View Full Version : Bulk food at Grocery Store

1-25-11, 5:36pm
Our grocery store has a large bulk food section. Currently the only thing I really buy there is bird seed and candy ;) though during the holidays we needed some spice and I didn't want a whole jar, so I bought a small quantity out of the bin.

Do you shop in the bulk section? How is the quality? Have you done any cost comparisons? What would you NOT buy in the bulk food section?

1-25-11, 7:35pm
I buy everything I can in the bulk section. Almost all of it is cheaper, and I've never had any problems with the quality. The only things I don't normally buy are the "prepared" snacks and granola. I'd rather make my own.

My bulk section staples include: beans, rice, popcorn, spices (better in small quantities anyway), flour, oats, quinoa, and dried coconut.

I see you live in the northwest. If you're ever in the Portland area (or live there) the Bob's Red Mill store has a great bulk food section. We make a pilgrimage there once every few months or so to stock up.

1-25-11, 7:36pm
(I haven't done any formal cost comparisons. All I know is that cinnamon sticks are a small fraction of the price if you buy them in bulk.)

1-25-11, 7:54pm
LOVE the bulk section. I shop at PCC, a coop, and the bulk prices rock. Nothing I won't buy there that I'd buy anyway.

1-25-11, 10:09pm
I love the bulk section for many spices and cracked wheat, etc. One thing I did learn the hard way is to be very careful that you only buy things you can identify!!! I puchased what was labelled as baking powder one time only to discover the hard way (after repeated baking flops) that baking soda had been put in the bin instead. Now I only buy what I can identify with my nose or eyes as the product I want. *S*

1-25-11, 10:18pm
I find the price varies. I try to keep a mental note and buy the packaged or the bulk on that trip depending on what's cheaper that day. The main bulk purchase is nuts. I also buy baking soda in bulk as I use quite a bit on my hair. For spices, I go to a specific store- much cheaper to get the tiny quantities for spices. For beans and legumes it's either our local organic delivery place, the ethnic isle at the big grocery store, or if I lived closer to one a smaller ethnic store.

1-25-11, 10:19pm
Recently I found some raisins in the bulk section that were so much cheaper than the packages. I buy large packages of most things so the savings are limited in the bulk section for me but spices are a really good choice to compare and save.

1-26-11, 8:57am
(I haven't done any formal cost comparisons. All I know is that cinnamon sticks are a small fraction of the price if you buy them in bulk.)

That's funny--years ago when bulk warehouse shopping like Sam's and BJ's opened up, I remember going and buying lots of stuff in bulk--even cinnamon. My husband joked that we'll be able to sprinkle cinnamon on our graves we had so much of it. Don't know why I needed a huge can of it, but frankly, we did wind up using it all (and nobody died in the interim).

In general, I think you have to be really careful about what you buy in bulk and you have to store it right, but I like to buy coffee and paper goods in bulk.

1-26-11, 1:01pm
The only store in my area with bulk bins (that I know of) is Whole Foods. They are more expensive for staples in general, but I admit, I have never compared prices on their bulk items. I will have to go there with my price book and see if I could save money on any groceries. Thanks for this reminder to do so.

1-26-11, 7:16pm
If it is available in bulk that is my preferred way of buying. I get flour, spices, beans, rice, nuts, almond butter, peanut butter, oils (olive, etc.), shampoo, conditioner, body soap, oatmeal, oat bran, raisins, dried cranberries, seeds, pretty much everything:-) Trips to the grocery store find me in the bulk or produce isle and that is about it. I am fortunate to live in a town with several small, locally-owned natural foods stores. In addition, there are a couple larger, while still locally owned, markets which also carry many, many bulk items. I can't think of anything I normally buy that I would not buy in bulk.

1-26-11, 8:19pm
I love the bulk bins & spices at the Henry's and Whole Foods I go to.
Doing an oz for oz type of comparison, bulk bins are usually cheaper but a lot of times there is more than just oz for oz to compare.
I can by locally(CA) grown organic Jasmine Rice at Whole Foods in bulk which is more oz for oz but every other place has imported, non organic Jasmine Rice from Thailand.
The bulk spices are great because I don't need to buy a hard plastic container of a spice for $3, $4, $5 + dollars when I can just take a mini ziploc bag and get spend just 12 cents on a spice that I only use sometimes :)
YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary depending upon your needs, Dhiana

1-27-11, 12:26am
we buy lots of our foods in bulk at natural food stores.....flours, grains, brown rice, all kinds of beans and lentils, etc. Don't generally buy any things like granola or snack stuff, we mostly make those things homemade from scratch.

