Pak `N Save, the Costco of New Zealand

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.

17 thoughts on “Pak `N Save, the Costco of New Zealand

  1. I agree with your assessment of the large box stores. We had a 20 lb jar of relish we purchased for your sister’s high school graduation last us til she married. Or maybe longer.

    • Hi Dee, I wasn’t really looking for fresh food that’d spoil. We were looking for prepared stuff that we could carry with us. We’re all about the farmer’s markets at home, and I’m sure NZ’s are amazing. Would have liked to have gone to one!

  2. I love Costco. I go almost every day. That’s not to say I disagree with your overall assessment, which is quite correct. I’ve witnessed fist fights – real ones – in the parking lot over a spot. Costco already has a warehouse in Spain – in Seville – and should be opening up in France next year. They have warehouses in Japan, Korea, Australia, Canada, the US (of course) and the United Kingdom, where they do quite well.

  3. You couldn’t be more wrong about Pak n Save. It’s just a supermarket, there is no membership. You don’t have to buy in bulk and if you want to taste something, you only need ask at the Bakery, Deli or Fruit and Vegetable department. A bit more classy than what you describe at Costco. If you only want to eat rubbish food like Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches,” an American staple I believe”, rather than experience the wonderful fresh produce of New Zealand, I suggest you stay there. There are many Farmers Markets around, you must have had your Blinkers on.
    Oh Dear, poor Americans!

    • Ouch. We were just looking for cheap staples. I’m sure NZ has lots of farmer’s markets. That’s not what exactly we were looking for, though. Geez, I thought Kiwis were supposed to be nice!

      • I’m a nice Kiwi! 🙂 Wayne is right though, there are lots of fresh markets all over the place in NZ but unfortunately they only appear on the weekends. We’re a nation that typically doesn’t buy in big quantities in terms of dry groceries. Generally Kiwi’s buy on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Pak n Save deals in relatively sizeable dry goods (such as 5kg flour bags & 1kg Mayonnaise jars) which are more suitable for our environment, meaning that we’re a small country and there is no need to buy in huge quantities, or buy individual items that are excessive in size. Places such as Australia and America where there are families that live hours away from a township would do well with a store brand like Costco because of the travelling distance and costs involved. Unlike here, there really isn’t enough homes that are rural or hundreds of kilometres away to warrant a Costco. I hope that clarifies things a little more. It’s not that we don’t want such a franchise here, it’s more of the fact that we have no need for one because of our land size and population. Maybe next time when you’re down this way, stay with a Kiwi family who can show you the non-touristy things. You’ll save on accommodation and food and you’ll have more funds to hire a rental car and go travelling at your own pace. I don’t think 17 days was enough to get a feel for a real Kiwi Experience. 🙂

      • Wayne McKee is right in that PnS is just a supermarket, but he is also being a rude d**k head about it too!

      • Actually, I thought your commentary of NZ was a bit rough. PakNSav is not one of the better super markets…but it is cheap. You were looking to eat and buy cheap, that was a good place to go as any! What you should have done is try the local cuisine…gone fishing and eaten fresh fish from the sea. Asked locals for a market in the area. Enjoyed the wonderful beaches and travel around and stay almost anywhere for free! There is not enough people living in NZ to sustain a Costco, even though I miss it heaps! Your impression of NZ is lacking…it is clean and fresh and has wonderful friendly people…you just need to ask and most would have been glad to help you find what you were looking for! Cheers

      • @dstrollo I chanced upon this post while looking to see if there was a Costco-ish option in the Kiwi nation. I’m from the US and I have a Costco membership, but even I read your bit about the lack of farmers markets in the NZ as a huge negative.

        (Taken from above: “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.”)

        I imagine Wayne takes a lot of pride in his country and since your observation of farmer’s markets doesn’t match his local experience, compounded by your ‘guess’ that Kiwis are not interested in fresh food, he was probably irritated. That’s a pretty universal reaction. I’m sure he’s a nice enough chap otherwise.

