Buying and Storing Bulk Foods

Buying and storing bulk foods saves money, but requires planning, includes information on storage containers, planning menus around bulk food, and how to store dry goods, fruits and spices.

| August/September 1997

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    For the experienced bulk-food shopper, a wider variety of goods can increase creativity in meal planning and food preparation.

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When you are buying and storing bulk foods plan ahead for storage space and menus for the week. 

Once relegated to your funkier neighborhood stores, food co-ops, and health food stores, they've found their way into the local grocery, pet stores, and chain supermarkets. They've multiplied, taking over entire sections and walls of stores, beckoning to the expert and amateur alike.

Once staid and predictable, they are now multi-faceted, featuring simultaneously the basic, the exotic, and the unusual. "They" are bulk-food bins and what was once the domain of basic staples, such as flour and oatmeal, is now the home of black bean flakes, baby French lentils, and cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil.

Fortunately, both the economic and creative virtues of shopping by bulk are available to all of us in more ways than ever before. For the experienced bulk-food shopper, a wider variety of goods can increase creativity in meal planning and food preparation. For the novice, buying and storing bulk foods can be a lesson in cost savings, an introduction to new flavors and foods, and a step towards maintaining a well-stocked, always interesting pantry.

With cost savings being a major incentive for purchasing in bulk, let's do a little comparison shopping. Comparing identical products, savings range an average of 15-45 percent with spices bought in bulk providing the biggest savings. For example, a one ounce package of cinnamon sticks from a local grocery retailed at $6.79 versus $7.99 per pound when bought in bulk. Couscous and other specialty grains averaged a 30 percent savings when bought in bulk, while prepackaged and dried fruit averaged a 17 percent savings. The greatest discounts are, as you might imagine, available when buying in true bulk—50 pound bags of flour, 25 pound bags of sugar, 25 pound packages of whole wheat past abut savings are available by purchasing in much smaller quantities and simply "packaging" it yourself.

In case a savings of 15 percent doesn't seem worthwhile as compared to simply grabbing a pre-packaged item from your local chain store, remember that those savings add up rapidly. Saving 15 percent on a $6.99 per pound food item is a savings of $1.05 or a 15 percent return on investment. I challenge you to find a similar, short-term investment that keeps your assets easy to reach and in your pocket . . . or your pantry.

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