Good for your wallet, good for your body, good for the planet: that is the grocery shopping trifecta, in my humble opinion! Bulk food is the answer. Read up on the how and why the trend is sweeping the nation – and here to stay – in my latest articule on Fusion. And join the movement!
Bulk honey. Bulk olive oil. Bulk liquid castile soap. Bulk dried shiitake mushroom pieces.
The bulk aisles of grocery stores are not what they once were, limited to pantry staples like grains, nuts and legumes. As specialty and organic foods are on the rise, so too are bulk offerings. The trend is sweeping the country—not only in places like Boulder, Austin, and San Francisco, but also in cities from Minneapolis to Memphis to New Orleans.
What is the appeal of buying in bulk? It is THE most cost-effective way to shop for the freshest ingredients with the least amount of packaging: a win-win-win for your wallet, body, and planet.
A pinch of any given item prices out at mere pennies; and the savings add up fast as bulk costs up to 89% less than packaged alternatives. At the same time you reduce the amount of waste going into landfills and save the energy needed to create, process, ship, and break down all of the unnecessary packaging. These are real world, measurable savings.
But how does one actually do it? The bulk section of a market may appear intimidating with its countless bins, tongs, numbers and pens—but it need not be. Prepare yourself and it can be a breeze.
Bring your own jars (mason jars are great, as are upcycled ones of any shape or size from jams or tomato sauce), bags, receptacles, or whatever you have lying around the house. Simply weigh each BEFORE you fill it. Write down the “tare weight,” which is the weight of the container alone with nothing it in. This will be subtracted from the price of the full container at the register. Typically, customer service will happily to help you out here. Then, go ahead and fill it with bulk goods to your heart’s content. Write down the code (often called the PLU#) for each specific item, which gives the price per ounce or pound. The cashier will weigh the item and ring it up when you pay for your entire purchase—then, off you go!
The benefits of buying in bulk are multi-faceted. You get the right amount of any item in the precise quantity you actually need or want, whether massive or teeny tiny. It frees you up to try new things or experiment with foreign foods without having to commit to buying an entire package. And if you don’t like it, you won’t have wasted a lot of money or left behind a huge amount to go bad or send to landfill.
Food in the bulk section is also fresher than packaged goods, as it is replenished often and doesn’t sit on shelves after being sealed and shipped days, weeks or even months prior to your purchase.
What sorts of items can you buy in bulk? A better question may be: what CAN’T you buy in bulk?
Grains, nuts, cereals, dried fruit, sweeteners, rice, oats, flour, pasta, trail mix, beans, cereal, seeds, and other dry goods in bins.
Nut butters (almond, peanut, sunflower, more—salted or unsalted) can often be ground fresh on the spot into your own container without added fillers or unnecessary sweeteners.
Oils, vinegars, honey, and other liquids in dispensers.
Herbs, salts, and spice blends in jars (which are ideal for specific recipes that call for exotic seasonings in small quantities).
Coffee, tea, beverage mixes, and infusions.
Non-edible goods like soaps and bath salts.
Always remember to bring your own bag/s, both for checkout and shopping in various departments. Fruits and veggies can be placed in your own cloth bags, rather than the disposable paper or plastic ones provided in the produce section. You can also put fresh breads and cookies into reusable sacks of different sizes. Challenge yourself to leave the market with as little packaging as possible. Can you have a fully zero-waste haul?
Make sure to read more of Fusion!