7 Buying Bulk....and Not the Costco Kind

Several years ago Joey and I went into a bulk store in the US in search of wine for a trip we were taking. We spent so much time walking up and down every aisle yelling things out to one another like "OMG their cases of pop have 40 cans in it!" and "100 D batteries!!! Who needs 100 D batteries?!?!".  That is the last time we have been in a bulk store because we have no need for it in our current lifestyle and family size.

There is buying in bulk and then there is buying from bulk. One means you are walking away with 50 gallons of mayo or pickles and the other means that someone else bought in bulk and you buy as much or as little as you want without all the excess packaging.

Hey look....1 million pickles!
photo credit: Tim.Deering via photopin cc

There are lots of options when you are looking to buy from bulk. There are the major chain stores like Bulk Barn, there is the bulk section of your grocery store and then there are the small health food stores. In my experience the major chain stores offer the lowest prices and the widest variety but the health food stores usually have a larger percentage of organic goods for sale. Visit the stores in your area and look for the one that carries the type of food that you are looking to buy. Don't be afraid to ask the Manager if you can bring in your own reusable container instead of using bags. Some will tare the container for you on each visit but be prepared for them not to be willing to do this for you. If they won't and you still want to bring your own container then look for something light weight so the weight of the contain doesn't end up costing you a lot at the checkout. Another option is to bring your own reusable bags, although for products like nut butter that probably isn't going to work!

The downside of buying from bulk can be not having labels that tell you where something is coming from. Some stores will have this information on their bulk bins but if yours does not then just ask the Manager. Ask for location of origin, if it is certified organic, fair trade and GMO free. I struggle with this sometimes because it can be hard to find organic food in bulk bins but I can easily find it in packaging in the store. It is a constant balancing act of what is more important - buying from bulk and reducing packaging waste or buying organic and reducing the negative impact on your health and the environment.  Pick whichever is more important to you.

photo credit: Moosicorn via photopin cc

Other Tips for Buying from Bulk
1. Skip the tags and keep track of product numbers in your smart phone.
2. Have air tight containers at home to ensure your food stays fresh.
3. Look for company names on bins. This will help you avoid Nestle products.
4. Avoid products that are individually packaged to reduce the amount of waste you generate.
5. Reduce your potential food waste by buying only what you need and asking for a sample if you haven't tried something before.

Do you buy in bulk or from bulk? What tips do you have to minimize the impact?

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  1. I love the bulk bins! Particularly nice for trying exotic ingredients in new recipes. So you don't end up with nearly a pound of leftover carob powder that your family hates. My local health food store lets you tare your own containers. The Whole Foods will tare "standard" containers. I wish Trader Joe's would start a bulk section, I like their stuff but am increasingly itchy about all the plastic packaging.

  2. That is a great tip for when you are using something that you won't need much of! I had no idea Trader Joe's didn't have bulk bins (we don't have them here. That really surprises me!

  3. Just be wary of kids and teens sampling from the bins with their grubby hands. Yuck.

  4. We do buy in bulk a lot. We have certain things that we get over and over again at Costco. I particularly like it when they have large sizes of great organic brands that allow me to get 4x as much without 4x the packaging and 4x the cost.

    I do buy from bulk sometimes, but rarely at Bulk Barn. There is a bulk section at Ottawa Organics that is great for baking supplies.

  5. Wow, I have been noticing lately just how much packaging surrounds some of my food. I used to buy in bulk but I am leaning more towards from bulk now. It can be very hard to have options in a small community

  6. @Annie - I love that your Costco has organic brands!

    @Simply Aware - I agree that in some communities it is much harder to have options for buying from bulk. We have only a small handful of health food stores here so it sometimes takes really shopping around.

  7. Hi Jen I love you blog and totally agree with buying bulk. It is very hard to find non GMO bulk products.
    I also have a blog it is ourorganicstory.com I hope you can check it out:).