While we were traveling in New Zealand, we made a concerted effort to save money. Instead of restaurants for breakfast and lunch, we went to supermarkets and bought things. This meant peanut butter and jelly sandwiches more than we would have preferred, but it also meant critical savings. One key weapon in our arsenal in our quest to save money was Pak `N Save, the Costco of New Zealand.
Generally I am not a fan of Costco. Yes, I am a member, but a reluctant one. I find the general atmosphere lacking, and often the customers, presumably normal people outside of Costco, turn into nutjobs, running for samples like rabid animals, and buying truly abhorrent quantities of both food and food-like things. Of course, I am only buying for myself and my partner, so buying things in bulk doesn’t really make sense- except for non-edible goods like toilet paper. If we were buying for a family, it would make more sense economically, in terms of both cost and time. It is worth mentioning here that I have friends who are fans of Costco, and think I am being super judgmental about the store and its denizens. I agree that I can be a little harsh, and that the quantities that people buy are not completely outrageous. But still, every time I enter Costco, I cannot help but feel that it is too excessive.
Our experience at Pak ‘N Save was unremarkable. We entered, purchased reasonable amounts of peanut butter, jelly, bread, cheese, crackers, wine and fruit snacks, and exited. But I was surprised that it existed for a few reasons.
Apart from my general dislike, Costco is not a concept that I thought would translate well abroad. First, I anticipated that people abroad ate more fresh foods, and so were more oriented around the daily market than the giant warehouses in which Americans find their food. Second, I assumed that foreigners had smaller houses than we did, and so would not be interested in storing large amounts of toilet paper, garbage bags, and the like. These assumptions were largely based on my experiences in Italy, where I lived in a tiny apartment with my host mother, who lived alone. But I assumed that most of Europe was like that, apartment-based, less consumerist, and more into fresh, edible things.
New Zealand, as it turns out, is not like my version of Europe. Even in Auckland, a large city, there are only 1.4 million people. Not too many people seem to live in apartments – lots more, it would seem, live in houses. So they have storage space for 700 rolls of toilet paper, enough to survive a nuclear holocaust. Furthermore, we did not see a farmer’s market for the length of our stay there, so I am guessing that Kiwis are not as fresh-food based as I would have imagined. Which is strange, given how much of their economy is agriculture based and how many farms there are. The fish was super fresh, and you could easily get fresh fish from stands on the side of the road, and we bought fruit in Marlborough from stands. But as far as organized opportunities to buy produce, meat and the like, we were less successful in our pursuit. Maybe it was the time of year or just a fluke, but that was our experience.
In the little version of New Zealand that we experienced in 17 days, Pak `N Save fits. Like Costco, it has cheap meat in large quantities, and though we didn’t taste any, it looked pretty good. And in lamb country, people were buying lamb there, so how bad could it be? Like Costco, you could buy things in bulk, like yogurt and granola bars and cereal, even dental floss, which I took advantage of. And like Costco, the people had giant shopping carts that they used as weapons against other shoppers, aggressively bulldozing their way through the huge aisles and taking out babies and the elderly along the way. When I had the audacity not to have a cart and walk the wrong way down an aisle, I was growled at by a middle aged man who clearly needed a sample of something to sustain him through the treacherous voyage. And sadly, that is the one thing Pak ‘N Save lacked – I did not find a single sample, or a similar throng of people huddled around the sample station. Which may be for the best.
I would be interested to see whether this bulk buying concept is spreading beyond America and New Zealand, or whether it is merely a concept for people who live in countries with lots of space. I am aware that not everyone in Europe lives in a city apartment, but there is generally less space in Europe. Look at the cars – tiny! So my question is, when will Costco arrive in Italy, France or Spain? When will Germans be able to buy a 30-pack of their favorite Lager? Or is it already starting to happen, and does this mean the apocalypse is near? Feel free to leave your observations in the comments, or take me to task for my lack of research. I am definitely all ears and do not intend to write the definitive guide to Costcos abroad. Obviously. Because that would be a really boring book.