Buying Food in Bulk: Everything You Need to Know￼
Over the past couple of years, we’ve been trying to purchase most of our groceries in bulk. It hasn’t always been the perfect solution, but I think it’s been worth it, and we’ve learned some things along the way. Here’s everything you should know about buying food in bulk. We’ll talk about the pros and cons, where to buy food, what to buy, and how to store it.
Is Buying Bulk Food Actually Worth It?
I’ll start this by saying even though we buy bulk food, we’re not preppers. Do I think it’s good to have some basic food and supplies on hand to be ready in an emergency, whether that’s losing your job or experiencing a power outage? Yes. Do I think you need a sailboat in your yard filled with can goods for the coming apocalypse? No, and you can laugh, but I knew someone that did that.
Buying food in bulk comes with negatives and positives that I’ll explore in this post. What these look like for you may be different depending upon your finances, location, and home.
The Positives of Buying Food in Bulk
We save money.
We save money when we buy in bulk for several reasons. The first is that we get a great deal where we shop. For example, we can get molasses for $10 per gallon where we purchase bulk food. At our local grocery store, 12 fl oz of molasses costs $4.69.
We also save money because it helps us go to the grocery store less. We rarely run out of staples for our most used recipes. Items like chili powder, yeast, and sugar are always on hand, so I never have to run into the store just to grab that one thing. This is great because we all know that one item inevitably turns into a couple of bags of stuff we remembered we “needed.”
Lastly, we save money because it helps us keep good cooking habits. When we regularly shop at a grocery store, all those quick, easy foods look enticing. Having a supply of bulk ingredients at home has helped encourage us to avoid convenience foods and plan meals ahead.
We keep packaging out of the landfill.
Zero waste living may seem like an unrealistic daydream if you live in a rural, lower-income section of the U.S. as we do. However, it’s important to realize that you don’t have to be zero-waste to make a difference! Reducing the amount of trash you create each week has a significant impact. Buying food in bulk helps us accomplish this. Sure, the items still come in packages, but it’s much less packaging than what we end up with from a standard grocery store.
We spend less money supporting big corporations.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to disdain most of the big grocery chains available near us. They’re all multi-billion dollar corporations whose employees rely on government assistance to make ends meet because they refuse to pay a living wage. I like to support small, local businesses as much as I can instead.
We get better food.
The store we buy food in bulk from has high-quality products, and shopping there keeps us from making impulse purchases. There’s no walking by isles of candy, soda, or frozen dinners. They don’t sell it! Another reason I hate the big grocery chains, as I mentioned above, is the what now seems like near-constant recalls. The food we buy from our bulk food store hasn’t been recalled since we started shopping there. Not once.
Buying food in bulk encourages us to make food from scratch.
I mentioned this a bit under the “save money” section, but I felt it deserved its own spot. Even though I know that food from scratch is better for us, we don’t always follow our best intentions but seeing all our bulk food is a good reminder of our commitment. It’s hard to justify buying store-bought bread when there’s 100lbs of good flour at the house.
You don’t have to worry about running out.
When the pandemic hit, many areas saw grocery shelves quickly emptying. For those who rely on these stores, it was scary. We talked to many who were very concerned that there wouldn’t be enough the next time they needed groceries. It was a relief to be able to say that while we may not have every whim we wanted, we certainly could be fine for months just on what we already had.
The Negatives of Buying Food in Bulk
Buying food in bulk takes up a lot of space.
Honestly, the minimalist in me hates having all the extra food storage bins around. However, I’m willing to put up with it until we get our pantry/battery/water storage addition finished on the cabin. If you have a large home, this may not be an issue for you at all, but on a small homestead or tiny home situation, you’ll need to find a place to put all this food where it won’t get ruined.
It takes a large amount of money upfront.
Most people glancing at our bank account wouldn’t consider us to be privileged, but we are in many ways. Though we aren’t rich, we do make enough money that we can choose to buy a lot of food at once. For folks living paycheck to paycheck, this isn’t usually the case. If you have a limited amount of money, you’ll need to budget for your bulk shopping trip well in advance.
Buying food in bulk can lead to a lot of waste.
When something goes bad, it’s a lot of waste. When we were new to this, moths got into the brown rice we had purchased. Instead of having a 2lb bag from the grocery go bad, it was the better part of a 25lb that I cooked and fed the chickens. If you’re unsure how much to buy, you may also over-purchase and have food that spoils before you can use it up.
You don’t always get to take advantage of sales.
