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

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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).


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.


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. Does earth fare allow you to rate/zero out jars? Or do you have to use the provided plastic bags to buy in bulk there?

    (I also have a jar obsession and likewise find myself lovingly gazing and my pretty pantry!)

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Hi Page,
      If you take the containers to the register before filling them, they will give you the tare rate. Glad you can appreciate my love of jars! :)


  2. Hi Lisa,

    I love buying in bulk, but sometime my local WF (in Boston) charges more for bulk than packaged stuffs (flour and rice)! :(

  3. Today I went looking for “granola”……….My wife has looked on line, and found lots of places to buy bulk, but, the prices were really high and the more locations you look at the more difference you see in the prices. It’s like each company tries to greed more money out of each item they offer. I don’t think they even look on these pages to see what other companies are asking. I mean differences of $10-15 a pound !!! Ridiculous……

  4. I love bulk bins! I love trying out new spices – the bulk bins allow me to only buy a couple of tablespoons at a time! ;-) However, you do need to be careful with prices – I shop at Winco, and their bulk bins are sometimes MORE expensive than buying a package. Case in point – the last time I was there, I compared the price of a 5 lb. package of Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour – the bag was 20-cents cheaper *per pound* than buying it in bulk. It was even cheaper than buying the giant 25 lb. bag they have for survival fanatics! lol It doesn’t make sense to me. The moral of the story is to keep your brain turned on and keep checking prices to make sure you are getting the best deal. Cheers!

  5. Come to Canada! We have a chain of stores called Bulk Barn…it’s my happy place. They sell spices in bulk too so I only get enough to fill my container

  6. My bulk purchases have dwindled down to almost nothing now that my son’s preschool has a strict no-nut policy. Every bulk bin has the disclaimer that the product may have touched a nut. Boo! I love bulk buying!

  7. The only that bothers me about bulk is price. I’ve always tho’t bulk products were cheaper but have found that, like so many other things, once people caught on to using them more, the price went up.

    I agree with all other points. I love my jars in my pantry. :)

  8. I don’t generally buy from the bulk bins because I a) buy local where possible, and b) buy in greater quantities so it’s more cost effective. For example, I buy my whole-wheat flour in 50-lb bags from a mill that buys direct from the farmers that grow it. They are within 100 miles of me. I buy dried beans from the family that grows them in 5lb bags. I buy oats from a distributor that gets from from the farmers. i buy my brown rice in 50lb bags as well though those aren’t local.

    1. Hi Christa,
      I’m not sure where you live, but I’m in South Jersey (the busy part) and well, I’d love more information on how I can start buying more directly from the farmers in Jersey and/or PA. Where can I start to look? If you have any great tips or website, please share them!

      Thank you,

  9. With bulk beans and other items you will be cooking, there shouldn’t be a problem with germs. Living in small towns for many years, I found the local health food store was the place to buy all my spices. Whole Foods no longer has many bulk spices and, if you replace them every 6 months, this is a good option. They move pretty fast here so freshness isn’t a problem. Not having cooking instructions isn’t much of a problem if you use the Internet.

  10. I hope those that are and continuing to buy in bulk are using reusable bulk bags and not the plastic bags provided on the roll in the store… Amazon sells lots of options, sew your own from used t-shirts, etc…Just take them to the customer service to be tared and write the numbers of the items on a piece of paper, your phone notepad, your grocery list, etc…

  11. I can tell you a friend of mine works at Hy-Vee and told me to never buy from their bins because I have a child with a nut allergy. She said that the workers she has witnessed have no care about over spill or mixing items by mistake or taking on scoop from one bin and putting it in another bin. She said you really would not believe how little time and care they take into putting those items in the bin so for me, sorry I am out!

  12. Not to be a “negative-Nelly”, but I once read an article that said we shouldn’t buy from bulk bins… because (the reason is gross) of all the things they found inside the bins, other than what they were trying to sell. Non-food products left by shoppers.

  13. Terry Hendeerson

    When I have looked at buying bulk in those stores and others like them, they have been way more expensive. So I didn’t …

  14. I bought my first items from the bulk bins this week! I’m so proud of myself. I bought steel cut oats to try for my granola bars and popcorn kernels that were cheaper than the bags.

  15. While I am starting to buy a few items from bulk bins if i just need a small amount but I am concerned about contamination also. I have SEEM people stick their hands in the bin! and how often do those scoops land back in the bin with the handles touching the food. I even saw a woman count out cinnamon sticks once and after she weighed them she put some of them BACK! UGHHH I got a clerk but he did nothing so i went and got the manager.. she removed the jar… but for how long i wonder??

