a plate of spaghetti with red sauce and another shows spinach and cheese ravioli … but both dishes are only on display in a plexiglass box. Then, the unopened packaged products used for making the meals are in front of the protected prepared food.

Whether customers are allowed to grab an entire package of spaghetti and jar of sauce isn’t clear, but back in July, another Instagrammer demonstrated that, indeed, at least some food samples are now being offered by the whole dry package. And yet, it’s one thing to display a package product and offer it as a packaged sample; it’s another to show you the prepared meal and not let you try it—a delicious plate of spaghetti teasing you, challenging you to try to recreate it at home to enjoy its pleasures.

But though the idea of “sampling” a plate of spaghetti by staring at it through a protective plastic box might seem bizarre, Costco did warn us that the future of free samples wouldn’t be the same.

“We're going to start doing some things in mid-June on a slow rollout basis in sampling,” the company’s Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti said during an earnings call back in May according to USA Today. “I can't tell you anymore, but needless to say it’s not going to be where you go and just pick up an open sample with your fingers.” He certainly wasn’t kidding.

Costco’s coronavirus response page, updated on Wednesday, has no mention of samples. I’ve also reached out to Costco for comment, but have yet to receive a response.