I've always bought in bulk whenever possible -- mostly because I thought it saved packaging. Now research backs up that claim and one other: You'll also save on your food budget.
A shopper can save an average of 89 percent on his or her food bill by purchasing natural and organic foods in the bulk foods aisle, according to a recent study conducted by the Portland State University's Food Industry Leadership Center on behalf of The Bulk is Green Council. The research found other chief benefits include reduced product packaging going into landfills and less food waste, as consumers choose the quantities they need.
So what types of items can be bought in bulk? The research compared costs of the most widely available natural and organic foods sold in bulk: coffee and tea, nut butters such as peanut butter, flour and grains, dried fruit, spices, beans, pasta, and confectioneries. But currently, nonorganic brands of these items are generally not sold in bulk, unless you consider purchasing them in a larger package from one of the warehouse clubs.
In the book, "Cut your Grocery Bill in Half with America's Cheapest Family," Steve and Annette Economides say you can get large package deals at the warehouse clubs such as meats, pickles in gallon jars and pretzels sold in huge bags. Just search for items your family consumes regularly or that can be separated and frozen. You can find these in a single larger package for a better price than you can find it in the grocery store. Here's some more advice on bulk buying and warehouse club shopping.
- Stay away from regular-sized packages sold in multiples, as this doesn't save packaging.
- Beware impulse buys, or you could end up spending more at a warehouse club. The Economideses advocate sharing the membership with another like-minded family to split its cost.
- Know your best unit grocery store prices (and coupon and sale savings), so you can compare to know for sure which is the better deal.
The study findings show that a food company choosing to market bulk foods versus packaged foods can save an average of 54 percent on material and delivery costs. This is because more bulk food can be packed onto delivery trucks, and retailers can offer more choices as bulk bins take up less space than individual packages on shelves. So why don't more retailers and food producers offer bulk buying?
Unfortunately, none of the traditional grocery store chains where I live have a bulk bin aisle. If they did, I would shop from it. Would you?