How to Buy in Bulk – A Beginner’s Guide

Blanche Baxter | Vitacost.com/Blog

by | Read time: 5 minutes

How to reduce environmental waste is a big concern today. Many people are actively searching for ways they can do their part. Bulk shopping helps by cutting out packaging and all the waste that’s associated with unnecessary boxes, bags, containers and bottles.

Concept of How to Buy in Bulk Represented by Glass Dispensers of Colorful Grains and Woman Filling Jar | Vitacost.com/blogn

Buying in bulk also comes with a wealth of other benefits – you get more variety, you can preview what you’re buying (since product is displayed in clear canisters) and the product is fresh. Not to mention, if it’s done right, buying in bulk will save you money, making your wallet happy!

What can you buy in bulk?

Bulk items come in all forms. Dry goods and non-perishable items like nuts, seeds, dried fruits, grains, pasta, beans and legumes, household products, personal care, cleaning products and liquid goods like vinegar syrups, and oils are found in bulk stores.

Start by taking some time to research what’s available for bulk purchase in your local grocery stores, health food stores and online shopping sites. Also check around to see if there are any bulk stores that allow waste-free shopping in your area.

Steps to bulk-buying with ease

1. Get organized

Buying in bulk without prior planning can be problematic. If you overbuy and things go rancid, you defeat the purpose of the “less waste” concept. You can also end up buying more then you have physical room for, forcing you to shift things around trying to make your purchases fit.

Instead, go through your food and home supplies first to see what you need. Make a shopping list and decide on the best places to make your purchases. Gather coupons to maximize savings.

Consider, too, whether you want large or smaller quantities of certain items. This will help you plan since shopping at bulk stores gives you the flexibility to only buy what you need. Decide whether local bulk bins are your best choice or ordering larger volumes online.

Next, plan your pantry. How will you store your food and household goods?

Save used glass jars and containers instead of tossing them, and you can use them to store your bulk goods. Airtight glass mason jars and steel canisters can be used if your home gets pests or mold.

Something else to consider: it’s wise to start with smaller quantities and work your way up. Don’t buy tons of a product you haven’t tested before. There’s nothing worse than having pounds of a food item you can’t stomach or a cleaning product that makes you feel sick.

Remember to check expiration dates on your products and make sure that you can use what you buy before it goes bad.

Finally, be sure to research ways to store different bulk food items so they stay safe and fresh. For example, some things will degrade in sunlight and should be stored in opaque containers. Other things like flours, nuts and seeds store better in the fridge or freezer.

2. Bulk shopping skills 

Before you shop, you’ll want to learn a couple of key terms.

Cost per unit

Whether or not you are saving money comes down to the cost per unit. A unit breaks down to a use of an item.

Total item price divided by the unit weight or the number of items equals the cost per unit. The unit size could be in ounces, pounds or square feet depending on the product, and it’s marked on the store shelf. It’s easily calculated with your phone and will allow you to compare the price of goods. Use it to find the best sales!

PLU number

If you’re heading to bulk stores or bulk bins to shop, your items will have a Price Lookup Code Number (PLU number). Cash registers use this number at check out. It gives the cashier the name of the product and the product’s price. Make sure to write down the PLU on the product, on paper or in your phone so that you can easily give it to the cashier while purchasing.

(BYOC) Bring your own canister

There are a variety of options for waste-free shopping. Reusable bags, glass jars and other canisters are the perfect way to shop mindfully. Stores have their own rules about what types of bags you can bring, so be sure to call ahead and ask about policies. BYOC regulations might vary for now due to COVID-19.

3. Shop and save

If you’re shopping online, be sure to compare prices by cost per unit to find the best deals.

Typically, the larger the size of the product you are buying, the better deal you can find since companies make you pay for packaging. Regular-sized boxes of pasta and cans of tomato sauce will cost more than the same bulk or family-sized versions of the same products. The same goes for household goods and cleaning supplies. Buying large refill containers produces less packaging and is cheaper. Other bulk forms of products come in concentrates, powders, pastes and bars that you can add water to once you get them home.

If you’re heading to the store to bulk shop and bring your own canisters, you’ll want to weigh them before you fill. This will give you an accurate starting weight so that you won’t be charged the canister’s extra weight while checking out. Write down the starting weight and the PLU number to give to the cashier.

Keep an eye out for nutritional facts and information on gluten-free, organic and GMO status. Stores often share cooking instructions and recipes as well.

4. Storage solutions 

Once home, transfer the food items to jars and canisters and label everything. Storing items in clear containers will help you find them fast. Label opaque jars with stickers or wax pencils. Add the purchase date and expiration date to keep track of your goods.

Don’t let items run too low, or you’ll have to do rushed impulse buys. If you plan, you’ll always have time to find the best deals with the least packaging!

Once you get a few steps down, it’ll become routine. You’ll be a bulk-buying expert in no time!