Costco, Salt and Profits

- Oct• 08•12

Last week my team and I sent out a media release attacking Costco for deliberately promoting salt and salt-laden products to its customers. That act alone would have been bad enough. But Costco chose to publish an article in its “Costco Connection” magazine which states that salt is good for you and that eating too little salt can be harmful. In the corner of the same page there is a reminder about several brands of sea salt available at Costco. Nice touch!

To make the case that people don’t need to reduce their intake of salt, the writer, an herbalist, quoted distorted interpretations of selected scientific data.  The article also implies that any advice to restrict salt consumption is a case of unnecessary Big Brother intervention, which is exactly what many people want to hear.

But there’s a catch—a deadly one.

Even those scientists who don’t buy the notion that everyone needs to cut back on their salt consumption agree that salt reduction is advisable for certain categories of people and certain conditions. Those include individuals who:

  • Are over the age of sixty
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have heart disease and heart failure
  • Suffer from diabetes
  • Are obese
  • Are of African American descent

As the media release points out, three out of four people walking into Costco fall into one of these categories. Therefore three quarters of Costco’s customers should reduce their salt intake. To encourage them to consume salt is unconscionable, especially when you think about just how many people we’re talking about.

Costco is the fifth largest retailer in the US and the seventh largest in the world. An estimated 55 million members are exposed to this magazine. If three out of every four of those members shouldn’t be eating salt, we’re talking about more than 41 million people whose health could be adversely affected by this article. That doesn’t even include the undetermined number of non-members who visit the website.

What are the chances that Costco higher ups—or the “Costco Connection” editors—do not know that numerous nonprofit and scientific panels across the world in addition to US government agencies such as the FDA weighed all the evidence before coming up with the current salt reduction guidelines? 

What are the chances that Costco higher ups—or the “Costco Connection” editors—do not know that the author of the article misquoted the conclusions of the global Intersalt study which was reviewed by so many notable scientists, all of who documented the connection between salt and high blood pressure?

And what are the chances the Costco higher ups—or the “Costco Connection” editors—do not know that the author was using one selected scientific paper instead of the opinion of the worldwide consensus panels of scientists who have concluded that salt reduction saves lives and improves health?

If they don’t know, they should. If they do know, how misleading!

Come on Costco, you could just as easily take the high road here.  How about using your “ginormous” influence to educate your 55 million members about the dangers of salt? You could even take the lead by making low salt versions of many the food items you sell and still make a solid profit. But to place profit over the health and wellbeing of so many millions of people? That’s just inexcusable.

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