    1. I understand how it may not be nice to view people handling your food, but honestly how do you think it got from the farm to the bulk bin? Hint – it wasn’t a sanitary lab. :)

  16. I’m not sure if this has been addressed, too many comments to read through. But, I do not buy from bulk bins due to cross contamination concerns. I have a gluten sensitive, peanut allergic toddler and I can never trust that these items have not been in the bin recently. I also am a little, not overly, concerned about all the handsies in and out of the bin. If I think about it too much it kind of grosses me out.

  17. I LOVE bulk bins! Unfortunately, I live in an area where bulk bins are not available in stores (yet). I drive 45 minutes – 1 hour to Earth Fare and other natural foods stores to stock my pantry. I am a jar collector, too. Don’t even get me started about the excitement of the blue and green Ball jars! Which looks better in blue? Black beans or white rice? I’ve tried both. :-) The trip is worth it to me, I buy enough for a month or two, I get organic foods for a fraction of the price (organic is pricey in this area), and I have my organized jar pantry. Triple-win!

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Steph – you are so cute. Glad I’m not the only one who gets excited about the jars! At first my husband was so over it, but I’m happy to report that he now thinks it looks so organized. Woo-hoo! Thanks for making me smile with your comment;).

    1. Danielle Spears

      I totally agree with the spices. We had a Fresh Thyme and Earth Fare just open up down the street and I needed just a bit of a spice. I went to Fresh Thyme and got a little baggie of Cumin, enough for two recipes. It was such a little amount that they didn’t even charge me and I didn’t end up wasting a big container of spice I won’t use. It is such a wonderful idea. Now I just need my friends baby food containers and that is how I will shop for spices from now on. Plus they have lavender seeds, etc. Great for making soaps, creams, etc.

  18. I used to buy a lot of my items from the bulk bins at Whole Foods. I’ve found the rice, quinoa, beans and nuts at my Whole Foods are actually cheaper in the 1 lbs 365 pre-packaged bags. They are not cheaper by a lot, sometimes only $.30/lb, but still cheaper. The bags are also resealable. I’ve compared prices on these things numerous times in case things change but they haven’t. I assumed the quality of the product was the same, I hope I’m not missing something…

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      365 products definitely make you rethink some things, like nuts. They are definitely more cost-effective to buy their nuts, I’ve found. But when it comes to quantity (i.e. if you only want a little bit) the bulk bins can be effective, IMO.

  19. I have seen certain regular grocery stores carry bulk items. Raleys/BelAire or Smith’s/Kroger carry some bulk foods.

  20. What about comparing Costco?

    They have expanded their organic options and bulk prices are hard to beat. In some cases, the packaging can be less. I avoid the individually packaged items. For example, I opt for big jars of applesauce vs individual cups, make my own trail mix with M&Ms & pre-fill to go containers for kid snacks instead of the individual packages Costco has. I’ve been wanting to go in there & price out there stuff for a check list.

  21. I know what you mean about using jars and looking at them with a satisfaction. I agree with the “buy in bulk.” I add another aspect to my jars in storage. I vacuum the filled jars and the food will last many months long. When you buy bulk get a gallon amount and use larger vacuumed jars. If you use some from the vacuumed jar just vacuum them again. Chances are, if the price changes it will go up. Keep up the good work.

  22. In Canada it’s hit or miss. Some things are really cheap in bulk, others are more expensive. But, a year ago I got some big black something…maybe mold in some oats I purchased from bulk. I just can’t bring myself to buy bulk oats again (even though the chance of that happening again are slim, but my mind is scarred..lol), but I do buy some things in bulk, as long as they are from the bulk bins that spill out into the bag. I have seen some pretty gross stuff by other customers buying bulk that you reach in and scoop out. Someone was licking their fingers from the bulk peanut butter last week.

  23. Great post Kiran. Buying in bulk, if and when possible, is the best way to purchase items you need. BTW: I’m a glass jar junkie too! How can you not be when you elimate processed foods and purchase whole foods instead! I’m thinking we can start our own support group (:

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Thank you, Elyna! And LOL – yes – sign me up for the support group, for sure. I’m in need!! :)

  24. My absolute favorite thing to buy from the bins is the spices!! We do some of our shopping at Winco and they have several shelves all full of spices. There’s just something wrong when you have to buy a huge thing of spices when all you need is a quarter teaspoon! Buying beef in bulk is awesomely cheap too but you can’t get that out of the bin. :)

  25. I don’t have either of those near me either. But I have a local store that sells grains, spices and nuts in bulk. And they have clean and organic choices. I like the ability to buy what I need too and it’s almost always cheaper. My #1 bulk bin buy? Organic steel cut oats! They even have grinders for making your own nut butters right there in the bulk section, with no added ingredients.

