Buy Bulk Food to Save Money on Groceries

Harvest a bumper crop of savings by following our advice on how to save money on food. You can save over 50 percent on groceries by buying in bulk. And if you prefer organic, the savings offered by bulk food are even greater — up to 90 percent!

| April/May 2014

We all have a taste for good food, but quality groceries can come at a high price. Whet your appetite with this money-saving advice: Purchasing bulk food is a highly effective way to cut expenses and eat locally. You may already shop the bulk department of your co-op or grocery store, but cutting out the storefront altogether can offer even more financial, environmental and gastronomical benefits. Besides making your food shopping easier and less frequent, bulk groceries are often of higher quality than packaged supermarket products. And the money savings will wow you: See our Estimated Savings From Buying in Bulk chart for specific savings on 20 items.

If you choose to eat organic, the savings from buying in bulk can be even more staggering: A 2012 study by the Food Industry Leadership Center at Portland State University found that consumers saved an average of 89 percent compared with supermarket costs when they bought large quantities of certain organic foodstuffs, including grains, beans and spices (read more in the 2012 Bulk Foods Study).

Buying food in bulk may seem intimidating if you don’t know beans about it. We’ll walk you through the key steps of buying in bulk on your own from local farmers and, for even greater savings on more items, joining a food-buying club.

Member Benefits

Buying clubs are groups of individuals and families who merge their grocery lists to buy food in big quantities at close-to-wholesale prices. Clubs make a collective purchase once or twice per month, usually through a single wholesaler, nabbing substantial savings on large-quantity purchases of everything from toothpaste to whole grains. As our chart shows, you can routinely save as much as 50 percent. Food-buying clubs also build community — members get to know each other while coordinating orders and volunteering time to divide the food.

Purchasing bulk food through a club requires thoughtful planning. You’ll need enough jars, bins and tubs to pick up and store your portion of brown rice, wheat, nuts and more. A chest freezer is a good investment to prevent large purchases of butter, meat, flour and nuts from spoiling. Some clubs ask their members to chip in on shared freezers, a scale for dividing orders, and even a grain mill for grinding fresh flours.

Buying-club households usually waste less food because their cooking habits become grounded in a pantry mentality: Meal planning begins with the goods already stocked at home. Avoid purchasing unfamiliar foodstuffs until you’re sure you’ll eat them. Try a small package from the grocery store first, so you don’t get stuck with a 10-pound bag of hull-intact buckwheat that needs to be ground twice to become a usable flour you end up not liking much. Keep track of what your family actually eats, too, and which foods linger on your pantry shelves despite your best culinary inventions.

3/27/2014 1:25:57 PM

Thanks for the links to help us find a food buying club in our area. Much appreciated!

3/20/2014 7:55:32 AM

I appreciate this article about buying clubs, because I've found it to be true that they save us money. After much research and quality/cost comparison of various meat farmers and meat CSAs in our area, we settled on a CSA that operates like a buying club for 6 month increments of pastured beef, pork, and chicken. There is no minimum order required, but we place our 6-month order and payment in advance, and once per month we pick up that month's order at the buying club coordinator's house (the farm is out in the country). In this way, we've locked in rates and the farmer has locked in customers, but we only need one month freezer infrastructure to accommodate. This club saves us 13% over grocery store prices, and the quality and integrity of the animal care is much higher.

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