Buying in Bulk: Trimming Food Bills Beyond the Warehouse Stores

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With prepackaged food, somebody’s got to pay for the packaging—and that somebody is the consumer. But shoppers can bypass the packaging and marketing costs built into most food items by hitting bulk food dispensers—which now not only sell staples like coffee, beans, pasta, and grains, but also goods you wouldn’t think to buy without packaging, like olive oil and honey.

When most consumers think of bulk buying, they envision Costco, Sam’s Club, and the like—membership warehouse stores where goods come packaged in huge quantities, at prices that typically beat standard supermarkets with standard-size items. A Hartford Courant piece on bulk-buying states that while warehouse members might save 25% or 35% on their foods bills, shoppers can potentially save even more by purchasing foods that come with no packaging whatsoever:

… consumers who purchase loose foods from bins or dispensers can save 30 percent to 90 percent over prepackaged items.

Whole Foods and other grocery store chains host growing bulk-food aisles, though as you probably know about Whole Foods—or “Whole Paycheck” as it’s sometimes called—its prices aren’t always on the cheap side. But bulk foods should at least be less expensive than similar prepackaged items sold in the same store. And seeing as bulk buying is a growing trend—Whole Foods says bulk food purchases are growing around 25% annually—the options will surely expand, and more and more shoppers will grow accustomed to scooping their food selections into their own containers.

Speaking of which, that’s one strong argument for utilizing the bulk food aisle: You decide exactly how much you want, thereby decreasing the likelihood of waste because of being forced into buying more food than you needed. The fact is that even if you’re shopping in the bulk food aisle, there’s no requirement that you buy in bulk. The quantity is totally up to you to decide.

Another interesting development: A store in Colorado called Simply Bulk Market opened early last year with the unique mission to sell goods without any packaging whatsoever. All of the 500+ bulk food items come out of bins and barrels like ye olden general store.

Simply Bulk’s owner, Phil Bratty, who used to be in charge of bulk-purchasing for Wild Oats Market (owned by Whole Foods), explained the business model to the local paper here:

“You’re buying just the product, which is really the beauty of it,” Bratty said. “Not paying for the box, the bag inside of the box, the color printing on the box.”

He said he also found that customers could save up to 50 percent on everyday items by buying in bulk, minus the packaging.

By skipping all the packaging, you also skip having to recycle or dump all of that packaging once the food inside comes out.