Coronavirus casualty: This popular item is no longer available at Costco

Coronavirus casualty: This popular item is no longer available at Costco

What is at the top of the to-do list of every party planner? Refreshments, right? The most popular party treat is the cake. It doesn’t matter if it is a casual family birthday party or a formal wedding, the cake takes the spotlight. Costco is throwing cold water on all that, though, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

With the coronavirus mitigation guidelines in place, everyone is staying home as much as possible. Non-essential activities have fallen by the wayside and that includes social gatherings which we are told to avoid now. Costco is adjusting to the new normal and is no longer selling half-sheet cakes in its bakeries. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is. There is not a half-sheet cake to be found in any Costco location in the United States. And, there are no plans to bring them back.

Costco has made many adjustments during the coronavirus pandemic, as have all companies. The halt to selling the half-sheet cakes seems to be a part of their mitigation process. The cakes are very popular because they are economically priced and tasty, too. The company is offering its 10-inch cake as a substitute. Costco half-sheet cakes cost under $20 and serve up to 48 people, though I’d say that was a generous estimate. The 10-inch cakes serve 8 to 10 people, which is in line with current restrictions on social gatherings.

Normally, this time of year would be a very busy time for the larger cakes. Graduation parties and weddings are popular activities during the summer months. The demand for the half-sheet cakes didn’t decrease even as social gatherings came to a halt. People still want to buy them for small celebrations or special family celebrations. Extra cake (is there really such a thing?) can be frozen and eaten later, or taken over to friends and neighbors. People like cake.

During the pandemic, though, Costco bakeries are at reduced service in order to make sure social distancing space is available in stores.

The news first broke back in May when Costco posted a somewhat hidden statement to its Facebook page announcing the new 10-inch dessert. “Big achievements deserve a celebration! Share the love with your grad by picking up a round 10” cake at the bakery. Please note: Half-sheet cakes are currently not available to order or customize,” the chain wrote, alone with a video showcasing white and chocolate versions of the cake.

The store also confirmed the news to TODAY Food Tuesday in an emailed statement: “We are currently not selling our 1/2 sheet cakes at any US locations and as of right now, we have no immediate plans to bring them back. We are focusing on our smaller 10″ White & 10″ Chocolate Cakes that seem to be resonating with our members.”

As customers continue to ask the company to bring back the wildly popular cakes on its Facebook page, the company released a brief response – “To help limit personal contact and create more space for social distancing, Costco has reduced service in some departments.”

Something Costco has brought back is offering free samples of products. The free smorgasbord is a thing of the past now but samples are given out as pre-packaged items and kept behind plexiglass shields. Gone are the open samples that customers could just pick up with their hands, which from a sanitary perspective is probably a good thing. CFO Richard Galanti said the decision was made to bring the samples back during the month of June.

The retailer suspended its popular samples in its wholesale clubs in early March amid the spread of the coronavirus. It was one of the first programs to be cut as the threat of COVID-19 grew.

Club Demonstration Services, a vendor that has handled sampling for Costco for years, says on its website that clubs in 16 states are in the first phase of the return, noting a limited number of demos are being scheduled for participating clubs each day.

“Starting slowly will allow Costco and us to make sure we are taking the right steps to engage members safely, while maintaining the proper controls around the demo cart,” Don Dohanyos, the company’s president, said in a June 4 post. “We will take the lessons learned in our early demos to improve our overall processes while we prepare for future rollouts.”

Let’s face it, these are difficult times and it is often difficult to find joy. Cakes are happy treats. Perhaps the company will reconsider and make the half-sheet cakes available again after the coronavirus pandemic eases up.

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David Strom 9:21 PM on March 24, 2023