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How To Shop Bulk Bins At The Grocery Store Save You Money

How To Shop Bulk Bins At The Grocery Store Save You Money
James Hirtz Aug 30, 2018
Want to Earn Some Extra Money?

Today, I’d like to discuss why you should be taking advantage of your bulk bin section. For the busy individual, a few extra minutes spent measuring, bagging, and labeling can easily come off as an unworthy measure.

When investigated, however, there are many reasons to weigh towards visiting the bulk bin section for any shopping trip such as the option to try saving money, experimenting with your meals, and reducing your own waste costs.

Before digging in too far to the individual areas, let’s answer the burning primary question: What can be purchased from these bulk bins?

Bin Shopping 101: What Are Bulk Bins & What’s The Process?

The bulk bin section contains cases or dispensers in which you can acquire dry food ingredients for meals or as snacks. You either pour or scoop these food items in the amounts you want into small bags or containers.

These buy-as-you need sections allow the customer to dodge packaging costs in a manner similar to purchasing loose produce.

Most traditional grocery stores contains these sections, but if you’re an avid shopper at combined retail and grocery outlets, you’re far less likely to run across these sections. So, if you shop at Wal-Mart or Target primarily, these are incentivized sections to invite you into smaller store fronts.

From personal experience, you’re going to find rice, grains, flours, beans, trail mixes, nut butters, snacks (such as candy and chocolates), dried fruits, nuts, and seeds most commonly in the bulk bin section.

If you have access to a more health-centric store such as Whole Foods or Sprouts then you might see additions such as dry pasta, soup mixes, cereals, sweeteners, bulk teas, coffee beans, herbs, spices, peppercorns, and salts.

As you see above, you can buy a lot in bulk, and there’s always more to find. If your store has a high turnover and purchase rate with the goods, you can expect seasonal changes of foods often, but it will ultimately depend on your local store layout and room. So, if you only have access to a smaller bulk bin section, you’re more likely to see the same staple nuts, rices, and snacks year round.

After identifying what you would like to purchase in bulk, the purchasing process largely follows the same procedure on a store-to-store basis.

For the first step, you’re going to look for a paper bag or a usually small, round plastic container. The bags tend to favor the bulk dispensers since they can pour out rather quickly.

The containers on the other hand are often favored for your nut butters, snack foods (such as candy and chocolate), and your nut purchases for ease of you when scooping and pouring.

The second step simply involves writing down the corresponding four or five-digit PLU code located on the dispenser onto either a label or twist-it tie from the container.

Experienced bulk bin shoppers also tend to suggest writing a product name down on the ties or adding an additional label with the name of the item when purchasing items like flour.

This will save from being left guessing what ends up in your cupboard if you haven’t pre-invested in additional reusable and labeled containers or are experimenting with new foods.

The final step is as easy as placing the sealed item into your cart and letting the store complete the checkout procedures after weighing your purchase.

It’s a pretty simple process as long as your store maintains proper labels, and they have a pen in the respective area. To be on the safe side, bring your own pen because they can sometimes disappear in smaller store set-ups.

Now that we have discussed what you can purchase and how, lets considering looking into why you should consider this for your own savings.

Learning About Savings

As this generation continues to focus on healthy eating practices, a demand for non-brand alternatives (see the rise of online stores such as Brandless) has greatly increased diversity and expansion in this market as consumers look to minimize costs.

While buying in bulk has always been an option, the ability to buy as little or as much as you need in generic form has been increasing in popularity.

As such, the online conversation has re-emerged to discuss the immeasurable saving possibilities that buying from a bulk bin section has crept up in priority.

Still, I’m always an individual that likes to look at some specific numbers as an entry-point versus blindly follow a trend that seems to just empty open-store stock.

In a bulk bin section, you’re going to see prices by the pound, and it can seem expensive off-hand for the user. However, statistics consistently show that savings occur.

Janet Little, a director of nutrition at Sprouts Farmers Markets in Phoenix, Arizona, provides some surprising perspective on how much can be saved within one store’s ecosystem: “Sprouts’ price comparisons found savings of 15 percent to 20 percent when compared to packaged foods. Nuts are one of the most popular bulk items, with savings of up to 40 percent.”

Additionally, a 2012 study from Portland State University found that “consumers can save an average of 89 percent by shopping in the bulk aisle for organic coffee, tea, pasta, beans, spices, dried fruit, nut butters, flour and grains.”

The two above quotations are just some of many that I saw while looking online for additional confirmation of the benefits of bulk-bin shopping.

Still, while these numbers look great alone—you have to understand precisely how you can achieve these savings. It’s not a simple matter of bulk bin shopping will always save you the most.

To better illustrate this, I decided to do an isolated example on almonds to test how your individual stores, your location, and use can decide how to maximize savings.

