A recent study shows consumers who buy in bulk save 89% more than they do when they buy packaged foods. They also recognize the environmental benefits to going bulk (think less packaging). If you haven’t gone the bulk road, what’s stopping you? Here are 12 tips that show how buying bulk can save you big time.
1. Compare bulk food price with packaged food price in-store.
Don’t assume that the foods in the bulk section are always cheaper than their in-store packaged counterparts. Make sure to compare bulk price per ounce or pound with packaged price per ounce. Snap photos of bulk bin price labels or shelf tags to help keep track as you move throughout the store.
2. Look for big bulk grocer savings in October.
Every October, the Bulk Is Green council, or BIG, celebrates National Bulk Foods Week. Keep an eye out for participating stores that offer special discounts on natural and organic foods in their bulk sections. The goal of BIG is to encourage more consumers to buy organic food in bulk and to encourage more retailers to install and market bulk bin foods. You can view the current list of participating retailers here.
3. Buy bulk at Costco, but make sure to compare individual unit pricing with other stores.
When it comes to bulk, you have the option of buying everything from good quality meats to syrup, spices, and frozen foods. Costco’s yearly membership often pays for itself just by going a few times a year or if you buy a large ticket item like a TV. Just make sure you compare Costco’s individual unit pricing with the prices (with and without coupons) at other stores. I compared prices with Walmart and Amazon and found 19 unbeatable Costco deals for items like cooking spray, cat litter, spinach, and cheese. See them all here.
Pro Tip: Watch for Living Social and Groupon deals to save big on membership fees.
4. Weigh your containers before filling them from the in-store bulk bins.
Sometimes you can save money by bringing your own containers to fill from the bulk bins at local grocers and co-ops. This also saves you time transferring bulk items into their proper containers when you get home. Just make sure you subtract the container’s weight from the total food weight so you’re charged properly.
5. Save 10% on bulk foods at Whole Foods when you buy at least 15 lbs.
You can also purchase products not in the bulk section by the case and save 10%. In most cases, a case has 12 individual units, but check with a Whole Foods employee for specific amounts.
6. Split up bulk purchases with friends and family.
When you see something like a 50 lb. bag of rice for a great deal, this is where you call up friends and family for backup. Between you and three other people, you each end up with 12.5 lbs. of rice and a really great deal.
7. Get an extra 5% off when you purchase whole cases or sacks of bulk food at WinCo.
At stores like employee-owned WinCo, many items in the bulk bins qualify for a 5% discount when they’re purchased as a whole case or sealed sack. Just call ahead and make sure the item you want is eligible and available.
Items to consider buying in bulk at WinCo include tea bags, honey, fresh peanut butter, baking supplies, pet food, spices, and candy.
8. Bring your own pen and write the name of the product in addition to the PLU code on the twist tie.
During grocery store rush hour (weekends and weekdays 4-7 PM), pens can be scarce in the bulk section; you may even have to wait to use one. Bring your own pen and write the food item’s name on the twist tie in addition to the PLU code. Some products—like flours—look very similar and may be difficult to tell apart once you’re home.
9. Buy wine in bulk and save anywhere from 10% to 25%.
Many stores give you a discount when you buy wine in bulk. For instance, buy six bottles of wine at Whole Foods, and get 10% off. My local Albertsons recently offered 25% off regional wines when you purchased six bottles. Not bad!
In addition to bulk percent-off discounts, look for rebate offers for specific brands. I just saw a mail-in rebate offer for one of the regional wines at my local Albertsons—$24 off six bottles, which were already marked down. After the rebate and bulk discount, I only had to pay $1 per bottle of wine!
Pro Tip: Stores like to discount expensive wine, especially during the holidays. You may see deals for 30% off of wines priced $20 or more. When you see a deal like this, consider buying in bulk. Good wine can make great gifts.
10. Instead of adding nuts from a grocer’s salad bar, go to the bulk section and pay less.
Don’t add the nuts found at the Whole Foods’ or another grocer’s salad bar. Instead, head to the bulk section after building your salad, and get the amount you need for a lot less.
11. Visit a local farmers market to ask about bulk options.
Buying bulk at your local farmers market is often the best way to get a large quantity of seasonal fruits and vegetables, often organic, at lower prices than the grocery store. Go in with a friend, and choose to buy cases that can be split to get food at rock bottom prices.
12. Buy a cow share from local farmers.
Go on Craigslist and look for farmers locally who offer to butcher and kill a cow for free (or for a small fee). You only need to pick it up and buy a bigger freezer. The best rates we’re finding right now range from $5.05-$6.50/lb, but since my friend’s dad is a rancher, I was able to score 1/4 of a grass-fed, grain-finished cow for only $2.37/pound.
Pro Tip: A quarter cow typically weighs 115 pounds; a half cow, 230 pounds; and a full cow, 460 pounds.
13. Special order items you plan on buying in large quantities.
Don’t be that shopper who clears the shelves. If you’re buying an item in quantities of 10 or more, call the store and place a special order—especially if an item is on sale. Here are some tips to follow if you’ve never special ordered before:
- Call the store and ask for the manager. Explain you want to special order a specific number of products, and specify the applicable size and flavor/variety you would like. You’ll want to call the day before or the day the sale starts so there’s enough time to order the product and gather the coupons you’ll need, if coupons apply.
- The manager will take down your name and number and give you the expected delivery date. Make sure you also write down the manager’s name and the estimated date of delivery.
- When you go to the store, go to customer service and let them know you’re there to pick up your special order. Once you have your items, you can check out as usual.
14. Move your bulk items into sealed containers quickly.
Mason jars are a great option for storing food since they don’t give an off-flavor, and the jars can be used over and over again. Foods like flours, sugars, rice, beans, whole grains, spices, and dried fruits benefit most in airtight containers. Best of all, glass jars allow you to see what you have stored.