When it comes to grocery shopping, I like to spend as much of my food dollar in the bulk section as I can. I deeply appreciate the fact that I can get just the amount I want and that I end up bringing home less packaging. On days when I’m feeling particularly organized and ambitious, I take my jars with me and refill directly into them (as detailed in this post). I also keep a few of these lightweight kootsacs in my bundle of reusable grocery bags for those days when I don’t want to drag jars along with me.
Knowing that I’m something of a fan of buying from the bulk section, a representative from the Bulk is Green Council got in touch and asked if I’d help spread the word about Bulk is Love. It’s a campaign to promote the benefits of bulk buying in advance of Earth Month. They’re asking people to take a pledge to shop from the bulk section once a week throughout April as a way to prevent waste and eat high quality food. If you need more data, there’s an infographic at the bottom of this page with some compelling facts and figures.
Taking the pledge also enters you into a giveaway for a chance to win a very nice I Love Bulk for Earth Month prize pack. It includes a pair of lovely jars and an assortment of food products that are frequently found in your local bulk section. Click over to their site for more information about the Love Bulk campaign.
How are you all using your bulk sections these days? Any new favorites or useful discoveries?
Much as I love shopping in the bulk section when I’m in the States, it’s something that’s not always available when I’m overseas. Do you have any recommendations for bulk buying online?
Ingredients Health Food Store, here in Victoria, BC, allows you to bring any container, weigh it, and fill it up.
Which is awesome.
But before Ingredients opened I took my own bags to the bulk store, and was frustrated by buying more than my jar would hold. So I made these awesome measuring bags—they have some nice design features that keep food from getting stuck in the seams. Check out the instructions here.
p.s. I decided to repost the instructions for these bags on my own site.
Yeah, a bulk food section is something I’ve really missed since moving to Germany. Not even organic food stores here have them! The one thing that’s regularly available in bulk is nuts-in-shell in the winter. And I’m allergic to nuts (darnit!).
(But on the other hand, eggs are much fresher in the stores here, so there’s plusses and minuses)
Out here in the boonies, no bulk section without an hour drive. I love my husband and his world, but I do occasionally miss Chicago. Especially when it involves food. Instead, I place a huge order with my “local” amish-style shop. Get my flours, sugar, beans, etc in 50lb bags every 6 months. And she’s willing to portion out smaller amounts of cocoa, spices, etc for me as well. Between that and my huge summer gardens, I’m able to only go to the grocery for dairy (hubs isn’t keen on livestock) and a bit of diet mountain dew every 2-3 months. Which, when the grocery is 30 min away, is a huge time-saver!
I am about an hours drive from Whole Foods in Chicago, too. Where is your amish style shop located? Probably in the opposite direction, I live in Valpo.
I like buying things like oatmeal, nuts and dried fruit in the bulk section. Very few stores sell in bulk in my area, though, and it is a bit of a drive. I have some lovely decorative airtight jars to keep these things in. They currently store beans, Splenda, rice and pasta that I bought in bulk. It is much cheaper and nice to have on hand in these pretty jars. One is in the shape of a fat fish and I am always tempted to fill it with Swedish fish, but they wouldn’t last long so what is the point.
I like to purchase my spices, dried herbs, teas in bulk at a local store called appropriately, The Larder in Doylestown, PA. They also have flour, oats, dried fruit and nuts, candy – some sugar free, pasta, cereals and such. I could spend a couple hours in this little store and lots of moola, too!
My local stores do not offer bulk foods, much to my dismay. I drive about 20 minutes to a quaint little store in the next town over to buy all my grain, nuts, peanut butter, dried fruits and spices. I bring a jar for the peanut butter, but stick the rest in the bags provided. I need some kootsacs.
Been buying bulk for years! Haunting the deli’s for glass jars, Thursday night food breakdown at our local coop once a month….. It’s a life style 🙂
One thing to beware of with bulk – only shop them if your store does a high turnover in them. Things go stale quickly, and in some stores the bins are all but ignored if they’re not selling well… That’s an observation from 20 years of working in grocery stores – I’ve seen some very ugly things come out of bulk bins!
