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?