BIG is an organization dedicated to helping consumers, food makers and grocers learn about the many environmental and economic benefits of bulk foods.

by swilliams on Dec 2, 2015 at 3:51 PM
Filed in News



It's cheaper, it's fresher and it often offers the best variety in pantry staples: shopping in the bulk food aisles is becoming increasingly popular, with more and more grocery stores offering larger sizes or expanding their existing selection. Bulk foods also require less packaging and are more efficient to ship, so they have a pleasingly green aspect, too.

bulk dry foods Shutterstock
A large selection of bulk dry foods in clever dispensers and a weighing scale at an upscale grocery store; Shutterstock ID 131422709; PO:

According to the Bulk is Green Council, bulk foods can cost up to 89 percent less than packaged foods. But even if the savings aren't always that high, they're significant enough to merit adding the bulk aisle to your routine. Another plus is the exciting types of foods you'll occasionally encounter in a good bulk food section—that's how I found out about bamboo rice, black garbanzo beans and black barley. It can be a bit intimidating when faced with rows of bins, so knowing a few things beforehand will help you make the most of your shopping trip.

1. The higher the turnover, the fresher the food

A busy store with a popular bulk foods section will have a quick turnover, so you'll know you're getting fresher food. This is especially important with bulk spices, since spices lose their flavor quickly. Incidentally, bulk spices are where you'll have the highest savings.

2. Don't assume that bulk foods are always cheaper

Bulk foods are usually, but not always, a better value, so it pays to do your homework. Take note of the prices of packaged foods and compare them to what you plan to buy in bulk. Every now and then—either because of sale items or some other fluke—you'll actually save money getting the packaged version.

3. Use your phone as a tool

If I don't have a notepad handy when I'm browsing in the aisles, I take photos of the shelf tags of non-bulk food so I can remember the price per ounce. Then I compare it with the price per ounce of bulk food. Bulk food prices are often given per pound, whereas packaged food prices are usually per ounce, so just use your phone's calculator function to crunch the numbers.

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4. Double-bag flour and sugar

It's not fun to pull a bag of bulk flour out of your grocery sack and have it dust you and your kitchen because there's a tiny hole in its seam. So once you fill your plastic (or paper) bag at the bulk bin, slide it into another bag for an extra layer of security.

5. Keep an eye out for recipes and handouts

Lots of stores offer useful take-home information in their bulk food sections. Unlike packaged foods, bulk foods don't automatically come with cooking instructions—you won't have the advantage of a box to glance at, so you'll need to figure out cooking times on your own. If the store's already doing that work for you with free recipe cards, you might as well take advantage of them.

6. Read the bin labels carefully

Occasionally, there will be simple preparation instructions right on a bulk food bin's label. Take a photo of the label so you can refer to it later. Also, at stores with extensive selections, the label will tell you if what you're buying is organic, where it was grown or produced and sometimes who made it. For instance, the company Bob's Red Mill supplies a lot of bulk foods sellers, and often that will be on the label of the bin. I'm a fan of Bob's Red Mill products, so it's nice to know what I'm getting is not only a good deal, but a superior quality product, too.

7. Write down the PLU and item name on the twist-tie

Most bulk food bins have a PLU (Price Look-Up code) number. The checkout clerk will need to know this number when he or she rings you up, so make sure to write it neatly and visibly on the bag, label, or twist-tie. This will get you out of the checkout lane faster and make a busy clerk's day a little easier. For your own reference, write the item's name on the label too. If you're buying multiple types of flours or lentils, they might look all the same once you get home.

generic supermarket Getty Images file
A Safeway customer browses in the fruit and vegetable section at Safeway's new "Lifestyle" store July 18, 2007 in Livermore, California. Safeway unveiled its newest Lifestyle store that features numerous organic and natural foods as well as expanded produce, meat, seafood and floral departments. The store also offers freshly made desserts and baked goods, a coffee roaster, a fresh nut bar and wine section with over 2,000 wines, some of which are stored in a climate controlled wine cellar.

8. Bring a pen or pencil to the store with you

Some bulk food stores are chronically short of writing utensils for jotting down the PLU. If you have your own pen handy, you won't need to take turns using the store's lone pen with five other bulk food shoppers.

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9. Don't go overboard

Before leaving for a year-long international trip, my brother gave me all of the food in his kitchen. This included a massive bag of bulk sunflower seeds—five pounds of them—that had all gone rancid. I wound up throwing them away.

Unless you're only able to make trips to a store with a good bulk foods section a couple times a year, only get as much of something as you think you'll use in the next several months. Even though many bulk foods are shelf-stable, you still want to use them up while they're nice and fresh.

Also, if you're trying a food for the first time, be conservative with the amount you get—you might discover you're not that fond of it once it's cooked I learned this the hard way with a few unusual varieties of beans. They're now used as pie weights for blind baking. However, bulk food bins are a terrific way to try out small amounts of new-to-you foods without committing to a whole box.

10. Merely being in the bulk section does not make a food healthy

When my family visits a certain natural foods store, my husband goes a little bonkers in the aisle that offers bins of cookies and yogurt-covered fruits. That's fine, but don't let sugary foods' proximity to healthy foods, like chia seeds and wheat berries, allow you to think you have a free pass for mindless snacking. Cookies and candy are still cookies and candy, no matter what section of the store they come from.

