Everything You Need to Know About Buying in Bulk

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3. Getting over the ‘sticker shock’

When you head to the bulk aisle, one thing you may notice right away are the high prices posted on some items. Oregano for $30 a pound? Sounds a bit pricey!

Calm down, our experts say, and look a little closer. Posted prices are for one pound of product, which is typically way more than you will purchase at once. For example, if you filled a standard 1-ounce spice jar with dried oregano from the bulk section, that purchase will cost less than $2, compared to a $6 price tag on oregano from the spice aisle.

“Typically, bulk foods are 89 percent cheaper than packaged foods,” said Bulk is Green Council member Ellen Bouchard, citing a study conducted by the council last year in partnership with Portland State University.

Buying in bulk also helps you control portion size, reducing waste and saving money, added Bouchard, who also serves as brand manager for Frontier Natural Products Co-op, a distributor of bulk spices.

“If we just look at things differently, packaged food is way more expensive per pound,” Valentine said. “You fill up a little container of a spice, bring it up to the front and when it’s literally under a dollar, you get it. It’s instantaneous, and now you’re hooked.”

It’s tough to deny the environmental benefits of buying in bulk after taking one look at this graphic, which is featured in a bulk-buying study conducted by the Bulk is Green Council in partnership with Portland State University. Photo: Bulk is Green Council (BIG)

4. Learning to buy what you need

After you get the hang of the bulk-buying basics, like getting the tare weight of your containers and having purchases weighed at checkout, you can start making the most of what the bulk section has to offer. In addition to skipping the packaging, buying in bulk also allows you to directly control portion size – meaning you’re no longer paying too much for excess food you don’t need. Landis and Bouchard coined the phrase “buy a pinch or a pound,” and when it comes to bulk shopping, that edict couldn’t be more true.

“It’s actually counter-intuitive. When you think of bulk, the first thing that comes to mind is Costco, and it’s the direct opposite,” Valentine said. “You could literally buy one peppercorn if you wanted to.”

The next time you’re planning a recipe, bring a few small containers and a set of measuring spoons to the bulk aisle, Valentine suggests. Measure out spices you need for your recipe, and pour them right into your containers. By following this simple step, you’ll never end up paying $5 or more for a whole jar of a spice you may never even use again.

Beyond that, purchase bulk coffee, tea, grains and dried fruits in portions you will realistically use before your next trip to the grocery store. You’ll save money, your foods will be fresher when you use them and nothing will go to waste, our experts said.

5. Set a goal and get started

If you’re new to bulk-buying, start by setting an attainable goal for yourself until you get into the swing of things. For example, pledge to begin buying one type of food in bulk, such as spices, grains or flours. Once you’re used to it, move on to the rest of the bulk section.

If the bulk selection at your local grocer is only so-so, use these databases from the National Cooperative Grocers Association and Independent Natural Food Retailers Association to discover new bulk-buying options near you.

Still unconvinced that bulk-buying will help you save time and money while reducing waste? Check out this fun video from the Bulk is Green Council, and follow two shoppers as they browse the bulk aisle and the rest of the grocery store. You may be surprised by how much time and money the bulk-buyer saved compared to her companion.

Want More Smart Shopping Tips? Check Out: Supermarket Secret: You Can Buy Half a Cabbage

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Mary Mazzoni

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.
Mary Mazzoni

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