  26. Karyan Stratton

    I don’t either, but Fred Meyer (or Krogers) and Safeway in my area have bulk bins. I buy almost all my spices in bulk. Fresh, organic spices bought from the bulk bins are only a fraction of the cost of conventional spices! Organic Rolled oats at Safeway are only $0.99 lb! I also buy many things at Costco.

  27. I like this blog post a lot. I guess I never really realized how much cheaper it is to buy in bulk, I didn’t realize that it was fresher either. Sure it may end up taking more preparation time in the long run but looks like it’ll be worth it. Let’s see if I can’t save some money on groceries this week!

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Bummer, Shantel:(. Do you have any other options you can check out? As I said – I feel most fortunate to have options. If you don’t have anything nearby, some other commenters have referenced some other sources. Good luck!

  28. I recently started ordering from Azure Standard (www.azurestandard.com). If you’re not familiar with them, they’re out of Oregon and have monthly delivery drop points across the U.S. I live in GA where they started delivering to last October. They charge 8.5% of your total order for shipping.

    Here’s an example of some of their pricing:

    Organic Rolled Oats, 5lbs. ($1.15/lb), 25lbs. ($0.90/lb), 50lbs. ($0.87/lb)

    1. Shipping charges with Azure depend on where you live in the US. We don’t pay shipping for our drop, we just have a drop point minimum that we must meet for delivery (for us it’s $550 for all purchases in the drop). I have been buying from them for years and love it!

  29. I agree most packaged items can be found cheeper at stores besides whole foods. Trader Joe’s is the obvious choice for nuts and other things, Bob’s red mill oats and other things are cheapest at another local grocery store, Woodman’s, spices are cheapest and freshest at Penzy’s, etc. As for the freshness argument, most nuts and grains, should be refrigerated or frozen anyway. I personally have a mental list of where things are cheapest and buy accordingly.

  30. I was in Whole Foods recently and saw a grown man stick his hand into a bin of cereal (no scoop), and sample. I’ve seen children do this too. So I no longer buy anything in bins that allow for this. If the bin is a “drop-down” I’ll continue to buy from it, but not those that are available to hands.

    1. It’s a good thing that you don’t see inside a manufacturing plant that produces your “clean-never-been-touched-by-human-hands” cereal. Packaged food is just as vulnerable to being “contaminated” by humans and other creaters. You just don’t see it.

    2. I too have seen little grimmy hands digging into these bins. I can no longer bring myself to buying food from them. The savings just isn’t worth the germs and contamination.

  31. Semantic point. Buying from the bulk bins is not the same as “Buying in bulk.”

    To buy in bulk is to yourself buy the 20-30 pound bags – or, at least, the big bags at a warehouse club (which more and more people do all the time.) This can make a lot of sense for people with large families, or who use a certain product a lot (and have the space!) but it has an entirely different set of advantages (other than lower price) than the ones you mention.

    That said – I buy what I can from bulk bins all the time, for the reasons you discuss. Not very many stores in New York City have them, but I use them at Fairway and my local natural foods shop, especially for oats and beans.

  32. Any advice for those of us without access to a Whole Foods or places to buy bulk. I live in a very small town. Our nearest Whole Foods (or place to buy bulk) is 4 hours away. Any tips or help would be most appreciated.

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Amy, I have not used them but there are lots of people who like and use Azure Standard. HTH!

    2. Find an Azure Standard (www.azurestandard.com) drop point near you. You buy in bulk and you pay less for natural and organic foods, this the true way of eliminating the middle man.

  33. Bulk bins are a great idea, unless someone in your family suffers from food allergy. They are open and so close together that they are highly likely to be cross-contaminated. Also, you never know if the person before you used the same scoop for the peanuts or tree nuts that you are using for a “safe” food. Best to avoid them for folks with food allergy.

  34. wow, It sure is nice to actually see the price comparison. We shop bulk a lot of the time and I always wondered how much i was actually saving. That being said, it would be interesting to see the Trader Joes prices as well as Sprouts or one of the other lower price point organic markets on the list.

  35. okay, i gotta ask – how does using jars to buy bulk goods work? i’ve been to a tiny coop near my house where they have time to tare the scale for whatever i bring, so i only pay for what i buy. but i can’t really see that working at Whole Paycheck or the like (yes, i shop there and like them, but still…). any tips on how to do this? thanks!

      1. do you go to the register first, and have them do it there? how do they track it? thanks!