Why I Buy in Bulk and Why You Should Too

Post by our blog team member, Kiran. To learn more about Kiran, check out our team page!


I remember being a kid and loving to make mixed bags of candy from the bulk bins at our grocery store. Times sure have changed for me, and desires have too, but the bulk bins have a new importance in my weekly shopping.

Benefits of Buying in Bulk on 100 Days of #RealFood

I love buying products in bulk. In fact, I will purposely head to our local Earth Fare or Whole Foods so that I can stock up on certain items. If you aren’t shopping from bulk bins or don’t frequent them, I encourage you to do so. And below I’ve shared my reasons why.

Desired Quantity

Perhaps the biggest reason why I buy in bulk is that it allows me to buy exactly how much of the item I want. How many times have you needed just a little bit of a certain ingredient, but you end up buying the whole darn package only to be left with lots of leftovers?

Take pine nuts (for making pesto) for example. You can get fresh ones and only purchase the necessary three tablespoons instead of a big bag.

Or way back when, I had never tried baking with almond flour. I didn’t want to get a whole bag of it, so I bought exactly what I needed for one particular recipe. It’s a great way to avoid waste (and clutter in your pantry, for that matter).

Cost

Not far behind in my reasons why I buy in bulk is simple: it’s cheaper. I actually put this notion to the test by visiting both my local Earth Fare and Whole Foods stores. See the chart below, which illustrates it all:

Food Item

Earth Fare
Bulk Bins

Whole Foods
Bulk Bins

Packaged Goods

Rolled Oats

$1.49/lb$1.59/lb$4.29 for Bob’s Red Mill 32 oz. package
= $2.14/lb
Black Beans (dry, organic)$1.67/lb$1.99/lb$3.99 for Eden’s Organic 16 oz. package
= $3.99/lb
Almonds$11.48/lb (raw organic)$12.99/lb$6.99 for 12 oz. package
= $9.32/lb
Cashews$13.00/lb (raw organic)$10.99/lb$8.99 for 12 oz. package
= $11.99/lb
Almond Flour$6.99/lb$8.99/lb$11.99 for Bob’s Red Mill 16 oz. package
= $11.99/lb
Rice (Long grain organic)$1.99/lb$1.79/lb$4.99 for Texas Best 32 oz. package
= $2.49/lb
Quinoa$5.99/lb$6.99/lb$6.49/lb for Earthly Choice 14 oz. package
= $8.65/lb
Organic Coffee$12.99/lb$9.99 – $11.99/lb$9.99 – $11.99 for 12 oz package
= $13.32 – $15.99/lb

All of the items (except for the nuts) offered significant savings – over 20%, actually!

Reduced Waste

I admit it, I’m a jar junkie. I’m constantly cleaning out jars and reusing them. At first, I drove my husband crazy. Now he admits that it makes our pantry look so much neater and cleaner (win!).

Jars are also free when they come from a packaged product (think jars of unsweetened applesauce or spaghetti sauce) – double win! Anyhow, I now purchase and store nuts, rice, dates, oats, and so much more in easy-to-see jars.

Sometimes I just sit and linger at my pretties in my pantry. Okay, okay. Maybe I’m going too far with that, but I really have a slight obsession :). You don’t have to become a jar junkie like me (by the way, Lisa loves using jars for storage, too!), but know that you’re significantly reducing packaging waste by buying in bulk.

Why I Buy in Bulk and Why You Should Too (Kiran's Pantry) at 100 Days of #RealFood
Kiran’s bulk goods in her pantry.

Freshness

Even though many packaged products provide “best by” dates on them, don’t you sometimes look at bags/boxes of items and wonder just how fresh they really are? With the bulk bins, because they are constantly being refilled, we can hope that the items within are fairly fresh. If nothing else, you can see up close and personal what you are buying, unlike foods in packages.

If you’ve ever shopped the bulk bins, you know that they are diligent about making sure the offerings are up to par. In fact, we talked to a staff member at Earth Fare who spends a good bit of his time at work cleaning, filling, and maintaining the bins, which makes me feel pretty good about it.

Personally speaking, I’ll refill my jars of nuts, etc. and wait until that jar is completely empty before washing the jar and refilling with fresh nuts. Also it goes back to quantity—you only buy what you need so you know those foods are fresh and the rest is not going to sit and get stale.

