10 Best Foods to Buy in Bulk to Save Money

It’s National Bulk Food Week, an event organized by the Bulk is Green Council to raise awareness about the environmental and economic benefits of buying in bulk when you shop.

Why bother with bulk?

  • Buying in Bulk Saves Money. – Organic bulk foods on average cost 89% less than their packaged counterparts. In fact, pretty much all food costs less when you buy a larger size or choose from bins that allow you to package up your food yourself. See for yourself the next time you go shopping. Compare the price of a pound of loose fresh carrots to a bag of peeled and washed baby carrots. The fresh carrots may cost one-third as much as the bagged ones. The same is true of packaged paper goods, like toilet tissue and paper towels. The more you buy, the less each one costs per unit price.
  • Bulk Foods Put a Lower Foot Print on the Planet. – Pre-packaged food comes wrapped in plastic, polystyrene, paper, and cardboard. All this wrapping takes its toll on the water and trees that are used to produce them. Plus, manufacturing all that packaging generates air and water pollution, along with climate-changing carbon dioxide that’s emitted when oil and coal are burned to produce paper and plastic.
  • Bulk Foods Can Cut Waste. – Buying in bulk allows you to buy just the amount of food you need so you’ll throw away less. It lets you stock up on items you might otherwise run out of frequently. There’s often greater variety in the bulk bins than what you would find packaged on the shelves. And often, bulk food is fresher, as it has to be replenished more frequently than food that is packaged to have a long shelf life. If you are buying packaged food, you can still buy in bulk by choosing the largest package you can consume in a reasonable amount of time. For example, buying one large bag of chips saves more money and creates less trash than buying a box of ten small bags of chips.

What Bulk Foods Will Save You The Most Money?

When buying in bulk, choose either foods that have a long shelf life, or that you plan to eat before they expire. If you’re buying perishable foods like meat or chicken, buy in bulk when you can cook some and freeze the rest. Planning to can fruits or vegetables? Buying them in bulk will save you a lot of money over buying them pre-bagged.

Store bulk foods in air-tight containers at room temperature or slightly cooler, or in the freezer if appropriate. Unless you can see through the containers, label each one with the contents and date they were stored.

  • Dried Beans and Pasta – Dried pasta can last up to two years in a sealed container; dried beans can last about a year. Buy them either in large containers at warehouse clubs, or bag them yourself at your local grocery store or food co-op. Consider lentils, peas, garbanzo beans, black beans and navy beans, among others.
  • Rice - White rice can last about a year; brown rice about six months. Store it in air-tight containers and use it until you need to replenish it. The idea isn’t to buy it and not use it!
  • Pepper – Whole peppercorns can last as long as three years, though ground pepper only lasts about 6 months.
  • Snack Foods - A large bag of chips costs significantly less than individual bags packaged together, and generates a lot less waste. If you need snack sizes to take in your lunch or send with the kids to school, buy reusable snack boxes and refill those from the large bag.
  • Popcorn – Popcorn kernels seem to last forever. Get the largest size you can find on the shelf, or buy in bulk by the pound. Popping your own popcorn is definitely cheaper than buying microwave popcorn, which comes in a serving bag as part of a box or package that’s additionally wrapped.
  • Chicken - Large packages of chicken wings, legs, breasts and thighs are always cheaper than smaller servings. Buy the bulk size, then divvy up into smaller portions when you get home. Wrap in aluminum foil, then put into a plastic freezer bag, along with the date. Use within 3 months.
  • Meat – Like chicken, most meat is cheaper when you buy more of it. Buy large packages of steaks or chops, then divide into portions, wrap and freeze. Do the same with ground beef.
  • Candy - Most hard candy has a long shelf life, especially if you keep it cool. Hard candy is better in bulk than chocolate.
  • Condiments – Mustard, ketchup, and hot sauce usually have so much salt in them that you can buy the largest size you can use and not worry about it going bad. The same is true of relishes and pickles.
  • Toilet Paper and Paper Towels – These aren’t foods, of course, but they really make sense to buy in bulk. If you have the storage space, buy a 12-pack rather than a 4- or even 8-pack.

Get used to comparing the unit price of the foods you buy to find the best bulk deals. You can usually locate the unit price in the top left corner of the shelf label that gives the price for the product. Though you will pay less for the small product, you’ll probably pay more per unit price. Don’t buy more than you think you’ll use over time, though. The point of buying in bulk isn’t to create more food waste, but rather to be smarter and more environmentally aware about the food you do buy.

Popcorn image credit: ed_welker via Flickr, beans in bulk image credit: ruthanddave via Flickr

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103 comments

Magdalena J.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you!

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

Pop corn doesn't pop as well if it is old, so that's not such a good thing to buy in bulk but thanks. I already buy a lot of things in bulk at Sam's Club.

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Connie Palladini
Connie Palladini2 years ago

Thank you for sharing!!

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Fi T.
Past Member 2 years ago

Guarantee these resources are consumed instead of being abandoned finally

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen2 years ago

Thank you :)

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Darren Woolsey
Darren Woolsey2 years ago

Yeah, always worth it to buy in bulk!

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Donna T.
Donna T2 years ago

thank you

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Erin H.
Erin H2 years ago

Interesting article, thank you!

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Sarah MacDonald
Sarah MacDonald2 years ago

Rice never lasts a year in my home... but that may be because my husband is part Japanese and can't go more than a couple days without it.

I also buy flour, yeast, and sugar in bulk. I bake a great deal and make my own pasta regularly. A 25-pound sack of flour lasts no more than four months in our house, but we eat home baked bread, pies, quiches, cakes, crackers, and cookies. I also use it to make pasta and roux for thickening sauces. The biggest surprise to me was learning that yeast will last in the freezer for months at a time! In fact, the one-pound bag of yeast I've been working with has lasted me more than a year and still raises my bread nicely, even though it officially expired in July. I'm going to have to get more, but only because I'm about to run out.

Oh, and I bought a huge box of candy canes last year at Christmastime, which I expect will last me another three or four years at the rate I'm using them. Now that's a savings!

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Katie D.
Katie & Bill D2 years ago

Oh yes set a room aside if necessary store paper, can's all extra put flour and rice and etc into plastic bin's, put date on top of can's when you have purchased them & rotate.
Thank you

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