Welcome back to another post in our healthy grocery store shopping series! This series is designed to help you be a more efficient, healthier, happier shopper. In previous posts, I’ve talked about your mood, shopping at the right time, making a grocery list, shopping the perimeter, and checking ingredient labels. Today’s healthy grocery store shopping tip concerns a powerful and oft-underutilized section of the grocery store: the bulk bins.
Tip #6: I’m discussing why bulk bins can be an integral part of your grocery store routine, how to use them most effectively, and some warning signs that shopping at the bulk bins is not for you.
Ever since my Union Square Whole Foods introduced bulk bins, I have been obsessed. Nuts, grains, beans, spices, even cooking oils and cleaning supplies!! Bulk bins are popular among retailers because they save space and save costs. Customers love shopping from bulk bins because it can save money and reduces the use of disposable packaging. But there are good and not-so-good ways to utilize the bulk bins at your local grocery store!
Why does buying food from the bulk bins rock?
Note that this is not ALWAYS true, but very often, you can get a better deal at the bulk bins because the bulk foods do not have the added costs of branding, marketing, and shelf costs that the regularly stocked items do.
Even if it’s not cheaper by the pound, you can get as much or as little as you need from the bulk bins.
A-ha! So even if the price per pound is not cheaper in the bulk bin, you have the luxury of buying a 1/4 cup of slivered almonds, or 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds if that’s all you need for your recipe. Because you can buy exactly what you need, you can reduce the actual cost of your purchase, and also free up precious storage space in your kitchen. Oh, and most importantly: you’ll reduce your food waste!!
Buying from the bulk bins is a great way to taste test new grains, beans, and spices.
One day, quinoa is the miracle food, but the next day, dried figs are all the rage. Not sure if it’s a food trend that’s going to fit your dietary needs? Buy a small amount, give it a try, and then decide! Bulk bins allow you to be more adventurous, without spending a fortune.
Food in the bulk bins are less processed than packaged foods (for the most part).
The beautiful thing about bulk bins: you see the ingredients. It’s just chickpeas, or just almonds, no processing required, so it’s probably going to healthier for you. The huge caveat is that you can also find some pretty processed granola, energy bites, or crackers in the bulk bins as well. So still take a peek at the ingredient list if you’re unsure about what exactly is in that tasty trail mix.
How to use the bulk bins at your grocery store most effectively:
Know how much of each item you want.
Particularly if you are looking for a specific ingredient for a recipe, make sure to note on your shopping list how much you need!The beauty of the bulk bins is limiting food waste and the cost of your groceries, so make the bulk bin work best for you by only buying what you need and know you will use.
Do a cost comparison with packaged foods, and learn which products are best to buy in bulk.
As I mentioned above, not all foods are cheaper in the bulk bins. If you’re not sure, make sure to do a quick cost comparison to the packaged foods. This list is a pretty handy summary of which foods tend to be cheaper in the bulk bins.
Bring your own containers!
The bulk bin superheros bring their own reusable containers to purchase products. Simply bring your containers to the customer service desk at the beginning of your shopping trip to have them weighed. Bringing your own containers is great because you’ve completely eliminated the disposable packaging from your purchases, there’s better portion control of what you’re buying, and it’s efficient for unpacking and storing the products at home!
I was too intimidated to bring my own containers for years, until I learned how truly easy it is to weigh the containers beforehand. And bonus: once you’ve weighed a container once, simply keep the sticker with the weight, so you don’t have to re-weigh it next time.
Warning signs that shopping at the bulk bins is not for yous:
The bins look dirty or unused.
If the bulk bins look like a neglected corner of your store, it’s better to stay away. You want fresh, delicious food. Enough said.
You end up adding 5 extra things to your grocery cart that were not on your grocery list.
I mentioned above that the bulk bins can be a great way to try new products. However, if you find that you’re always walking out of the store with a bunch of products you didn’t intend to buy or don’t know how to use…it’s time to step away from the bulk bins. Stick to the grocery list!
Portion control is a struggle.
Shopping at the bulk bin can be difficult if you don’t know how much of a product you want to buy. This is particularly dangerous if you’re planning to buy a food that you find difficult to control your intake of.
For example, I do not buy chocolate chips from the bulk bins. I was always walking out with a huge bag of chocolate chips. When I started buying chocolate chips in bulk, I started consuming much more of them than usual. What I think was happening? Having the chocolate chips in that Ghiradelli bag kept chocolate chips a special occasion food that I would consume sparingly. When I started buying them in bulk and was storing them in a mason jar – the chocolate chips became an everyday food! And I was grabbing handfuls after and between meals. So know yourself, and put the limits in place that you need to stick with your health goals.
So there you have it! As you can tell, I’m pretty passionate about buying from the bulk bins. Buying from bulk bins can help you purchase less processed food and lower your grocery bill.