11. Transfer your foods to easy-to-access containers for storage

Shapeless and floppy bags filled with beans, rice and flour are not easy to store and can get obscured by other items in your cabinets and freezer. Save and re-use empty containers of non-bulk food like glass pasta sauce jars and the cardboard canisters that once held your packaged oats. Label and date the containers so that at a glance, you'll know exactly what's in that tin or jar and how long it's been kicking around your pantry.

12. Learn the best way to store the foods for maximum quality

Nearly any whole-grain flour keeps longer in the refrigerator or freezer. The same goes for most seeds (such as pumpkin, sunflower, and flax) and nuts (walnuts and pine nuts in particular). Brown rice will be good for about six months at room temperature and white rice lasts for a few months longer. Most dried beans will be good for about a year—keep them any longer and they won't go bad, but they will take longer to cook and tend to be tougher.

If you keep your foods on open pantry shelves that get lots of exposure to light, try to stick with opaque storage containers, not glass jars or translucent plastic. Light can damage the flavor and nutrient value of whole-grain flours, nuts, and seeds (this is why ground flaxseed is often sold in dark packages).

Sara Bir is a chef, recipe developer, and author of The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook.

by Admin on Mar 9, 2012 at 2:12 PM
Filed in News

Research findings show compelling reasons for shoppers to buy in bulk

Portland, Ore. – March 12, 2012 – A shopper can save an average of 89 percent by purchasing natural and organic foods in the bulk foods aisle of a grocery store, according to a recent study conducted by the Portland State University’s Food Industry Leadership Center (FILC) on behalf of The Bulk is Green Council (BIG). The study, the first of its kind in the United States, also found tangible environmental benefits of buying in bulk.

"We’ve long touted shopping in the bulk foods aisle as the most economical and environmentally friendly way to shop, and now we have the data to back up those claims," said Todd Kluger, a founding member of BIG and vice president of marketing at Lundberg Family Farms. "Even better, with more and more U.S. grocery stores now offering a larger selection of bulk foods, these benefits are widely accessible."

For the study, researchers set out in the fall of 2011 to examine three main areas: Cost comparisons (to packaged counterparts), environmental impact and consumer attitudes toward buying in bulk.

To arrive at the overall average cost savings of 89 percent, researchers made cost comparisons between organic bulk foods and organic packaged foods in a number of key categories, including coffee and tea, nut butters, flour and grains, dried fruit, spices, beans, pasta and confectionaries. The percentage of savings when buying in bulk differed from category to category, but averaging the savings across all categories resulted in an average of 89 percent lower costs compared to packaged counterparts.

The researchers also evaluated the environmental advantages of buying in bulk and found several. Chief among them is reducing the amount of product packaging going into landfills. According to the findings, if coffee-drinking Americans purchased all of their coffee in bulk for one year, nearly 240 million pounds of foil packaging would be saved from entering a landfill. If

Americans purchased all their almonds in bulk for one year, 72 million pounds of waste would be saved from a landfill.

Food manufacturers also realize economical and environmental benefits by producing bulk foods, the study concluded. The findings show that a food company choosing to market bulk foods versus packaged foods can save an average of 54 percent on material and delivery costs since more pallets of bulk food can be packed onto delivery trucks.

Researchers found that consumers who do buy in bulk are aware of the benefits of doing so. The study’s findings show the main reason consumers shop the bulk foods aisle is for the ability to buy the exact quantity needed. As a result, consumers said bulk items were less likely than packaged items to be thrown away, which results in less food waste. Consumers also cited cost savings and the environmental aspect of using less packaging as the other top reasons for buying bulk.

The Food Industry Leadership Center began in 1994 as a partnership between Portland State University's School of Business Administration and the food industry. Located at Portland State University’s campus in Portland, Ore., the FILC works to promote education, leadership and research critical to the field and has come to be known as a world-class resource for recruiting and developing top management talent specific to the food industry.

"Our researchers worked diligently in the field to gather data and talk to consumers, and they conducted hours and hours of analyses," said Dr. Tom Gillpatrick, executive director of the Portland State University Food Industry Leadership Center. "Many claims have been made regarding the benefits of buying in bulk, but there have been few quantifiable statistics to support those claims. We’re excited to be the first research team in the United States to substantiate that buying in bulk does offer tangible environmental and economical benefits."

BIG has published the high-level findings from the study on its website,


The Bulk is Green Council is an organization dedicated to increasing consumer, retailer and grocer awareness of the environmental and economic benefits of buying in bulk. Founded in 2008, the council serves as a research and advocacy group, promoting industry trends and offering educational tools and resources online. BIG also sponsors National Bulk Foods Week each October. The board includes industry leaders Frontier Natural Products Co-Op, Hain Celestial, Lundberg Family Farms, SunRidge Farms and Trade Fixtures. Additional information is available at


To view the top level findings from the bulk foods study please see here: 2012 Portland State University / Bulk Is Green Study on Bulk Foods

by Admin on Mar 22, 2010 at 3:19 PM
PORTLAND, OR—With the influx of new retailers offering bulk foods and double-digit sales growth in 2009, buying food in bulk is slated to be one of the biggest money-saving trends of 2010, according to the Bulk is Green Council...(more) 

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