How can you save when financial times are tough? Shop bulk. With economic conditions affecting the cost of food as well as everything else, buying in bulk these days is smarter than ever for consumers. The bulk philosophy is simple: by the pinch or by the pound, buy only what you need.
When you buy in bulk you aren’t paying for fancy (and often useless) packaging. You get a simple plastic bag or plastic container and the product you need in the exact amount in which you need it.
Our good friends at Syracuse Real Food Co-op published a great article about buying in bulk that they passed along to us and we’re happy to pass it along to you too.
Originally published in the News from Syracuse Real Food Co-op
As a co-op shopper, you’re no doubt familiar with bulk product bins. For many customers, the bulk section is part of what’s so attractive about the store — offering a help-yourself, take-just-how-much-you-need-of-whatever-you-need atmosphere. In addition to ambience, though, those bulk buying opportunities offer big advantages to you as a customer as well as to the environment. Here’s what benefits:
Buying in bulk is economical. In the bigger scheme of things, your co-op is founded in part on the advantages of bulk-buying principles; it combines member resources to buy in bulk together, from distributors, to offer access to the best food at the best prices. In fact, many food co-ops started as bulk buying clubs, with members of the club buying in bulk together and divvying up their purchases. Your storefront enables you to share in the same kind of bulk buying with even greater advantages — like great selection and no-minimum purchases.
When you shop the bulk section of your natural foods store, you can purchase the amount of product you need, rather than predetermined amounts. Most products (herbs and spices especially) are much less expensive per ounce than their prepackaged versions; after all, you’re not paying for all that packaging and advertising! And there’s no need to pay for what you won’t use. Instead, you can choose — from a wide selection of products — exactly what you need, whether it’s just enough saffron to try that new salmon recipe or enough oats to make a jumbo batch of granola — without any waste.
Speaking of waste, it takes enormous resources and energy to produce all of those cans and boxes and cartons and labels — almost all of which wind up in our landfills. Even recyclable food packaging takes energy to produce and recycle (and some of it still ends up in landfills). You’re making a significant environmental difference by buying in bulk — especially when you reuse your own containers and bags. Make the co-op your food shopping mainstay and stock up while you’re there and you’ll save fuel, too, with fewer trips for groceries.
In addition to economic and environmental advantages, buying in bulk feeds tendencies to eat more healthfully- because they offer the opportunity to expand your healthful recipe repertoire. You can try quinoa or currants, adzuki beans or macadamia nuts or any item that’s new to you before you commit to stocking up on it. (You’ll often find a wider selection of items in bulk than on the prepackaged shelves, too.)
If you have special nutritional or cooking needs — because you’re a vegan or are allergic to peanuts, wheat or dairy, or are interested in experimenting with a new ethnic cuisine, for example — you’re likely to find just what you need in the bulk aisle.
Your food co-op takes steps to make sure that the bulk product you buy is fresh, too — by purchasing the freshest product possible and by rotating stock to ensure that you receive the freshest product.
All of this adds to the fun of buying in bulk, too, which is not to be underestimated! When you purchase a product in bulk, you have first-hand experience with its aroma, its color, texture and its appearance. No need to shake a box or trust the picture on a can to envision what’s inside!
Before heading out to the co-op, you might want to organize your cupboards a bit — to make room for your bulk products. Purchase some nice, airtight glass jars (safer than plastics for food storage), if you like, and some labels so you can keep track of what’s what once you put it in your kitchen or pantry. Grab your empty containers and sacks, along with a list of how much you need of which ingredients. (Don’t wait to shop until you have containers, though; the co-op can supply them for you to get started.)
Once you’re in the bulk aisle, look to see what items you usually purchase in packages or cans that you can now purchase in bulk. But also explore a bit, maybe trying one or two new items each visit! Here are just some of the kinds of products you’ll most likely find in the bulk aisle: beans, cereals, flours, grains, herbs and spices, nut butters (you may even get to grind your own), oils, pastas, sweeteners, teas and coffees (Fair Trade), pet food, and household and toiletry items like laundry detergent and soaps.
Remember to weigh your containers before filling them (you’ll find scales in the bulk section, too), so that you don’t get charged for the weight of the containers when the products are weighed for checkout. Note this weight, as well as the item number and the price of the item, on the container, a sticker or a piece of paper.
When filling your containers, use the scoops provided. If you’re purchasing a liquid, you’ll probably find a funnel in the area for ease of filling your container. You’ll want to take your time and not make unnecessary messes, but if you spill something, don’t panic. Ask a staff person for assistance in cleaning it up.
Also ask a staff person if you’d like to order a large amount of an item (a 25-pound bag of millet or a 10 -pound block of mozzarella, for example), your co-op may be able to special-order it for you.
Most importantly, don’t be intimidated by the bulk foods section. It really is as fun and as shopper-friendly as it looks. For your own benefit and that of the planet, make a habit of bulk buying!