When we were shopping more regularly at our local grocery store, we would try to watch for sales and stock up on certain items then. We also aimed to plan some of our meals around what was on sale. While this is still doable for fresh items, we now buy all of our shelf-stable goods on a schedule. When it’s been six months, we need to buy more flour and olive, whether it’s a good deal or not.
You might have to make a special trip.
If you don’t live somewhere close to a bulk food store, you may need to make a special trip. This is why we try to purchase about six months’ worth of food. We want to spend the least amount on gas as possible.
Where to Buy Food in Bulk
If you’re in Ohio, West Virginia, or Kentucky and travel near Athens, Ohio, I highly recommend the Ohio Bulk Food Depot. They’re not a sponsor, just a fantastic little family business that we buy from. The couple that runs it, Gary and Dany Wells, are so helpful and kind. They’ve got some great recipes on their website too!
Looking for small stores like this or a local food co-op is a great option. Litterless is a website that can help you find zero waste bulk food options in your state.
Another option may be Azure Standard. I haven’t personally purchased from them, but I have heard good things, and I know that they have expanded their routes in the last few years, making them more accessible. You may be able to set up your own pickup point if you get some friends or neighbors involved.
What to Buy When Buying Food in Bulk
I advise new gardeners to start small and grow what they know their family will eat. The same is true with buying food in bulk. If you’re unsure about what you’ll use, I recommend compiling a list of all the food you buy in a month.
Look into the storage life of certain items and consider how you’ll be storing them. For example, all-purpose flour keeps much longer than whole wheat. We store our whole wheat flour in the freezer to keep it from going rancid.
Here are the items we typically purchase:
- Pinto Beans
- Black Beans
- Cranberry Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Split Peas
- Mung Beans
- All-Purpose Flour
- Whole Wheat Flour
- Active Yeast
- Cocoa Powder
- Chocolate Chips
- Baking Powder
- Baking Soda
- Corn Starch
- Powdered Sugar
Grains and Cereals
- White Hominy Grits
- 7 Grain Cereal
- Steel Cut Oats
- Cream of Wheat
- Rolled Oats
- Brown Rice
- Pearled Barley
- Wagon Wheels
- Angel Hair
Spices & Seasonings
- Chili Powder
- Black Peppercorns
- White Pepper
- Lemon Pepper
- Curry Powder
- Vegetable Broth Powder
- Textured Vegetable Protein
- Soy Curls
- Sesame Seeds
- Poppy Seeds
- Soy Sauce
- White Vinegar
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Olive Oil
- Blackstrap Molasses
- Supreme Baking Molasses
- Peanut Butter
How Much to Buy
Again, how much you should buy will depend on how much your family uses. An excellent way to estimate is to go through your grocery receipts for a month or two. Be as honest with yourself as possible. We now buy huge amounts of flour because I bake and cook a lot. I frequently make pizza dough, bread, pasta, rolls, biscuits, and tortillas. If you don’t, it’s no big deal but don’t go as heavy on the flour.
Start with a shorter amount of time than you’d like.
When we started this endeavor, we aimed to purchase enough food for three months before we started buying for six months at a time. We didn’t want to end up with way too much. This was a good call because the quantity of beans we bought lasted much longer than three months! As you get better at figuring out how fast you use items, you can purchase for longer periods.
Research how long items will keep.
Carefully look into the shelf life of the items you’re planning on buying. There’s no sense in doing this if your food will be rancid or be void of nutrition by the time you use it.
How to Store Your Food
Properly storing your food is critical! You don’t want your food to spoil and waste all your money and effort. Here are a few of the ways we keep our food fresh.
For items we use regularly and quickly, like spices, oatmeal, and sugar, we store them in mason jars, canisters, or old pickle jars on our open shelving. Select airtight containers that won’t let moisture in!
We store additional quantities of the above items and less frequently used items like beans and lentils in similar containers in closed cabinets. Food keeps better when it isn’t exposed to sunlight.
Some foods store best in the freezer. We place our whole wheat flour and open bags of yeast in our chest freezer. Even though we purchase large quantities, we haven’t had any go bad using this method!
The only thing we keep long-term in the fridge is peanut butter. We usually buy large jars of fresh, natural peanut butter, and it keeps the best cool.
We store large quantities of bulk items like sugar, all-purpose flour, and brown rice in 5-gallon buckets. Make sure you purchase buckets that have the food-safe label on them. I’m also a huge fan of the gamma lids for easy access, and each bucket should have a label to keep track of what you have.
Buying in bulk isn’t for everyone, but it has been great for us. If you want to start buying food in bulk, these tips are some great starting points.
Do you already buy food in bulk? Did we miss some great advice? Let us know in the comments!