At my house, when we’re out of rice, or I’m short a cup of sugar for the birthday cake I’m baking, I just head to the basement and scoop some more out of the large food storage containers we store in our downstairs pantry.Â We buy as much food in bulk as we can and I’m not talking about scooping a few cups of dry beans out of the bulk bin at the supermarket, though that’s a great way to cut down on packaging and buy just what you need. We buy staple items in 10, 20 or even 50 lb increments. Yes it means we pay a lot of money at once, we have to figure out how to store the extra goods, and we can’t always try the item before we buy. So why do we do it?
Our overall food costs are much lower. Buying in large quantities means a much lower price per pound than you can get at the supermarket and this price savings can be especially pronounced when you buy organic goods.
Which leads to my next reason. We can get organic and/or sustainable food at a price that fits our budget. Organic grains, herbs, coffee and tea, sustainably harvested fish, grass-fed, free-range meat are just some of the items we’ve bought in large quantities and stored in our pantry or freezer, with significant savings over the supermarket. Some foods we buy in bulk are just plain expensive even in large quantities, like organic chocolate chips, but the savings we get elsewhere makes occasional splurges fit into our budget.
It’s so convenient! Imagine not making an extra trip to the store because you just realized you’re out of sugar and the school bake sale is tomorrow. I just went shopping today for this week’s groceries and had fewer than 10 items on my list. We already had dry beans and Mexican seasonings for nachos, rice for stir-fry night, oatmeal for the kids’ breakfasts, flour for baking bread, you get the idea. Also, when we notice we’re running low on something, we order online! Going to the supermarket is a treat for the kids nowadays.
Sound good but not sure where to start?
Find a source! Azure Standard carries a lot of organic packaged items such as cases of organic frozen meals or tortillas, as well as some fresh produce and health and beauty products. They deliver to many states in the US. Hummingbird Wholesale serves the western states and delivers bulk grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and more. Mountain Rose Herbs sells great quality culinary and medicinal herbs, spices and teas in both large and small amounts. I’m lucky that a local grain mill is just down the road, supplying us with milled products. With some searching and asking around, I’m sure that you can find similar bulk suppliers that will deliver to your area. If you get some friends together, you may even be able to purchase directly from the distributor that serves your local natural market.
Pick an item that you use regularly and you know you like. You don’t want to end up with 49 pounds of a specialty product that you don’t actually like, or don’t know how to use. If you bake bread every week, buy flour. Eat a lot of Asian food? Buy a ton of rice.Â Do you bake a lot of treats for your family? Buy a large amount of sugar.
Estimate how much you eat in a week, a month, and use that as a buying guide. An interesting tip that someone passed along to me is to assume that your usage of the bulk product will increase once you have it. You can probably imagine this scenario: “What should we have for dinner tomorrow?” “Well, I don’t want to go to the store and we’ve got all that rice in the pantry so how about chicken and rice with some rice pudding for dessert? Then tomorrow we can make fried rice with the leftovers.”
Make a storage plan before you get the item. Buy a large food-grade bucket, some large glass jars, or whatever makes sense for the product you’re getting. Buy from a restaurant supply store, get discarded buckets from a restaurant, stock up on large canning jars. Nothing is worse than having ants get into your 10 pounds of raw, local wildflower honey because the old container you scrounged from the back of the cabinet doesn’t have a tight-fitting lid.
Fit your purchase in your budget. Save money for a while until you can pay the larger cost upfront or take the money from another budget area. Maybe forgo eating out for a little while or skip the items you splurge on. To make it even more affordable split the order with a friend, or find a local buying club to join to make sharing bulk orders even easier.
What item would you start with if you were to start buying large quantities? If you buy in bulk please share your tips. Is there a great source of organic/sustainable items in your area?
(photos, from top to bottom, are from flickr users mrlins, digiyesica, and Tim Patterson)