Think you’re just purchasing rice when you reach for that box on the grocery store shelf? When purchasing packaged foods, you pay for more than just what’s inside the box. The amount consumers pay also includes packaging and, in many cases, advertising. On the other hand, purchasing products from bulk bins allows consumers to reduce the amount of packaging that ends up in landfills while getting their favorite foods at typically lower prices and in exactly the amount they need.
National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), a business services cooperative representing 109 food co-ops nationwide, encourages shoppers to give bulk a chance.
“Co-ops have a long history of offering products in bulk,” said Robynn Shrader, chief executive officer for NCGA. “Buying in bulk is a simple and easy way to shop, giving consumers more choices at affordable prices while having a positive impact on the environment.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nearly 80 million tons of waste is generated from packaging and containers annually - nearly a third of annual municipal solid waste. Purchasing products in bulk and storing food in reusable containers can help eliminate that waste.
In most cases, buying in bulk is as simple as weighing the quantity needed and writing down the item’s bin number. Most bulk bin aisles include beans, cereals, flours, grains, herbs and spices, nut butters, oils, pastas, sweeteners, teas and coffees, pet food, and household and toiletry items like soaps.
NCGA offers these tips to help consumers better navigate bulk-product buying:
- Don’t be afraid to ask your co-op’s staff questions about the many foods available or the process of bulk-product purchasing.
- Be adventurous. Purchase a small portion of a new food, and return for more if you like it. Bulk-bins are an excellent way to expand your food repertoire.
- Use bulk buying as a reason to better organize your pantry. Buy labels and organize your cupboards to accommodate the types of food you need.
- If you need larger quantities (i.e. a 25-pound bag of millet), ask a staff member if they can arrange a special order.