Buying in bulk is touted as a way to save money, time and needless resources that are consumed along supply chains (think less packaging and trips). It is not just a way to stockpile for the end of the world, trust me, but it is a great way to be a tad more sustainable.
When buying food in bulk, you also increase your access to whole, real foods in the process. This saves you money in the form of investing in your long-term health. Bulk purchasing strategies can be as simple as going to a grocer that sells bulk supplies, but this is a limited view that feeds the perception that those who are food insecure and on a limited budget cannot participate. There are plenty of other ways to stock up on cheap food that foster community, support a local food system, and work with any budget. So, what are some of these strategies and which foods are best to buy in bulk for you?
Hit Up Bulk Food Buyers’ Clubs
Even though buying in bulk ends up saving money in the long-term because of a smaller per unit or per pound cost, these purchases often come with a large upfront price tag that is prohibitive for many people. Wouldn’t it be nice to spread out the cost in some way? Well, you’re in luck, because there is!
By partnering up with friends, neighbors, family, roommates, and others, you can work informally to identify wholesalers of bulk commodities such as dried grains, seeds, or nuts in addition to fresh produce. These wholesalers typically have a minimum order size and discounts as you buy more. They will deliver to one location and it will be up to your group to both pool the money for the order and disburse the delivery. Check out a great resource here for starting your own.
There are also more formal methods that employ this technique, like cooperatives or warehouse retail businesses that reduce the cost of goods while taking responsibility for bringing a great variety of wholesale food to you. Look for one in your area and become a member-owner or customer!
Share a CSA Box
This falls under with the strategy above, but also supports your local farmers! There are often different size shares you can purchase. If you can find a few people to share the largest box available, you can get some fresh, local produce for cheap every week!
Volunteer at a Local Farm
An alternative to buying is bartering. This tried and true alternative works well if you can offer an hour or two of assistance to a local farmer or gardener. They are usually more than happy to give you a bunch of fresh produce in return. Plus, you get a workout!
What to Buy and Other Considerations
What you can realistically purchase in bulk will depend on what space you have, what your budget is, which strategy you choose and your preferences as well as dietary limitations, obviously.
It is important to have a plan in place for using and storing the food you buy. Try planning meals based on what you will be buying so that you can use the food, especially if it is fresh, before it goes to waste.
Purchasing glass and plastic containers cut down on the amount of disposable bags that are often used in purchasing and storing bulk foods. In addition to marking the date of purchase on the container, make sure to note the container’s weight before filling if you are using these at a store as well to avoid being overcharged.
Do you have enough room in your fridge, freezer, and pantry? Work with what you have because if you think buying bulk is expensive, try throwing out food waste or buying a new appliance. A cheap way to expand your pantry is making or buying a stand-alone shelf to fit your new reusable containers and bulk produce. Check out some great kitchen storage hacks here.
Also, getting a dehydrator can extend the life of your bulk fresh food and save more energy than a fridge or freezer. Check out a guide to dehydrating your own fruit here.
There is always someone around you who wants to eat better, but believes they cannot afford the cost or time associated with it. If you are interested in buying bulk food, try to help others in the process by getting them involved, too.
Lead image source: Jeremy Weate/Flickr