What to Order From a Bulk Foods Coop
Have you been wanting to test out a bulk food or supplies coop but have no idea where to start or what to order? Today I’m going to share with you some samples of what I order from a bulk foods coop and how to decide what to your from your coop so that you can get started buying in bulk!
What to Order From a Bulk Foods CoOp
I remember when I first started ordering from a co-op. I was overwhelmed by the choices and options and for the first year or so I stuck with only ordering things that I would generally buy from the grocery store which didn’t save us very much money.
So I began to branch out and start purchasing some of the “real” bulk co-op items. Let’s just say…it was an experiment! And today you are here to learn from my experience..and my mistakes.
If you haven’t purchased grocery items in bulk before, or maybe you’ve just purchased a few things, you might have heard that it’s a great way to save money on your groceries. But that concept seems foreign when you are spending more on the food up front. You can get some tips on Budgeting for Bulk here. In fact, I’ve got a huge list of Bulk Buying Tips that you can check out as well.
Do not. I will repeat. Do not buy items in bulk if you’ve never tried them before. Find a good deal on Black Soybeans but neither you nor any of your family members have ever tasted them? It might be best to wait with those and go for the smaller quantity to give them a taste before you go for the 25-pound bag. (By the way, I have no idea what Black Soybeans taste like or what kind of meal you’d use them in if you use them please enlighten me!)
Stick with what you know. If your family loves lentils, go for the bulk bag of lentils. If you know your family will eat the food, you are probably pretty safe with making the purchase.
When In Doubt…Split
If there is a bulk item that you are wanting to but you aren’t ready to purchase the whole bag. Simply ask someone else within your co-op if they will split the bag with you. If it’s a very large bag you might even want to find 3 to 4 people to split it with. In general, a “co-op” is a group buying club so you will be ordering with several others. If you don’t have one already, you might want to create a Facebook group or an email group for our co-op to more easily arrange splits.
Meal Plan, Meal Plan, Meal Plan
I know, I know, I talk about it all of the time. But meal planning is one of THE best ways to save money on your grocery bills and to save time and headache when it comes to shopping for and planning meals. When you are deciding whether or not to purchase bulk foods, meal planning can play an important role. Even if you find a good price on a certain item but you have no intention of using that item within your meals for quite some time, it’s probably not a good purchase to make.
Now if you have a meal plan and you know you have at least 4 meals in the upcoming month using pinto beans, buying bulk pinto beans is probably a good option for you since it appears that you use them frequently. It’s hard to know these things without a meal plan! For more tips on meal planning and to learn about my FAVORITE meal planning method, check out this blog post: The Meal Planning Binder.
Only Buy What You Can Use
You might be able to get a better deal on a 50-pound bag versus a 25-pound bag but ask yourself this, will you be able to use all of that item before it goes bad?
Many bulk foods are dried and will last a long time before they go bad but even things like popcorn will get harder to pop over time or cereals that will go rancid after a few months. This is another reason why meal planning is so important when purchasing bulk foods, you need to know what you are going to use and what you are able to use before the flavor/quality is affected. Here are 2 quick free printables on What to Buy in Bulk and What to Avoid in Bulk.
Where Are You Going to Put All That?
If you’ve read any of my buying in bulk posts you might already know that our favorite way to store our dry bulk foods is in 5-gallon buckets with Gamma lids. Gamma lids are airtight so they help the food to last longer and prevent any creepy crawlies from inviting themselves in. Personally, I get mine from Menards but Azure also has them, as does Amazon. For bulk foods that need to be refrigerated and frozen, we keep an extra small fridge and freezers in our basement area. I’ve found that I didn’t need a full-size extra fridge but a small one (apartment or dorm size) works well.
I use a few other types of jars and containers as well…you can read about them here: Bulk Storage Containers.
Real Life Examples
Now that you have some of my tips, I’m going to share some examples of certain bulk items that I’ve purchased with my last few orders. I order monthly with Azure Standard. You can read my Beginner’s Guide to Azure Standard here. Keep in mind, this is not ALL of my monthly grocery shopping, just what we purchased in bulk during that month.
