The Design Quirk That Wards Shoppers Away From Costco Milk

Costco knows no shortage of popularity. Folks are dedicated to Costco's bulk food buys, but also to its food court favorites (hot dogs, anyone?), reasonable prices, and the knowledge that it's considered an employer that treats its employees fairly. Heck, Costco even has attained a certain social cache with products such as its Kirkland Signature brand hooded sweatshirt. There's no discounting it — the discount store is more popular than its competitors.

One of the reasons for Costco's popularity is that its in-house brand, Kirkland Signature, is very high quality. (That's in part because Kirkland Signature products are often brand-name items that have been repacked with the Costco branding.) Customers like knowing they can go to Costco for the products they love, without paying the same price they would at another store. It's a system that's propelled Costco to the top of the charts for big club stores. 

But that doesn't mean Costco knocks it out of the park with every product, and one in particular has become incredibly unpopular: milk.

Costco's milk jugs are square — and that's a problem

People can have a lot of opinions when it comes to how milk is packaged. It's regularly commented on that in parts of Canada, milk comes in bags. And when folks reminisce about the "good old days," images of glass milk bottles waiting to be picked up by the milkman are common. But for a while now, most of our milk has come in one of two ways: cardboard carton or plastic jugs with a slight slope in the top. But for the last 15 years, Costco has gone a different direction.

In 2008, the company introduced a new shape for its milk jugs — one that's notably more square than its predecessors and competitor's brands. The decision at the time seemed easy; according to The New York Times, the square containers are easier to both pack and ship. The square jugs also mean that there's no need for traditional milk crates, because they are now stacked by machine. 

But for all the benefits to the company, customers have not been happy with the change.

Costco's milk spills easier now

In the most basic sense, customers are upset over spilled milk. The problem with the shape of the square jars is that they are significantly harder to pour than the usual jugs, thanks to the taller sides. It's a complaint that started back when the change first happened in 2008 and remains a common one today. During the most recent Annual Shareholders meeting, Costco CEO Craig Jelinek was asked about the design, with the shareholder saying, "I have been complaining about this for over 10 years."

Jelinek went on to thank the shareholder for their feedback before explaining that many years have gone into trying to perfect the design and minimize issues. He went on to say that Costco would look into it more. "We can certainly look at some of the bottlers and see where the problem may be — if it's in the container, if it's how it's being bottled," the CEO said. 

That means there may be hope on the horizon for Costco customers who just want to pour their milk without strategizing how not to spill. Costco continues to illustrate why it's the most popular warehouse store by far.