Costco's hallmark $4.99 rotisserie chickens involve mistreated birds, two shareholders claim in a lawsuit filed this week in the retailer's home state of Washington.
The wholesale club opened a $450 million chicken processing plant in Nebraska in 2019 in an effort to control costs, and the suit filed Monday in the Superior Court of King County accuses Costco of "illegal neglect and abandonment" in the facility. The suit alleges that Costco intentionally breeds chickens too large to stand on their own, and the "disabled birds slowly die from hunger, injury and illness."
The company's practices are illegal in Iowa and Nebraska, two states where Costco keeps chickens, the complaint further alleges.
"Once lauded as an innovative warehouse club, Costco today represents a grim existence for animals in Nebraska who are warehoused in inescapable misery," claimed Alene Anello, president of the group Legal Impact for Chickens, in a statement. "Costco's executives must agree to follow both the law and general decency in order for Costco to resume being seen as an industry leader," added Anello, who represents the shareholders.
Costco spokespersons did not respond to requests for comment.
Sold under the retailer's brand name, Kirkland Signature, the whole chickens are known for their taste and low cost, selling for $4.99 since 2009. Costco sells the birds at a loss, betting members will be enticed by higher-margin products on their way to the hot rotisserie chickens.
The suit follows allegations from another animal rights group about Costco's chickens. In 2021, Mercy for Animals covertly filmed scenes of injured and deformed chickens in a crowded warehouse at a Costco chicken farm in Nebraska. The video became fodder for an essay in the New York Times.
The company's roasted rotisserie chickens have also drawn fire for their sodium content, as have other inexpensive rotisserie chickens offered by other chains. A salt solution is often injected into the cooked birds to increase flavor and tenderness, leaving Costco's chicken with 460 mg of sodium in a three-ounce serving, Consumer Reports reported last year.
Costco sold 106 million rotisserie chickens in 2021.