That said, I’m loving being able to shop bulk in my current store!
The grocery stores in my town don’t have bulk food sections. I’d love to be able to buy bulk if only to save money.
Is there a way to search to find out where to buy bulk items? My grocery store only carries bulk bins for candy and some nuts (although the prices for nuts are more expensive than the bagged kind?).
Sounds good, but none to be found around here 🙁
Great idea. Wish there were more stores in my area that have a bulk section…
Yeap, left the big city, the traffic, the malls, the 95 gas stations and convience stores and left the big bulk food store in the city too. I love my life in the country boonies but I have only three grocery stores and two banks to choose from. Plus going lower carb, I don’t eat alot of those foods. Fresh fruit, veggies meat and dairy for me.
Love it! We have been buying from the bulk section for a couple of years now and it’s wonderful!
Thank G-d for our ELFCO! Just was there on a Barley Buying Mission; got some farro, ww couscous and dried fruit, too. I’d be so sad if I didn’t have access to quality bulk goods!
When you do bring your jars to fill directly at the store, how do they weigh it? Do you have to tell them the weight of the jar to subtract? Is it printed on the jars? Or do you just eat the extra cost?
Jennifer, I take my jars to the customer service desk. They weigh them and label them with that weight, so that the check-out clerk can subtract it from the cost. If you use the same jars for bulk buys on a regular basis, you can have them weighed and labeled once and reused many times.
Our latest trip to the bulk section of our Food Coop was for sprouting seeds. My son is watching them grow in the tiered sprout rinsing thingy. They had broccoli and alfalfa seeds for us! Usually I am in that section for grains. Judging from the other posts, I feel lucky to have such an elaborate array of bulk items at my fingertips.
Our town has lots of options for buying bulk foods, but here in Boulder, Colorado stores will no longer tare containers you bring from home (so that you don’t pay for the container weight at check-out). The customer service says that a law was passed against using containers brought from home though I haven’t been able to find this regulation. Very frustrating. Not only do I not like having to put liquids into plastic in the first place but once I’m home and have the liquid transferred to a glass jar — I have to find storage for the plastic bottles so they can be re-used. In this day and age, I can’t believe that a “no reusable containers from home” rule would be put into effect.
Thank you for this blog and spreading the word!
bulk is great but you gotta watch out for magets and animal droppings found in some bulk bins.
took the pledge
Thanks for this post! I recently bought my 1st, $25, 50lb bag of rolled oats from the bulk section. I tell you, it felt great paying what equaled to .22c per hundred grms over the regular .39c. I felt like a rebel or something! Like I was stealing in some way 😉 And the packaging? A brown paper sac! Awesome. You have re-inspired me to do more research on other great bulk buys. Thanks
The steel cut oats from the bulk section are my favourite. I bought one charming can of the McCann’s stuff (http://www.mccanns.ie/images/SteelCutDrum.jpg), with its pronouncement of it’s award for Uniformity of Granulation from the Chicago World’s Fair, but now I just buy ’em in bulk at a fraction of the cost and re-fill my can.
Also chia seeds, which never fails to garner a “what are THESE for?” from the checkout lady.
I LOVE the bulk section and always shop from it if I can. When we lived in NYC, I had a really hard time finding any bulk bins, and that made me sad, even though I eventually discovered the 4th St. food co-op and their excellent bins. But now I hear even Whole Foods Union Square has a full rack of bulk bins! Hooray!
I do bulk buying and either can or freeze the products. I love dehydrating fruits and veggies so do buy when they are really on slae. And after Easter I buy eggs by the dozens and freeze, dry or store them smeared in lard and put in styrofoam boxes for later use. You can put about three dozen to a box and then juswt put them in a closet and use at will. They won’t go bad because you have stopped air from getting inside the egg with the lard.
I love the bulk section! I was there yesterday afternoon actually. I buy dried beans, pasta, popcorn kernels, candy, spices, flour, sugar (much cheaper that way!), oats, and they even have tea bags (individually wrapped). The best thing about bulk is if you’re not sure about something (like the chili flavored dried papaya) you just buy a little bit and if you don’t like it (dried papaya=good, chili-coated dried papaya=bad) you’re not stuck with a whole package of it.
