5 Costco Buys That Are Better than Trader Joe’s and Aldi’s Versions

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: The Kitchn)

Costco is the store for bulk buys, Trader Joe’s is the first stop for quirky snacks and time-saving freezer meals, and Aldi is the low-cost sleeper hit of the grocery race. Despite their differences, Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Aldi carry a lot of similar products. So how do you know which products to buy where, when cost isn’t your only deciding factor?

As a longtime Costco loyalist, I supplement my monthly trips to Kirkland Signature’s Paradise of Wonder with stops at Trader Joe’s and, more recently, Aldi. And lately, I’ve been wondering if my favorite Costco products are better bought at Trader Joe’s or Aldi.

So I held an official taste test. The results? These five items have earned a permanent spot on my Costco shopping list — even if I have to drive past Trader Joe’s and Aldi to get there.

(Image credit: Patty Catalano)

1. Kirkland Signature Organic Tortilla Chips

Costco’s Kirkland Signature Organic Tortilla Chips are made of a blend of white and yellow kernels, and win high marks for the corn flavor packed into each chip. The chips are sturdy enough for hearty dip-style dinners like this white chicken chili skillet dip or the oh-so-classic seven-layer dip. They’re dusted with enough salt to season the chips, but not too much that I have to brush off the excess before dipping.

Aldi’s chips are consistently too salty for my taste, while the chips from Trader Joe’s are coarsely textured and sometimes taste stale, even from freshly opened bags.

Tortilla chips are a pantry staple in my house, standing in as an easy appetizer before dinner or a quick snack for neighborhood kids, and filling out the week’s meal plan with nachos or chilaquiles. Because of their versatility, I reach for party-sized bags. Costco’s bag clocks in at 2 1/2 pounds, while Trader Joe’s bag is a mere 9 ounces. I’ve yet to have a bag go stale, thanks to another Costco purchase: a vacuum sealer.

(Image credit: Patty Catalano)

2. Kirkland Signature Sparkling Water

The best cans of flavored sparkling water have a lively effervescence and fresh fruit flavor without an artificial aftertaste. Packed in a 32-can case, Kirkland Signature serves up one-dozen lemon and lime cans each and eight grapefruit for less than eight bucks. All three citrus varieties are brighter and truer to the fruits’ flavor than the Trader Joe’s or Aldi versions.

Both Trader Joe’s and Aldi’s versions are muted by the rapid succession of bubbles. Trader Joe’s sells some flavors of sparkling water in cans, but you’ll find greater variety in one-liter plastic bottles. The only catch with Costco is that you must buy the variety pack, so if you want to stock your fridge with a single flavor, this isn’t the pick for you.

(Image credit: Patty Catalano)

3. Kirkland Signature Thick-Sliced Bacon

I’ve only got eyes for thick-sliced rashers — no paper-thin slices of bacon grace my cast iron skillet (or foil-lined baking sheet). Doing my due diligence in the grocery store, I check each package of bacon before tossing it in the cart, and Kirkland Signature’s thick-sliced bacon consistently has a better balance of meat to fat. This ratio results in strips that don’t shrink, the critical fault I found when cooking bacon from Trader Joe’s. On the flavor front, Costco’s bacon is smoky and savory with just the right level of saltiness, and Aldi’s bacon tastes less flavorful in comparison.

(Image credit: Patty Catalano)

4. Kirkland Signature Hazelnut Spread

There’s no way I’m turning down any Nutella knock-off, but let’s face it — we’ve all wondered which store brand is best. Trader Joe’s is obviously the outlier, swapping hazelnuts for almonds in their cocoa-nut spread. It’s an acceptable stand-in, but misses the mark when you’re looking for the signature buttery flavor of hazelnuts.

Costco and Aldi’s hazelnut spreads deliver on hazelnut flavor, paired with just the right amount of cocoa and sugar. Aldi’s spread had a looser texture than Costco’s and required a brief stir to reincorporate oil that separated out, which means Costco’s version wins. Plus, Costco sells the hazelnut spread in packs of two, giving you an excuse to try magical two-ingredient brownies or a skillet of s’mores.

(Image credit: Patty Catalano)

5. Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto

Costco’s Basil Pesto is the vibrantly green sauce your pasta and chicken have been waiting for. The flavor of fresh basil and Parmesan cheese stand out, thanks to its placement in the refrigerated section of the deli department, rather than on an interior shelf (where Trader Joe’s and Aldi sell their sauces). Both Aldi and Trader Joe’s pestos are thicker and more concentrated, with Aldi’s being slightly oily and Trader Joe’s being heavy on the salt.

No need to fear the large container — pesto is the ideal candidate for freezing, making it (possibly!) one of the best things to buy in bulk (read: The Best Way to Freeze Pesto Is Not What You Think)

Have you ever done a taste test like this? What groceries to do prefer to buy at Costco versus Aldi or Trader Joe’s?