The Almond Experiment

In terms of nearby options for bulk-bins, I have one option in the form of my local Ingles. In general, barring sales, the general principal that has been established is Ingles is almost always more expensive than Wal-Mart barring sales, coupons, or other specific offers.

So, for an easy-to-relate situational use, I figured it easy to discuss the popular almond—a popular item that enters people’s plates more especially with the ability of the nut to help combat bad cholesterol.

At a glance when solely thinking of comparing the two stores, Ingles didn’t fare well with bulk bin shopping.

Roasted, non-salted almonds were priced at $9.98 per pound, and the example pre-packaged containers surrounding the bins were all in the range of 0.60 pounds, which equated to $5.99 per container with a little more or a little less price variance depending on the exact number.

Looking at Blue Diamond almonds, two 6-ounce snack-sized containers would be equivalent to 0.75 pounds and come out at about $6.88 at Wal-Mart compared to paying $7.49 from Ingles’ bulk bin.

On a strictly snacking basis, unless you were avoiding salt or salt plus oil, the commercial brand won out between the two stores.

However, if my only option was to shop solely at Ingles, and I did not have the advantage of a nearby Wal-Mart, Blue Diamond almonds costs about $1 more per package on average.

In this scenario, I’d be paying $8.88 for the two 6-ounce almond containers whereas I could pay $7.49 for the same net weight from the bulk bin.

That’s not a large percentage such as the quoted forty percent, but it goes to show how within one-store costs there can quickly be a divide.

Similarly, if I wasn’t a heavy almond user, but I wanted to say try a recipe including them such as an almond-crusted fish or a tofu dish then I might consider turning to the bulk bin to circumvent over purchasing and waste.

One ounce of almonds corresponds to about one-fourth of a cup, so if the recipe calls for one to two cups of almonds then I’d end up with a strange ounce requirement such as four or eight ounces.

Based on the past numbers, it’s much easier here to go with the corresponding exact amount versus paying for an extra container or having to plan another use for the leftover almonds.

Summarizing the Experiment

The almond experiment showed some direct correlation between bulk savings being worthwhile when done exclusively in one-store. You may still be able to find a better deals elsewhere, but you need to look at the whole picture.

Wal-Mart tends to be a misnomer at times in terms of the median price on products; it can be further skewed by if you have access to a Wal-Mart that actually provides bulk settings.

This is just a quick problem on one product. This isn’t considering the rice, grain, flours, and more that might specifically benefit more from buying in set exact amounts. Always do your research, and you’re going to find some savings one way or the other.

A Little More on Savings

What I want you to take away from the quotes and this one item experiment is that bulk saving matters; you have to incorporate it in the long-term smartly.

As with anything, your options can change greatly—but if you do the math, consider what you truly need, and have some store options then you’re going to be able to make money off the process.

Just remember that the product you’re getting isn’t suddenly different just because it comes from the bins or chutes.

You’re removing packaging costs and set weight amounts to unlock more affordable options, so the amount you’re saving is going to be a small crawl of savings. Still, over time you’re going to see a difference as you mix-and match.

To expand on this a little more, let’s talk about experimentation in the kitchen and the costs associated there.

New Food Experiments Without Strings Attached

The word new holds a very positive connotation in general. It suggests the possibility of a fresh pleasure and discovery, but for the cynic it suggests regret and danger. In a fiscal setting, new foods can be very challenging for the waste or cost-conscious crowd but this shouldn’t case.

It’s no surprise, as such, that a new product in someone’s diet can have a hard time branching out towards becoming a new staple.

If there’s not an avid experimenter nor deal-seeker, it’s quite possible that the item can be overlooked because of price (especially for expensive packaging), fear, or the safety in staying with reputable long-used brands.

However, the bulk bin section allows you to do much of this without coloring your perception on future purchases.

You don’t have to go through the potential slog of misery at purchasing a full bag of buying an unknown nut, grain, or flour then forcing yourself to use it when it’s disliked.

Similarly, if the bulk bin item isn’t fresh or if the taste doesn’t feel up to par with another brand, you can swap back with much less pain.

Still, it might help to look at some specific scenarios, so I’ve included a few common areas that the bulk bin can be a major saving area for.

Avoiding Allergies and Sunk Costs

When trying out different dietary pathways and food items, there’s always the risk for allergies popping up when mixing in food ratios that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred in the past. Nuts and seeds are especially common allergens, so it can help to slowly introduce them in.

One common example comes in the form of cashews. As they’re closely related to poison ivy, if you’ve ever had a reaction to poison ivy then your body might similarly react to cashews.

As someone who rather enjoys the nut but can have a small-term allergic reaction to too many cashews, the bulk section has allowed me to purchase set amounts for snacking and cooking without the misery that might be involved if I overindulge too much or without having to rely on nut mixes where cross contamination from them can make it almost as bad as eating straight cashews.