I buy a lot of my dry goods (sugars, flour, pasta, cocoa, brown rice, etc.) and also dried herbs. So far the herbs have been amazingly fresh and wonderful. You can tell by the smell, it should be fairly strong.
I don’t drive and a friend takes me and another lady to Winco once a month so we can stock up.
I love bulk shopping and thankfully my local Whole Foods has a high turnover at the bulk section. I also take a bit of a drive to the natural foods store in Princeton to be able to buy bulk that has high turnover, as one person said, that means freshness. I buy flour that I use less frequently, like rye or Kamut, in bulk if I can find them. I like to buy nuts in bulk so that I only buy as much as I need and not end up with waste or stale nuts. Same for spices.
There are 3 stores with terrific bulk sections within 15 minutes of my house. I’d be lost without them! I have a fantastic huge pantry cabinet with roll-out shelves and it’s full of dozens of mason jars filled with beans, rice, flour, grains, nuts, panko, dried mushrooms, chilis, fruit. Also: spices, coffee, liquid soap, yeast, molasses, maple syrup, etc., etc.! LOST, I tell you!
I get legumes and some of my grains from our bulk bins, as well as nuts and dried fruits that turn into DIY snack mix. I love opening my pantry and seeing mason jars with different colored beans and lentils!
those kootsacs are something else, totally new to me. i’m intrigued. and a big buyer of bulks.
how long have you had yours? do you like them?
in order to get big bunches of bulk food, i have to drive 45 miles to get really fresh produce. i generally buy bulk meat, cheeses, vinegars etc. so it’s a fun trip. usually go with a friend so lunch is involved
I grew up ordering from a food coop and doing bulk splits with my Mom. Now I have children of my own and we belong to a bulk food coop and order in bulk once a month. I love the feeling of having all my oats for the next 6 months, grain to grind, bulk cheese, etc. and less packaging.
When we head to the health food store we hit up the Bulk section too. I make sure to check their on sale items first and cross refrence with what I might need/price at coop.
I have bought things like beans, herbs, spices etc from Frontier for a long time & have always been happy with what I purchased.
GreenTree Co-op in Mount Pleasant has a wonderful selection of bulk goods! We’re a pretty small town, even with CMU, but we have bulk grains, herbs, spices, beans, nuts, mixes, flour, maple syrup, honey…even olive oil! Best place ever, and bulk is always fresh and cost-effective because of high turnover rates.
I buy bulk through our local food co-op’s Buyers Club (they order from Azure Standard or UNFI). I then store my bulk items in glass jars of various sizes I purchased via the same store or Walmart’s or even Fred Meyers. I don’t use the plastic containers as I’ve found that if I haven’t used an item in awhile, it starts tasting all funny from all the chemicals leaching. Haven’t had this issue since I switched to all glass!
Thank-you very much for mentioning my Kootsac bags on your wonderful website again. Unfortunately I was away visiting family in South Africa at this time and so my shop on Etsy was closed for the 2 weeks that I was away. I did notice all the traffic from your website recently though and so I found this post. I really appreciate your enthusiasm for buying bulk – it really is the way to go for many things. I don’t go anywhere without my Kootsacs tucked into a pocket or bag. I would love to offer a giveaway on your blog if you are ever interested.
I love your idea, but my ShopRite in Delaware doesn’t have bulk bins. The only place I’ve seen bulk bins is at Whole Foods in Chadds Ford… but that’s a 45 minute trip. I’d love to have that option close to home!
I do, however, store my spices that I purchase at the farmers market in little half pint jars. They fit nicely in a shallow drawer in my kitchen and I just stuck labels on the tops so I can easily browse when I’m cooking.
I have a question. Is it OK to open a #10 can of mushrooms that were canned with water, use some out of that can and then re-can the remainder of the mushrooms in glass jars using a pressure canner?
While it’s technically safe to do so, the consistency of the twice-canned mushrooms is going to be really poor.