Usually, at least in organic and natural foods, the bulk supplies are less expensive than the packaged items.

When we can, depending on where we are, we will take jars and fill molasses, tamari, honey, and similar stuff to help avoid excess packaging, and to reduce need to fill up the recycling bin with extra stuff.

We seldom shop in "regular" grocery stores, except for Trader Joes, and Trader Joe's doesn't really have bulk stuff, so have little experience with bulk foods in those stores, although the few times I've seen bulk bins in them, it mostly seemed to be candy and snack items, rather than basic foods.

1-27-11, 8:00am
My grocery store has a limited bulk section. When they first put it in, many of the items were less expensive and it was worth buying the bulk. Now the prices on the bulk have gone up and it's less expensive to buy the non-bulk equivalents - especially during sales! Bulk never seems to go on sale while the non-bulk items do, so I obtain my "bulk" during the sale events.

1-27-11, 12:25pm
I assume you mean the bulk bins instead of the bulk or larger sized package areas some groceries have, or even costco who sells somethings in bulk(multiple) packaging?

If you mean bulk/unpackaged loose items in bins, there are only 2 stores I know in town who have these anymore. There used to be many more. I'll buy some bulk things if they are going to be cooked. Otherwise, I've seen too many kids or potentially unclean hands used in/around the bins to buy anything intended to be eaten raw (nuts, raisins, banana chips, etc), or even trash tossed in them....

I like the bulk bins however for trying small amounts of things or if it's an item that I can't get any other way. I don't know how good the prices are since these are places out of the way and where I don't regularly shop.

If you are talking 'bulk' as costco pre-packaged bulk, yes, if it's something I'll commonly use. :)

1-27-11, 1:16pm
Yep Gina I was talking about the bulk bins -- the ones where little kids can stick there hands into (and some big people too :~) )

Does that fact bother people - the whole sanitary issue?

So far seems I have just bought bird seed - they don't seem to mind and I buy
packaged cin. bears :|(


1-27-11, 1:34pm
Maybe it should be pointed out that CDN responders have actual bulk food stores to go to as well as most all grocery stores as options. I stock up when in Canada on a number of items at Bulk Barn... Scandinavian salt licorice pastilles, heck a number of real licorice products at 1/10 specialty isle price in US. Staples such as honey at 1/3 price, though my Mother just told me honey going up. Bought 2.5 kg bulk honey for cost of 24 oz jar in US last trip. Steel cut oats at .40 a pound AND when I take my Mother, as of course I would do, 10% off for seniors. :)

1-27-11, 1:39pm
the sanitary issue is not really a concern to me, as I'm a person with the belief that our immune systems are stronger when they are regularly challenged. Sometimes I think it's "too clean" that is a much bigger problem than whether some kid with grubby hands filched a raisin or two, but that's just me.

In my defense, I had a cold this winter that went to my chest and caused lots of misery, but that is the first time that I can think of that I've been sick in any way for years and years.....half a dozen or more, at least.

Maybe it's because we've lived in Third World countries (where some basic sanitation concerns ARE valid) that I worry much less here. The what, to me, seems to be an overpreoccupation with germs in this country seems way over the top, but that's JMHO.

1-27-11, 1:41pm
I do ask for measuring cup vs scoop, which they provide, so I can buy enough for set recipes, such as falafel mix. I do not have issue with bins as I shop there and observe people are appropriate but I understand your concern Greg when contemplating concept. Look around when you are there and observe what people do for indication?
I shop at bulk stores I know turn product over quickly so fresh. Hit the sales which can be great for basics which so rarely go on sale in supermarkets and for unique ingredients hard to find or sold as specialty items in supermarkets. Maybe having shopped in many countries has skewed me to view bulk stores as cleaned up Kasbahs by comp? :)

1-27-11, 2:07pm
The only store in my area that has the bulk bins is Whole Foods. I dearly love those bulk bins. I used to buy bulk food there all the time. But one time I saw an employee filling a bin of nutritional yeast, and I thought never again. No way. Now, I'm not usually overly concerned about sanitation. I believe in Loosechicken's philosophy. But this was just too much for some reason, and I just can't do it anymore. Sigh. It's a sad thing, sort of like the passing of an era for me. :)

1-27-11, 2:38pm
It depends on the type of bulk bin. The kind where you hold your bag under a tap and fill it - I'll buy nuts and stuff from those. I won't buy flour or pasta from the bins at our local Extra Foods, as in the past they've been heavily contaminated with those little grubs that turn into wee moths. ewww.