Similarly, this extends to anyone investing in a low carb diet that may be trying coconut or almond flour for the first time. Some individuals may go a bit overboard and discover their body wasn’t ready for a foreign food item, so if you have any cause for worry you can slowly adjust to trying those recipes.

The takeaway here is that the bulk bin section can allow for much easy integration of potentially triggering substances.

Baking and Eating on Specialty Diets

One of the earliest concerns with switching to a specialty diet and when self-prepping your own food items can be finding what works for an individual.

I can’t even remember the number of recipes that I turned away from immediately because of the sheer mix of flours included within.

A discerning cook can sometimes learn to substitute out for one specific type, but there’s always the potential for a mess when tweaking out a recipe.

So, if you really want to just try before you invest, the bulk bins sections can be wonderful for meeting those double or triple flour ratios without having to invest in three bags at once.

Similarly, this works well for any small additions such as chia seeds, herbs, spices, quinoa, or chocolate chips that can be used to spruce up items.

As long as you check what your store has, you can always make it far less of a headache on yourself to tweak in and out the appropriate measures.

The Tastiest Array

If you’re going to be dealing with unusual snacks, it can be great to try a small amount for the first time. To this day, I remember how I bought a very large bag of Brazil nuts simply to naturally up my selenium intake.

I remember hating every moment of it until I was finished with the bag and regretting that I simply hadn’t poured myself a small sample.

This was the first time I really considered the power of the bulk bin section, and it’s great example of what the concept of waste can do to a person when you’re supposed to be considering taste.

In another snack-like vein, it’s pretty common for people to get short sugar cravings whether it comes in the form of candy or chocolate. With a potentially negative health history or simply because of dietary preference, it can become very difficult to not overindulge past your wishes while scratching that sweet tooth.

Bulk bins are great ways to do the same while also allowing you to make some of your own variety snack packs on the go.

Regardless of your reason, taste is a pretty high priority whenever going out and shopping. The bulk bin section can really allow you to try a lot while also keeping a controlling measure on taste seeking for those that have other concerns at play.

Remembering to Experiment

Whether indulging in food experiments for the sake of taste, savings, or a new way of eating there are always ways to make your shift less painful.

If you’re lucky to be in an area where you bulk bin options are expansive or even have a rotation on the goods included, you can make this transition a lot more fun, safe, and stress-free for yourself.

I suggest taking some time to get invested and learn about what exactly your bulk section’s schedule is like to better match your own life routine.

Reducing Waste Costs

Every Thursday, I lug a packed garbage can to the curbside. A year ago, I would lug two large garbage cans to the roadside.

Today, I still sometimes struggle to keep it all contained within that one can depending on what exactly is purchased at times; it’s becoming a much more manageable process.

This is a common struggle for the average family, the never ending back and forth of how much waste can be generated by small shifts in life.

Disposing of waste is a very prevalent but under thought and considered matter. Even if you’re not a zero-waste kind of individual, it’s not hard to see how dropping intervals of $15-20 per can help a family.

This also comes before cost considerations on how many trash bags you’re going to be using during the course of the year.

One great indirect method of saving on waste is you can easily re-use these bulk containers and bags on repeat grocery trips that otherwise would have resulted in potentially multiple packages to throw away.

If you’re already using reusable grocery bags, this can further save you the hassle of looking for a place to stow the sheer amount of paper or plastic bags brought home on a weekly basis before having to eventually dispose of them.

This is a potentially smaller area of concern for readers of this article, but I want you to consider that bulk bin shopping functions on finding small advantages and turning them into larger savings.

If you follow this practice for the course of a year, then you can reduce trash bag expenditures and potentially even the need for those extra trash cans. It doesn’t take too long to see how the small savings can snowball.

Taking a look around your pantry and counting the numbers of bags, containers, or otherwise that might be there can quickly become a very telling story.

This is especially true for any avid snack buyer that falls into the cusp of purchasing too much. I’m not challenging you to follow a zero-waste lifestyle but simply to consider what might work for your lifestyle and reduce costs at the same time.

Any less trash to throw away should always benefit you.

A Parting Appeal

If you haven’t considered exploring the bulk bin section of your local store, I want you to go about giving it a try.

You don’t have to invest a lot of time, but you might consider just meeting that small snack craving for a few nuts, pretzels, chocolates, or candy pieces as a nice invitational for what can be done. If you like it, why not go back and see what you can do with the savings?

You can save money, experiment, and even reduce your own waste simply by utilizing a bit more time to browse the bins and dispensers of your local store.

All you have to do is try a new spot that’s indirectly part of your everyday life. There isn’t a simpler request then that is there?

James Hirtz

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