What's The Deal With All The Mislabeled Meat At Costco?

Costco doesn't operate like other big box stores, and that's the appeal. Sure, you have to fork over a membership fee, but that gets you access to a stunning array of products that are usually at huge savings — and don't forget those hot dogs that never go up in price. This has all led to a sort of opaque mystique to the Costco pricing system. People wonder how it arrives at the prices it does, and if they've perchance met with a mistake. In no department has that been more apparent of late than Costco's meat department, which has always been lauded for its selection and values. That said, it seems something fishy is going on, and it has set tongues wagging.

Across the many Subreddits dedicated to subjects like Costco and steak, customers have been posting astonishing deals in an effort to advise others to claim the same or seemingly to make sure they're not in some sort of simulation. Angus tri-tip steaks have been marked down by $4.50 per pound to a shocking total of $2.99 a pound. A large slab of beef back ribs was weighed at 0.01 pounds for a mind-blowing total of $0.04 at the rate of $4.49 per pound. And some pricey lamb racks that normally retail for $12.99 per pound came in at only $4.99 per pound when they got slapped with a label for boneless pork belly.

What's behind Costco's costly mistakes?

The problem seems to lie in rampant mislabeling and honest mistakes by employees in the Costco meat department. We all err once in a while, but when that slip-up is in favor of value-driven consumers, it can be all the more obvious — and delightful for the customer. With so many feeling the woes of inflation, finding a bargain on anything — especially a necessity like groceries — is a welcome relief.

Those posting about these strange Costco savings online have noted that Costco more often than not will honor the deal born of a mislabeling error. Take, for instance, the customer who was able to walk out of a store with four prime filets mignon that had accidentally been labeled as ground beef and priced at $3.99 per pound. The four steaks only set them back a paltry total of $12.01. A Costco meat department supervisor chimed in on Reddit to say that the costly mistake by the store hit him the wrong way, but ultimately, the customer should be awarded the label price.

In the same thread, someone asked if this was some clandestine business move by Costco to intentionally pack stores with folks searching for "mistake" deals. The supervisor shut this down, noting that the meat department at Costco moves quickly and, at times, relies on seasonal employees who don't have the same amount of training as regular employees. Mistakes, as they say, are bound to happen.

The ethical dilemma of a deal

Beyond the reasoning behind these mistakes and speculation about Costco's surreptitious motives, another important question arises: Is it ethical to take advantage of a "deal" that a customer knows was an obvious mistake by the meat department? Lamb chops obviously aren't pork belly, so should the customer have brought this to the attention of a store employee?

One school of thought argues that the customer is knowingly taking advantage of the store, and any argument about the earnings of a store Costco's size is irrelevant. While no one is calling this outright theft, in one Reddit thread a poster asked if a customer would feel the same if they found a large, flat-screen TV accidentally labeled — and priced — as a package of tube socks. This is, of course, a straw man, but it points out the gleefully knowing wrongdoing that so many people have posted about online. On the other hand, Costco is a retailer and is subject to the rules that apply. When they have made a less obvious error, such as correctly labeling meat but with an incorrect price, it may indeed be on them to honor it. Not doing so could be seen as an attempt to bait-and-switch customers at the cash register.