I discovered the joy of shopping from the bulk section after we moved to the West coast and found Sprouts Farmers Market. We used to live in the East Coast before and there wasn’t any reasonably priced bulk food store within 20 mile of where we lived. We did have a Whole Foods Market which had a big bulk section but they were on the expensive side so we rarely shopped from their bulk section.
All that changed after we moved to Northern California and discovered Sprouts Farmers Market. Sprouts have a big section dedicated to bulk food items and they have everything from trail mix to coffee flour and the best thing is that their price is very reasonable for most items. We usually buy most of our bulk food items from Sprouts but every now and then I stop by at the local Whole Foods Market to stock up on bulk items that are on sale or have a better price than Sprouts. Pink salt is always cheaper to buy from Whole Foods.
So, why do I buy items from the bulk section? How is it frugal?
Just the right quantity-
I have a better control on quantity when I buy it from the bulk bins. If I need 1 nutmeg, I can buy just that and not a whole bag of nutmegs that would sit in my spice cabinet and go bad.
I find most of the items are of superior quality in bulk than their bagged versions. It may have something to do with the bins being replenished often. Nuts, dried fruits, oats, and spices are always fresher and tastes better when I buy them from the bulk bins.
Reduces food waste-
You waste a lot less when you have a say on the quantity of the items that you’re buying from the bulk bins, be it trail mixes or dried beans.
You can become almost zero waste food shopper if you shop exclusively from bulk bins and bring your own bags and containers. This takes some effort and discipline but it feels so good when you come home and you have no bags or containers to throw away.
What do we buy?
We get our rolled oats, quick oats, dried beans, occasional granola, dried figs, dried cranberries, nuts, brown sugar and spices from bulk food stores. I am thinking about adding table salt to the mix as I recently realized that the salt that we buy from Trader Joe’s comes in a container that’s not recyclable.
Just because we buy from bulk doesn’t necessarily mean that we always buy in bulk. In fact, most of the items we buy are in small quantity to maintain freshness, like spices, dried fruits and granola. We do buy Oats and brown sugar in a bigger quantity as we eat them regularly and want to make fewer trips for them. We sometimes buy in bulk to take advantage of a sale, specially if the items that we eat regularly are on sale, like nuts, salt, sugar etc.
What we don’t buy-
We don’t buy prepared food from the bulk bins like mochi icecream, cookies, jerky, etc.
What we occasionally buy-
We purchase occasional treats like jelly beans, dried mango or chocolate covered fruits or taffy from bulk bins. We buy them in small quantity and buy them occasionally so they remain as a treat.
A few tips-
- I take my own reusable cloth bag when I go bulk food shopping. These bags cost me nothing as I got the fabric for the bags off of Freecycle and sewed them myself. They are not the fanciest kind but they are durable and wash well. I also take my tupper wear for spices. Non Styrofoam take out containers are great for buying items in small quantity.
2. We request for a sample before buying a new item so we can prevent waste in food and money. But we don’t ask for them because we are hungry and need a snack. We also don’t help ourselves while walking by the chocolate covered anything bins.
3. I usually memorize the PLU numbers to save the twist ties from being wasted. You can take pictures of the PLU numbers or add it to your phone as well. The fewer our carbon foot prints, the better.
4. I freeze nuts and fridge dried fruits to keep them fresher longer.
I am so grateful to have such wonderful grocery stores where we live. It certainly improved the quality of our lives by bringing great quality food at a reasonable price.