Sunday, March 20, 2011

Stocking Up at the Bulk Food Store

Following up on my tips for menu planning and shopping farmer’s markets, one reader thought it would be interesting to discuss making the most out of a visit to a bulk food store. This was timely since I had recently made a stock-up trip to one to replenish my pantry for the next few months. Also, this year I read that there have been some rather extreme weather conditions that have threatened certain crops world wide. If you’ve been thinking of ways to save money while keeping healthy meals on the table, this is a good time to start thinking about buying bulk.

Generally, bulk food stores sell both basic ingredients (flour, sugar, dry milk) and common food items (pudding mix, chocolate chips, drink mixes) packaged in plain clear plastic containers at a discounted price. The price is usually determined by weight and size. In the area where I shop, most of the bulk food stores have an inventory made up of about half bulk food items, and half bent-n-dent overstock items. But I’m only going to discuss bulk food buying strategies here.

I find these stores to be a nice alternative to warehouse buyer’s club stores. Bulk food stores are a manageable size with greater variety in items and sizes. Personally, I don’t need a pallet of pasta sauce or one gallon containers of commercially processed salsa. Maybe if I was running a restaurant...but I’m not. One of the perks here is that you can find the right size of something for your family. There is less waste as you can shop for as little or as much of what you need. Items like baking cocoa, flour, oats, wheat germ, and noodles are far less expensive than the retail price. Whether you need a small amount of something for less than a dollar, or 25 cups of it for a few dollars, this where you can find it. The packaging is almost always recyclable, and the variety of items available never fails to amaze me.

My recent box of goodies included cocoa powder, alphabet soup noodles, several types of flour, and even some local honey.

Bulk food stores also have very good deals on canning supplies. Forget the boxes of Sure Jel on the store shelves, here you can walk away with the equivalent of ten boxes emptied into a bag for just a little over what you might pay for two boxes. Most stores also stock other commercial thickeners which are difficult to find elsewhere, and very inexpensive. My store also sells long rolls of bulk canning lids, special canning acids, and other related items, all much cheaper than in regular retail stores.

So, here are my ideas for getting started at a bulk food store:

Assess your family’s needs. What does your family use repeatedly that you find yourself buying no matter what? Cereals? Snacks? Rice and Pasta? Beans? Baking ingredients? Start making a list of the essentials.

Look at some of your favorite recipes and weeknight meals. Is there any way to save on the ingredients? Instead of buying a box of rice every week, could you buy a larger bag at half the price to last for a month?

What can you make from scratch? These stores are designed for women who feed large families using basic ingredients. If you ever wanted to experiment with bread making, granola, or homemade cereal, now is the time. These stores are also a bread makers dream...there is a wide variety of flours available (some I’ve never even heard of!) and an excellent selection of less common bread making ingredients such as lecithin and gluten.

Plan your trip. Most bulk food stores are located in areas with dense Mennonite/Amish populations. However, some supermarkets have caught on to the popularity and are also creating and stocking bulk food aisles in their stores. Some of the best selections of dried fruit and nuts sold in bulk seem to be stocked in grocery stores. Health food stores are also recognizing the value of stocking wholesome raw ingredients, so it’s likely that no matter where you live, a bulk buying opportunity is not too far.

And remember, no Sunday sales at many stores.

Do you use a bulk food store? Any ideas to share?


  1. I LOVE Amish bulk food stores. We lived about 8 miles from 2 of them in Bonduel WI. Since moving to TX, I start making a list before we head 'home' to WI and come back with all kinds of stuff....surejell, and jello/puddings are some of my favorites!

  2. Monica I miss the Amish bulk stores.. We have one store here but very expensive.. The one good thing is your buying local.. The box looks good..Have a great night..Blessings..

  3. We bought a 50 lb bag of brown rice at our bulk food store in the fall. They gave us a very small discount compared to us buying the same amount already bagged in smaller bags, and this one large bag was more convenient for us. It fed our family of 6 all winter--and there is still a little bit left. It helped a lot when Dh's work was non-existant to have that solid bag of rice and we used it for many, many meals. We plan to buy another bag soon and try seeing how it works to have such a large quantity over the summer. I am a little less sure about it but we do mostly AC due to pllen allergies so I think it will work probably.

  4. That's like where I shop too! I live in a Mennonite/Amish area as well. I LOVE the bulk food that they have, and the prices that go with it! :) I only have two kids right now (but #3 is due any time now), and the savings are still great even though I'm not buying 50lbs flour at a time! :)

  5. Helloooo, bulk wasabi peas and coconut clusters - you mean they have other stuff?? :D We don't have one around here so when we do get by one, it's always like, "Quick, what do we need!??" and we come home with weird stuff. We'll plan next time we're heading in that direction though because you can find some good deals ~ except the ginormous bag of Nestle chocolate chips wasn't a good deal, said grocery man. I just love the smell of all the spices and things. ♥

  6. Monica, I don't know if you purchase this or not.
    Does your bulk food store sell stone ground whole wheat flour?
    Do you know how much per lb?
    We have looked for a long time for a cheaper source of dark whole wheat flour, but not the white whole wheat. Currently we are spending 3.89 for a 5# bag of King Arthur and we use about 5 - 6 bags per week. I would be happy even if the grind were not quite the same.

  7. Hi,
    I've been to Kaufmans in Lancaster but not Springville. I'll have to go the next time I'm in the area.
    Thanks for the tip.


  8. I love this type of store. Wehn I have tried a new recipe with an odd ingredient that I hate to invest a lot of money in, the store owner would sell me just the amount I needed in case my family didn't care for the end result.

    I used to bake a lot of our bread, an dit was affordable because of buying yeast in bulk.

    This is a good article!

  9. We don't have any bulk food stores around here but can find some items in various places. Not very convenient, though... Big Name grocery stores have "bulk" foods here and there but it's more expensive to buy. Strange!

  10. I love to browse at the bulk food store. It is amazing what they sell at some of them!

  11. you can really get a few good buys at bulk food stores. I try to get into Lancaster when i can for those. Richard from the Amish community of Lebanon county.

  12. Whenever I am in Lancaster, I shop at Kauffman's. I love buying things in bulk. I mostly use baking things such as cornstarch. I just found your blog and like it alot.

  13. I love our bulk food store in our tiny town! It's got great stuff, things you can't get at the bigger grocery stores. Much of it is a lot less expensive, too.

  14. Im looking foward to the next new post from you Mennobrarian. Richard

  15. I just found your blog and am loving it. I love the "original search engine" picture too. :) Have a great day there. ~ Val

  16. Just browsing through your old posts...I see we live in the same area! Have you ever shopped at Centerville Bulk Foods? It's on Scenic Rd in Gordonville and they have some of the best prices on bulk items. Their store is also nicer to shop in than Springville Foods which is a small plus.

    I honestly don't know what I'd do without bulk food stores. I've gotten so used to them that I'd have a huge adjustment if we ever moved away! :)

    1. Unfortunately, we don't live in the same area, but I'm out that way frequently while my husband does business. Centerville is on my list of places to visit. I've heard good things about it! A bulk food store recently opened in an Amish market in my area just a few weeks ago, but only time will tell if it has enough of a selection to keep us going. Meanwhile, there's always Lancaster! I know what you mean, it's become a necessity to have access to one. Such a time and money saver!


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