Business

To discourage large parties, Costco stops selling half-sheet cakes

Posted June 26, 2020 7:39 a.m. EDT
Updated June 29, 2020 4:47 p.m. EDT

Graduation sheet cake

It had been a long quarantine for Megan Engles and her family, and they desperately needed a reason to celebrate. So when their dog Linus’ birthday arrived, Engles, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri, did what she would do for any other special occasion: She headed to her local Costco to pick up a sheet cake. But there were none to be found.

Costco’s half-sheet cakes, rectangular creations beloved by shoppers for their affordability and freshness, have long been a staple at birthday parties, graduations and other large events. But like handshakes and crowded bars, the cakes may have become another casualty of the coronavirus.

Half-sheet cakes are not being sold at any location in the U.S., and the company has no immediate plans to bring them back, Costco said in a statement Thursday. The bakeries instead will focus on round, 10-inch cakes that “seem to be resonating with our members,” the statement said.

While Costco would not elaborate on the specific reason for discontinuing sales of the half-sheet cakes, the company indicated in a response to several customer comments on Facebook that it was related to the coronavirus pandemic. “To help limit personal contact and create more space for social distancing, Costco has reduced service in some departments,” the company wrote. “At this time, we are not making sheet cakes for special order.”

Costco sheet cakes have played a role in most of Engles’ family events, from her grandmother’s 100th birthday party to anniversary celebrations.

“They’re delicious,” Engles said. “I don’t know if they’re fresh or if Costco uses superior ingredients, but they’re delicious.”

The frosting on the grocery store cake she settled for on Linus’ birthday tasted waxy, and the cake was more expensive, she said.

While Engles realizes that under coronavirus protocol, there are few, if any, large-scale gatherings happening that would require a large cake, she said she thought customers should have the choice to buy one — even if that means having leftovers to freeze. Costco’s half-sheet cakes, which were advertised as serving 48 people, cost less than $20, customers said. Two cake flavors were offered: white, filled with 2 pounds of vanilla cheesecake mousse and topped with white buttercream frosting; and chocolate, filled with 2 pounds of chocolate mousse and iced with chocolate buttercream. Customers could choose from a variety of designs, including flowers, lattice hearts or a dinosaur.

The company announced in a video on Facebook last month that it was discontinuing its half-sheet cakes, prompting an online outcry from customers. Several commenters said the sheet cakes were the only reason they had splurged on a Costco membership. One customer said she had served the cake at her wedding and had bought it every year for her anniversary.

When Shala Reed, of Yorkville, Illinois, became a Costco member, her first purchase was a chocolate sheet cake that read “Congrats on your new Costco card.” She said she had bought a sheet cake every month since.

Reed vowed to flood Costco’s suggestion box until the company brings them back.

Jessica Luke, of Jeffersonton, Virginia, said she had purchased sheet cakes at least three times a year. The last ones she bought were for her son’s 5th birthday last year. One was a vanilla cake decorated with an American flag, the other a chocolate cake decorated with a red, white and blue unicorn.

“We have been members of Costco for over a decade and purchased those cakes for every excuse we could,” Luke said. “The cakes have a filling that is rich and sweet and keeps the cake moist.”

This isn’t the first time Costco shoppers have gone to battle for a food item. Customers expressed similar dissatisfaction when the company announced it would no longer sell Polish hot dogs at the food court. (The hot dogs have not returned.)

As for the future of the half-sheet, some customers are holding out hope that the company will reinstate it when large gatherings are allowed.

“Cakes are at the very center of celebrations,” Engles said. “Entire events are even centered around the cutting of the cake. Being able to have them in this time helps create joy and still allows for celebration in a time that some people may feel there isn’t a lot to celebrate.

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.