Remove the Middle Man

This ties together cost and reducing waste. For products to be packaged, it requires fancy packaging and higher overhead for shelf space in retail stores, and let’s not forget transportation to get it all to the stores as well (bulk can be packed tighter than packaged foods in shipping) and the marketing dollars built into the cost.

So there you have it – those are the many reasons I’m a big fan of buying in bulk! Do you agree? Why or why not?

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118 thoughts on “Why I Buy in Bulk and Why You Should Too”

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  1. I use to buy from bulk – specifically organic popcorn but more often then not ended up with a critter in my container. So gross to have a caterpillar crawling around in my food. It’s such a waste.

  2. I’ve found the bulk section to be a great price for spices, but not so much for other foods. Especially if you take into account sales.

  3. I am a jar junkie too….do you have any tips for removing the label? I feel like it takes me forever to get it completely off (as well as the adhesive).

    Thanks!

    1. Often, oil or a fat like peanut butter / mayonnaise will dissolve the adhesive! Then just wash that off with a little soapy water.

    2. If you have something like Fantastik or 409 in your cabinet, soak a paper towel, then lay it over the label and let it sit for 10 minutes or so. The label and adhesive will come right off! You may want to let it sit outside to avoid filling up your kitchen with fumes.

  4. Martha Nethers

    My local grocery store, HEB, also has spices in the bulk area. That way I can get a spice I am not sure about in a small amount so I don’t spend a fortune on something I might not use again. Too bad they didn’t have a particular spice and I bought the expensive bottle and HATE that particular spice. I am glad they have a liberal return policy as I wasted more than 4 dollars on this.
    I can stock up on my favorite spices, too. I use a lot of Cumin and Coriander and it is WAY cheaper in the bulk section.

  5. Dacia Gillette

    I like buying from a co-op such as Azure Standard. You can buy a large bulk amount for a great price or a smaller quantity for a really good price. They have lots of things that even Whole Foods doesn’t have.

    The catch is that you can order only once a month & have to buy a certain $ amount. But if you buy a lot of natural good, it’s worth it.

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Dacia, I’ve heard great things about Azure Standard but have never tried them. I will check them out!

  6. Right on, guys! Plus, the spices are awesome in the bulk section of Whole Foods!! Though I haven’t been to Earth Fare, I bet they have great prices too! They are ORGANIC and a way better deal than any packaged non-organic spices I’ve seen! This is a post on Whole Food deals: http://fresh-you.blogspot.com/2013/11/top-5-whole-foods-market-bargains.html Costco has some super deals, of course in bulk, on oats, quinoa, and brown rice, all organic! When you buy things in bulk, you can go lots of places, since you don’t have to get it all the time. Good point too, about just getting the amount that’s best for you! Great post!!! Happy weekend :)

  7. We have Amish/Mennonite bulk stores near us where the items are divided into various size quantities by the store employees to take advantage of them buying in large quantities but we can buy in smaller quantities.

    The items are packaged in the store into smaller quantities in smaller bags/recyclable containers. I would think cross-contamination would be less of an issue although you’d have to ask at your particular store.

    At my store you can also get items you want in 25-50 lb bags if you like at good prices.

  8. As many others have said, I prefer gravity bins over scoops, and I also only buy a few things like treats for my husband and myself. With my son’s allergies I just can’t trust bulk bins!

  9. I would love to buy in bulk but I have Celiac Disease and the c.c. risk is too high :/. maybe GF bulk food stores are coming! ha.

  10. I don’t have a store around me that have these bins. If I buy bulk I have to buy from a warehouse like Costco or order from an online coop. I wish I had one here.

  11. If I can, I buy all my nuts, granola, and most snacks in Bulk. I was buying flour also, but since I moved, I don’t have a store that sells bulk flour near by.

  12. There are two more good reasons for buying bulk:

    a lot of people is going 2-3 times a week to shop. If you buy bulk, you can min that to max 1 time a week for shopping.
    I dont know, how often you in the USA / Canada do this, but here in germany is normal, to drive a few times in a week to buy food.

    crazy!!!

    (and if you drive one time a week, you have lower bills for gas!)

    The second point is, buy it one time AND bulk and this should be enough for a period (for example 10days). Many people are buying still food and other things, they dont really need. So you waste a lot of money.

    Make a plan, how much you and your family will need for the next 10 days, and buy only this.

    (sorry for my bad english)

    Best regards from germany!