1-27-11, 2:49pm
Maybe it's because we've lived in Third World countries (where some basic sanitation concerns ARE valid) that I worry much less here. The what, to me, seems to be an overpreoccupation with germs in this country seems way over the top, but that's JMHO. I've never lived in a third world country, but have traveled a fair amount and have seen some seriously bad human conditions. While I agree that many are too concerned about 'germs', I've never considered myself one of them.

I do however think there is a zone somewhere between "overpreoccupation" and not being concerned by sanitation at all. I consider that to be basic common sense. That cuts two ways - if people don't want to get sick or spread colds and flu, they should not only be concerned for themselves, but for others and stay home if they are sick. But we all know that doesn't always happen, so the burden tends to fall more on individuals to take normal precautions for themselves.

This isn't a contest (and I don't want to temp fate), but I don't even remember the last time I was sick. And since I don't much like it when I am, it's just not worth it to me to take chances that can easily be avoided. But then I wash my hands after using the bathroom, and use what I consider basic common sense about what and where I touch and eat things. I dont see big, bad germs everywhere, I use the 5 second rule for dropped foods, and I don't lose sleep with worry. But when there is an easy choice I do choose to err on the side of caution. ;)

:devil: (the red indicates an unpleasant fever)

1-27-11, 3:03pm
Way to go, Gina, for finding a good use for the little fella!

We are very fortunate here with Bulk Barn; our local one is great on sanitation and that's challenging with the high school next door and the many candy products that they stock. But they are vigilant about watching people, clean continuously, scoops and bags and containers are kept clean and in readily available locations, so I don't worry about who might have touched my food before I bought it. However, though I hate to admit it here, I am actually not so sure about the prices..seems to me all grocery prices are way high compared to the US. I expect in another year of Canadian living I won't feel the discrepancy so acutely.

1-27-11, 5:41pm
This could be a regional issue as I do not know Maritimes prices, but I find many items cheaper in Toronto food stores than in FL or NM. Then I find prices diff between FL and NM on produce and meats.
Meat prices were higher in Canada so no .49 pd fryers on sale there, but then off sale price in FL is not great either since Wally World jacked their food prices. Staples tend to be cheaper in Canada other than basic white flour which about the same, sugar far cheaper, rice and grains, but maybe unfair comp Asian supermarkets with Publix? Maybe in large US city with big ethnic markets it would be closer?

If I had to sumarise, cheap is cheaper in US (chicken leg quarters, non Durham pasta, some name brand processed foods) and specialty higher quality (EU source specially), is less expensive in Toronto (stick with what prices I know). Produce prices were much lower in T.O., specially so when comparing FL source produce being less exp in T.O. than FL. Funny to those not in FL ... :) But I do not visit T.O. in winter so comparing mostly local source produce or far source imports (bananas, mangoes etc far cheaper in Toronto than FL).

In theory many prices should be showing decrease in Canada comp to US with 12% rise in CDN$ last 2 quarters? Bet it does not show till retailers called on it?

To keep on topic... I think an accepted quality store brand culture (you have your no name low brand and store has upper quality store brand as well) and Bulk foods options skews the comparisons between CDN and US food stores. I will repeat even without senior discount I pay .35-55 pd for steel cut oats in T.O. vs .99-1.90 in FL when supplies run low. Though I would guess FL Aldis old fashioned rolled oats 4lbs for $2.39 is as good or better than CDN source price, but I only buy bulk there. :)

3-1-11, 12:19pm
our local store has a FAB bulk section. I just tried dog food from the bulk section! Our dog loves it!

I would love to be able to take my own jars in to fill them up with things like honey and peanut butter etc.

3-1-11, 10:46pm
I buy our bulk stuff here, LOVE this company: http://goldenorganics.net
It's far cheaper and far fresher than even our local natural grocery's bulk bins.

And that is sort of on topic; one of the things I found tiresome was when things in the bulk section weren't fresh, especially flour. I found myself going to the highest-volume stores just to make sure they had good turnover in the bulk section. I tried the bulk sections at our local non-natural-foods grocery (the big chains) and the nuts and grains were just horrible, borderline rancid.

3-3-11, 11:28am
Bulk prices vary here according to the store. Unless it's on sale for cheaper at a different store, I get mine at Whole Foods: amaranth, walnuts, almonds and sometimes cashews. If I ate other things they sell in bulk, I'd buy them in bulk. I freeze items I buy in bulk for 24 hours, to reduce possibility of mold and contamination.