    • Wayne, I am very disappointed by the tone of your comments. These people took a lot of trouble to come to NZ and seem to have enjoyed the experience. And then you rain negativity on them. We are NZers and travel through the US extensively. The people are generally wonderfully welcoming. It’s such a diverse place, that to label folks as “Americans” in the negative way you did is just plain wrongheaded. Perhaps you were having a “Mr Grumpy” day.

  4. I felt so sad for the author of this crap piece of garbage. Just because Italy is the only country outside the US that you had previously visited, does not mean that the entire world outside the US is like Italy. Do you think everyone in sub-saharan Africa also lives in apts/condos or suburban houses like people in more advanced economies? You might not have had the opportunities to travel to more places, but there are newspapers and news programs on television that you could watch to educate yourself about the world beyond the US.

    Also, France, Spain and Italy are not one homogenous market as you allude to, even though they are all European countries. You might also be enlightened to know that Costco has stores in the UK (which in case you didn’t know, is in Europe!), and Germans (also in Europe) have large cars like we do in the US!

  5. I too, absolutely detest what costco is and what it represents. Not only does it support the ideas of excess and supply side propaganda based commercial consumerism, but it’s also yet another nail in the coffin of small businesses.
    Economically if the Costco volume of goods were sold by small timers, it would require substantially more employees to meet with demand. That’s more paychecks, more consumers, more demand, but ultimately it’s less profit. That profit is also less concentrated. Instead of 2.8 billion in profits for five people, it’s1.2 billion in profit spread out amongst 1,200 employers( as an example). Expecting a small market owner to live on a mere 1million/year is just un-American!
    What’s worse, is that the average Joe’s monthly grocery bill is likely to go up by $40, while the same guys average pay is likely to only go up by about $45(most likely) , or stay the same(Super unlikely). But is it really with an extra $40/ month to ensure our neighbors have a job, and the economy is stable enough that hard work actually nets a profit for everyone willing to work? Not really. That’s just unfair to mega millionaires. Obviously, since we got to where we are by supporting the latter.
    Places like walmart and costco seem like a good idea, until one actually takes a good hard look at the impact saving $1 has on other people, and in time, themselves.
    It’s far too late to go back now. We might end up having to buy normal size jars of pb, and not waste most of it while still managing to poison ourselves with food. We could br forced to pay our neighbors a fair wage instead of saving a buck by pretending that our phones and Tupperware aren’t the product of slavery, rape and torture. The important part is that the bulk jar of diced pickles can outlast our humanity….right?
    That’s just American.

  6. Pak’n SAVE is very different from Costco. They don’t rip off shoppers by charging them $65 to shop. They sell a lot more fresh food than Costco and don’t stock a lot of American nasties full of glucose fructose corn syrup (ie lots of 2 kg jars of lollies and chocolates). Some Pak’n SAVEs have a cafe as part of the shop but these sell healthier food than the horrible fatty cheesy pizza’s and carcinogenic sugary coke refills that Costco stocks in their foodcourt. When Costco attempt to sell a salad they coat it with a radioactive looking greasy green dressing. Pak’n SAVE do samples at times – just not on the day you went. From the online reviews in the US it looks like Costco is run like some kind of American bootcamp with a lot of managerial bullying and intimidation, This is less likely at Pak’n SAVE as NZers in positions of power treat their people better than people in positions of power in America treat theirs (ie like slaves judging by the Costco worker’s forums in the US).

  7. hey Dee, if you wanted a low cost supermarket you found it in Pak N Save. You get what you pay for there are plenty of more upper class supermarkets you could have visited. Sorry you missed all the week end fresh markets, also grown in popularity & great for in season fruit & vegetables. As for your comments on storing toilet paper, in fact very few NZ homes would give over space just for that. Maybe sometime you could make a return visit to NZ & get to sample all the great produce you missed the first time.

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