    1. I have lived in Europe and the US. I found in Europe it much more common to shop several times a week and use mostly fresh ingredients, where as in the US one weekly or biweekly shopping is king. I usually do one big shop a month for staples and one or two times a week for food stuff.

  13. I love buying ingredients in bulk! It’s a great way for a single person or couple to eat whole foods without the expense and waste of food! I find I never went through ingredients quick enough to maintain freshness when it was just me and a partner who still hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon!

  14. I have never bought at a bin before. I know this is a silly question, but what do you buy and what is it for? I’m really trying to get us on a healthy path. Thanks.

    1. Huh? There’s an entire post plus a graphic showing what items the writer buys. And photos. What did you not understand?

  15. I worry about cleanliness…have seen too many people sampling. The other issue I have is pantry moths. Our local co-op has bulk bins, but every time I am there I see a moth or two fluttering around. Having had a few infestations over the years, I am not willing to risk bringing them home again in a scoop of lentils or flour! If I could find a place with really high turnover of items and bins that didn’t allow for people to put their hands in, I might change my mind.

    1. Moths are a problem in all kinds of packaged foods. I’ve gotten them in flours grains and mixes. Also from bins. That where glasses jars are nice. If I see an infestation I toss the jar.

      1. Oh, I agree that moths can be a problem in packaged food too! But since I have actually seen them at the local co-op, I avoid buying items there.

  16. I agree with everything you mentioned, but I would like to add that buying spices in bulk is a tremendous savings! Plus, the freshness is notable. And Costco is great for buying yeast in a large quantity – great when you make your own breads, etc.

  17. As far as cleanliness and freshness the Co OP I use to work at was pretty strict about cleaning them. Each bin was cleaned at least biweekly and since most bins are gravity bins the newest product stays at the top and the older product at the bottom and gets used first.

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      I’m so glad to hear this. Re: the cleanliness thing, I think it’s a matter of each store. I know that at our Earth Fare, there is a gentleman whose job is basically working with the bins – and he takes his job very seriously. I like to think that they are clean(??!)

  18. I have been buying in bulk for years. Cost comparisons are important. Winco has organic coffee for $6.98/lb!
    The sampling issue does concern me so I only buy the tempting items from bins that are not open and accessible (nuts especially). I get a kick out of trying to keep each item to $1.00. It makes shopping everywhere like going to the Dollar Store (and causes the cashiers to give me a funny look- LOL)!!

  19. I seldom buy in bulk because I don’t have any stores that offer bulk bins within an h our of me. Not everyone has an Earth Fare of Whole Foods nearby. I wish I did.

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      I hate to hear that, Cheryl. I definitely feel fortunate having so many options (with bulk bins) near us. Hopefully one will be in your area sometime soon!

  20. Unfortunately, I rarely buy food in bulk for one reason. How do we know for sure if an item in the bin is what the label says it is? How do we know for sure the store isn’t just putting conventional product in, and labeling it as organic to make more money? I just don’t have that sort of blind faith I guess.

  21. Thanks for this post, another great topic. It pays to compare. Depending on your area, the item, how much you need, your decision of what will ultimately be most cost effective may be much different from someone else. I like bulk foods for some items, not for others. I really like them when I’m trying something new with my family. Even if it’s less in conventional I can buy the exact amount I need for one recipe. If it’s a “please never again Mom” I don’t feel bad with no waste.

    1. Hi Cheryl, When I’m in a hurry and have used the store bags I take advantage of their recycling station on my next visit. I like these reusable bags which don’t add weight and are washable. https://www.etsy.com/shop/kootsac?ref=pr_shop_more If you have another container, such as a glass jar, that adds weight simply go to customer service and have it weighed before you shop. Peace.

  22. This is great! Thanks, Kiran. I love seeing your price chart. I can get most of these items for at least 25% less at Costco than your bulk bin prices, but there you have to buy big quantities. You can save money in the long run by buying certain items from the bulk bins. There’s no waste when you only buy as much as you need. :)

  23. I buy short grain organic brown rice at Whole Foods and it’s 1.99 per pound if I buy it from the bulk section or packaged. Same with organic dried black beans and organic dried red lentils. I have always heard bulk shopping is cheaper but have not found it to be true in my area. Or at least not the things I buy. I never even thought of buying almond flour and pine nuts from the bulk section – such a great idea. Thanks!

