The Beauty of Bulk

closePlease note: This post was published over a year ago, so please be aware that its content may not be quite so accurate anymore. Also, the format of the site has changed since it was published, so please excuse any formatting issues.

I have a spare moment, so I want to write another entry to prevent me from posting once every couple of months.

As part of trying to be more Earth-friendly, Morah and I have been meaning to buy certain things in bulk; not so much because it’s less expensive, but because why buy a new container when an old one will do?

There are a couple of places we’ve identified as potential sources for bulk items. Costco aside, Fred Meyer has a pretty decent bulk selection, and Huckleberries has a lot of organic and local stuff (although I think a lot of stuff at Huckleberries is overpriced). Fresh Abundance is small and locally-owned, although their selection of bulk items is limited and their location is rather out-of-the-way for us. I do like that they supply as much as possible from as close as possible (they try to stay within 200 miles of Spokane), so I’d like to shop there whenever it’s convenient to support them.

The hot new store in Spokane is a Co-Op called Main Market, which recently opened downtown. Morah and I checked them out and bought some wonderful (and mostly local) produce. While we were there, we noticed their decently-size selection of bulk items — including spices.

Anyone who knows me knows I love spices. I love to cook and I love to try out new spices in my cooking. Two spices that I use very frequently are curry powder and cumin. I recently ran out of both at the same time, so I was excited to visit Main Market and give the bulk spices a try. I’ve been saving empty spice bottles for a while now, so I took a couple of them with me.

When you bring in your own containers, the first thing you do is take them to the check stand to be weighed. This will give the checkers an accurate tare weight when they ring you up (I certainly didn’t want to pay for a quarter of a pound worth of container).

I took my spice jars into the bulk section and filled them with organic, wonderful smelling spices (seriously, that curry is amazing). After we paid, Morah and I checked out the receipt to see how much we had paid. Each jar was less than two dollars. We knew that was less than the price in the grocery store, but by how much?

We had to stop by our local grocery store anyway (which happens to be an Albertsons), so we stopped by the spices to see what an equivalent amount would cost. Each jar was over four dollars, and in some cases, over five dollars! So we got organic spices for less than half the cost of what we would have paid for non-organic spices.

We also bought couscous and red lentils in bulk at Main Market. The couscous was roughly half the price when purchased in bulk (if I remember correctly), and our Albertsons doesn’t even sell red lentils, so in my book that’s a major win for Main Market.

The moral of the story here is to buy in bulk! The quality is potentially higher, the price is almost certainly less, and you’ll be reusing a perfectly good container. Win-win-win, eh?

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8 Comments

  1. Emily and I went to Main Market a few weeks ago, and loved it. Like you said, they’re reasonable priced, and the food is much healthier (the cashier told us that there isn’t any high fructose corn syrup in the entire store).

  2. I love buying in bulk when I can, but the opportunities are limited where I am (Westchester County, NY). I can buy grains, beans, and lentils in bulk, but I don’t know places for bulk spices.

    What distresses me is when I see stores going the other way, putting string beans, zucchini, and other veg in pre-wrapped packages. Happily, that’s not common, but it’s around.

  3. @Mike – We’ve bought lettuce from them twice, and both time the lettuce has stayed good for an unbelievably long time. We’re very happy with them. Good to know about the HFCS thing.

    @Barry – What really puzzles me about the pre-packaged produce is that it usually costs more than the bag-it-yourself stuff. A quick price comparison makes that abundantly clear. But hey, I guess people can’t be bothered.

  4. I grew up working in a grocery store, and most of it in the produce department. I can agree that there’s odd logic when the prepackaged produce costs more than the bag-it-yourself. But I wholeheartedly attest to the way prepackaged stuff just flew off the shelf. And doubly when you make it pretty like slicing melon so you see the inside or putting a green, red, and yellow pepper in a single package for variety and color.

    To those of us more conscious of the price and/or the environment, it seems such a waste. To the produce manager, he just invested an hour prepackaging, and added 20% to his profit for the day. As long as people find it convenient and/or attractive enough to buy, the produce manager will keep packaging it.

    Great info about Main Market Thomas, thanks. We’ve been meaning to stop buy there, but on your recommendation I want to even more now.

  5. Will

    You may want to check out Spokane Seed Co. for bulk lentils, peas, and other like items. They do sell to the public at very good prices. 25lbs minimum package size.

  6. It was nice seeing you two there!

  7. Carman

    I don’t know if you guys have it over there but have you ever looked into a CSA (community supported agriculture)? You buy shares in a local farm and get weekly deliveries of seasonal fruits and veggies (and sometimes flowers!). Here they deliver the weekly boxes to local drop sites where everyone comes and picks up their share.

    on another note-while those bag salads/veggies/fruit are much more expensive, for people working long days without much time for prep, it is certainly a better, healthier option than fast food/restaurants or “prepared foods”. I think if it gets people eating healthy, instead of eating junk, it probably isn’t ALL bad.

  8. Steve

    Don’t forget about WinCO foods. They have a bulk section as well with the added bonus that there is plenty of unhealthy stuff too.

    Another plug for Fresh Abundance: their fruit may be a bit more spendy than what is at regular grocery stores, but you have a much better chance of it being really really good.

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