You don’t have to be good at maths to understand the economic benefits of buying in bulk at stores like Costco. And since opening in Australia in 2009 the US-based company has already established a considerable Australian fan base, with operations currently under way in Victoria, NSW and Canberra. But health experts say extra-large trolleys will only add more kilojoules to a nation whose waistline is already heading in the wrong direction.
Garry Egger, a Professor of Lifestyle Medicine at Southern Cross University and co-author of Planet Obesity: How we are eating ourselves and the planet to death, told CHOICE that stores like Costco are adding to what he calls a pattern of “consumption for economic growth”. Offering more food at cheaper prices encourages greater consumption, Egger says, which is good for business all-around.
“We’re encouraged to buy more than we need through the system, and we’ve passed the sweet spot to the point where it’s actually causing disease.”
Egger argues that the food industry’s push for greater consumption, especially in the western world, is the major force behind Australia’s obesity epidemic.
He believes stores selling in bulk are putting a burden on health systems that increasingly have to deal with weight-related disease. “It’s a cost saving for them, but it’s a cost increase to the community as a whole.”
Lisa Renn, an accredited dietitian and member of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), agrees that buying in bulk encourages unhealthy eating habits. “I see people on a daily basis who tell me that if there is food is in the house in large quantities, they’re going to eat it. What we’re seeing with these bulk purchases is that people are buying the 24-can slabs of Coke, they’re buying bigger packets of chips and bigger blocks of chocolate.”
But Renn believes it’s not just the food providers who should do more to encourage healthy consumption. “DAA supports a collaborative approach, which means involving government, the food industry, the media, marketers and consumer groups. But the buck stops also at the individual.”
Costco declined to answer questions about any connection between bulk buying and unhealthy eating. “Costco is a wholesaler and our bulk packaging is designed to offer the best value to our wholesale members,” the company said in a written statement.