  24. Erica Wachtler

    I totally agree with this! I have purchased spices for specific recipes and they have been less than .50, example: a few bay leaves didn’t even register on the scale so I think I paid .07 A jar of the same bay leaves was $6.99! It’s also nice to just have the quantity needed for that recipe and not let a random spice jar sit in your pantry for months.

  25. While I do buy some items in bulk because I am a huge advocate of reducing packaging waste and of course saving money, I do have a concern that limits me. I have a daughter with tree nut allergies. I will not buy flours for example because I have watched people use the same scoop from one bin to the next nearby bin. Can’t afford the potential for cross contamination.

  26. Unfortunately, those of us who have to eat gluten-free cannot buy food from or eat food using items from bulk bins. I have been told in multiple stores (Whole Foods, etc) that they do not wash the bulk bins when they refill them. They could use a bin for almond flour this week/month but in the prior week/month, maybe they used it for wheat flour. There is too high of a risk of cross-contamination.

    1. I was going to post something similar; besides the actual cleaning of the bins themselves, the customers themselves are often quite messy, spilling contaminants all over the place. And don’t get me started on the people who ‘sample.’

    2. I agree with the cross-contamination. My son is allergic to peanuts and there is a sign at the store that says any of the bins could have had peanuts in them. Being that the items in those bins are all dry goods I doubt very seriously that any of them are washed out. There would be too big a risk of them not being good and dry before adding things back and then they could spoil quickly. I don’t know how they are cleaned (if I couldn’t wash it I would blast it with an air hose but that is just me LOL). If we didn’t have allergies in the family and they were the gravity bins (which my store has) I would use them. I don’t like the scoops because too many people take out and eat from them and their hands have been “who knows where.” Nuts in the shell would the exception as I would scoop those and buy.

  27. Buying in bulk always looks great, but not safe for those with food allergies. As mentioned in other comments, there is the question of cleanliness, and you never know what might have been in the bin before.

  28. My local store has food in bulk, at times I will purchase items from the bins, but I am always concerned as to how fresh the items are and how often they are replenished. I’m not sure how often the bulk bins are used at the store I shop at. Do most stores have a log of how often the bins are cleaned, refilled, etc.?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Cynthia. I think you would need to ask each individual store what their bulk practices are. ~Amy

  29. I never buy in bulk in the grocery store. I’m concerned about the cleanliness. I have asked many times in stores how often the bins are cleaned and mostly I hear never. Just me…

  30. I recently started buying a few things in bulk at whole foods as you said because you can just buy what you need. The only thing I don’t like is not having a label for directions or to see where the item actually came from. I also get my nuts at Trader Joe”s as well as their price is better.Thanks for the comparison chart..helpful info!

  31. I love buying in bulk too, for many of the same reasons. But I have to include a caution. Once not too long ago I saw a small child running amuck in the bulk section. She was opening all the bulk containers she could find and running her hands through the product. All this along with a runny nose. Now I never purchase bulk product from any bin that can be reached by a small child. Yuck.

    1. I’ve seen adults do something similar when taking ‘samples.’ I stopped buying from bulk bins with scoops (including seasonings) for that reason, along with general cross contamination from careless people.

  32. It annoys me that food manufacturers sell 6 oz of yogurt when it used to be 8 oz, 12 or 14 oz of pasta when it used to be a full pound, and so on. Do they think that we don’t understand that if they sell us less for the same price, we are paying more? Some food manufacturers create their packages in such a way that it’s impossible to get all the food out. In some cases, as with potato chips, when you buy packaged foods, you may be paying for air!

    So I would say that a benefit of buying in bulk is that you do not feel ripped off by a manufacturer.

  33. One caveat when it comes to pricing: be careful and do the math. I moved to a new city a few months ago and soon found that at the only store in town that carries bulk items like flour and rolled oats, the bulk items are actually more expensive per ounce than packaged items like Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur’s flours. I still use them for things like carob chips, dried fruits or spices, since (like the author) I can buy only what I need for the short term, but for things like oatmeal or flour that I use every day, I stick to the packaged dry goods. I’m desperately holding onto hope that my little college town will one day sprout a Sprouts!

    1. We just got a Sprouts, Snellville, Georgia, and I am in love. The bulk bins are fantastic. Their organic produce can’t be beat by any other grocery chain around.

  34. I love to shop from the bulk bins, the fact that I can get just a cup of something is awesome. But I have to admit that the prepackaged nuts at Trader Joe’s are a great deal, and always beat the price of the bulk bins.