How The COO Of Costco Helped Create Its Beloved Rotisserie Chicken

Rotisserie chicken at Costco
Rotisserie chicken at Costco - Davslens -

When you visit a Costco Wholesale store, chances are you'll see a section of rotisserie chickens available for sale in the deli section. The protein is known for its low cost — having been only $4.99 for over a decade. It's popular because there are plenty of ways to take rotisserie chicken to the next level and make a few different dishes. Although the chicken may be a staple of the store, it hasn't always been around. In fact, Costco's COO is actually part of the reason it's sold in stores.

Back in 1995, Pierre Riel was overseeing Costco's Eastern Canada operations. Riel teamed up with Montreal warehouse manager Louis Santillo. The duo decided that the bulk store should sell rotisserie chicken. The bargain-priced poultry proved popular and other locations began to sell the chicken as well.

In 2019, Riel was promoted to Costco's Canadian senior vice president and country manager. Then, in 2023, he moved up to work as Costco Wholesale International's executive vice president and chief operating officer. While the rotisserie chicken introduction may not have been the sole reason for his promotion, it remains a fun fact of the COO's company history.

Read more: The 12 Best Grocery Store Rotisserie Chickens, Ranked

The Store Keeps Costs Down For The Chicken

Grilling rotisserie chickens
Grilling rotisserie chickens - New Africa/Shutterstock

The idea for introducing the chicken to Costco stores may have been influenced by Quebec's love for rotisserie-style chicken. Since the 1950s, the method of cooking the chicken meat has been pretty popular in the Canadian region. It originally began as a popular offering from Portuguese-owned restaurants. As the popularity of the chicken grew, more stores and restaurants began to sell it.

Much like the famous food court hot dog combo, the cost of the rotisserie hasn't gone up over the years. The protein was priced at $4.99 upon its debut and it is still sold for the same amount in stores today. It received a brief price hike in 2008 but went back to its original price the following year.

The motivation for keeping prices so low, even if the company loses money on the chicken, may be due to driving membership numbers up. In a March 2023 earnings call, CFO Richard Galanti called the chicken "an investment ... to drive membership."

There Have Been Concerns Over The Chicken's Production

Rotisserie chickens packaged at Costco
Rotisserie chickens packaged at Costco - Bloomberg/Getty Images

It seems that keeping the costs of the chicken down have worked out in Costco's favor. While it's unclear how many people purchase memberships solely to buy the chicken, members certainly enjoy the poultry. Costco sells nearly 106 million rotisserie chickens each year.

To keep up with the demand for the poultry, Costco had to open its own facilities. In 2019, the company opened a chicken processing plant in Nebraska. The 400,000-square-foot facility is responsible for maintaining the quality of Costco's rotisserie chickens. Each bird weighs roughly three pounds when purchased in stores, so the processing plant helps maintain consistency.

However, that plant has come under fire for its treatment of the chickens. In 2022, two shareholders in the company sued Costco, claiming that the chain's desire to keep costs down led to violations of animal welfare laws. The lawsuit, CNN reports, claims that employees of the Costco processing plant both neglect and abuse the chickens at the plant. Some purchasers have even complained about the taste of the chicken. The suit is still ongoing, and Costco has not commented.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.