As in much else in life, the answer to whether it’s cheaper to buy food in bulk is (drumroll)… it depends.
As a general rule, I do find buying from a bulk bin is cheaper than buying pre-packaged food. And typically, the larger size of the can, box, or bag, the less expensive the packaged food. Certainly when it comes to herbs and spices, my local grocery sells them in bulk for much less than the bottled versions (of the same and other brands) sold at the chain grocery stores.
It’s also true that if you’re carefully buy only what you need from a bulk bin rather than amount the food company wants to sell you in a package, you’re likely to save money and avoid wasting food.
Again using spices as the example, I recently purchased 2 spices that I don’t use frequently, celery seed for cole slaw and anise seed for chocolate bark, from the bulk shelves. I wouldn’t use the amounts sold in the pre-packaged jars in a year; I paid less per ounce, spent less in total because I didn’t buy the larger amount in a bottle, and I’m not wasting food. It’s a good deal all around.
Under the same rationale, it usually makes sense for me to purchase only the quantity I’ll use in the near future from a bulk bin when buying grains that I rarely use.
But it always pays to check prices – and you can find exceptions to the general rule. Check out these prices for raw almonds – from Whole Foods and the Broad Branch Market, both in Washington, DC, less than 1 mile apart.
First – the bulk bin of almonds at Whole Foods, $14.99 per pound.
Compare that to the Whole Foods 1-pound bag, $5.19 per pound.
And to the 2-pound bag, again from the Whole Foods on the same day, $5.24 per pound.
Now to the local market’s bulk price, $8.99 per pound.
Finally, and surpisingly to me, compare the price of almonds from the make-your-own-trailmix bins at Whole Foods, $5.99 per pound. (I would have expected the trail mix price to be higher than both bulk and packaged.)
So keep an eye on the price and use your head (or the calculator on your phone) to save more than pennies.