- Red Beans, 5lbs
- Yellow Popcorn, 5lbs
- Cream Cheese, 15lbs
- Fresh Pears, 20lbs
- White Wheat Flour, 10lbs
- Sea Salt, 5lbs
- Rolled Oats, 50lbs
We mostly eat pinto beans so this month I ordered a small bulk amount of red beans to try and have a little variety in our soups. I generally order the 10lb bag of popcorn (and it only takes us about 2 months to go through it) but they were out of stock this time and I ordered the smaller bag. I know it looks like we go through an insane amount of cream cheese (and we kind of do!) but this was to last 2 months or more since it’s not always in stock. I’ve had no issues keeping cream cheese at least 2 months in the fridge. The 20lbs of fresh pears were for eating and smoothies. I diced and froze about 5lbs of them and we ate the rest fresh as snacks. The flour was for my hubby’s loaves of bread which I only make a few times a month. The 10lb bag should last me, at least, 4+ months. The sea salt wasn’t to eat but to make playdough! I go through several cups with each batch. The 50lb bag of oats was my largest bulk purchase of this order and that amount will last us at least 8 months or more. I store it in several buckets with gamma lids so it’s airtight. A 25lb bag is available but the 50lb is significantly cheaper per pound and I know we will use it!
- Cocoa Powder, 5lbs
- Fresh Fuji Apples, 20lbs
- Garbanzo Beans, 5lbs
- Brown Rice Spiral Pasta, 10lbs
- Brown Rice Spaghetti, 10lbs
- Pinto Beans, 25lbs
I needed cocoa powder to re-stock my jar since it was almost out. I stuck it in a glass gallon size jar and 5lbs will probably last us at least a year. The 20lbs of apples were just for fresh snacking…we love apples! The garbanzo beans were another variety of bean I’m trying to add a little more of into our meal routine. I know 20lbs of pasta seems totally crazy but, 1. Gluten-free pasta is EXPENSIVE, 2. Gluten-free pasta is much much cheaper when purchased in bulk without all of the excess packaging, and 3. I’ve been trying to order it for months so it’s hard to get in the 10lb size! This amount of pasta will probably last us about 6 months or so. The pinto beans I needed to restock as they are a major staple for us. The 25lb bag will last us almost a year, maybe a little less.
Wrap It Up…
Does that help to answer some of your questions? Hopefully, you are a little bit more encouraged now to tackle the world of buying in bulk! I know that it’s been a big blessing to our family over the last several years and I’m thankful for the money I can save on my grocery budget and also the fact that I know we have items on hand in the pantry when and if we need them.
Do you shop in bulk? What tips do you have for newbies?
This blog post about how to order from a bulk foods coop was originally published on Little House Living in March 2016. It has been updated as of February 2019.
This is so interesting and helpful. I am really curious what you do with all of the cream cheese that you order. Don’t you have a dairy allergy in the family. I love cream cheese and am always looking for ways to use it. What do you do with it?
Me and my husband can still have dairy. We use it for making sauces and dips 🙂
We buy in bulk for most of our staple goods such as flour, wheat, sugar, beans, oats, etc. We can get most of our bulk from Winco foods direct. We store them in buckets and rotate through using tupperware modular mates.
For first time bulk shoppers, I recommend they get their buckets first, do some research on how much of what they want can fit in the bucket at one time… When my husband and I first started we were surprised by the volume of some of the foods vs the space in the bucket. Also, maybe start with only one or two things, so you can get used to storing and rotating foods.
Some stores throw away their food buckets. Just don’t take them or use them for food if they’ve had anything else other than food in them. Smaller stores may use them for mop buckets. You cannot reuse it safely for food products after that. Call and ask the store if you can have a few and when is a good time to pick them up.
I used to run a bulk food co-op from my home, years ago. It was different than ordering on-line and having it shipped to home. It was more of a community friendly arrangement. When the internet became more in favor, there was less interest in ordering from me. I gathered the bulk order for everyone, processed each persons order, computed totals. Friends came to my home to pick up their orders. Lots of work though, 90 hours a year for pickups every two months.
These are some really great tips for buying in bulk! We buy in bulk but mostly from “club” stores. I am pretty picky about what I buy there because I want to make sure I’m actually getting a good deal and not just buying a large quantity. I would love to try ordering from a co-op but haven’t tried yet. You have definitely given me a little bit of needed inspiration! Thanks for sharing your tips:)
We order from Azure Standard too! I’m really loving everything I’ve purchased so far! I buy dry goods from them, altho there are fridged goods available. We have a monthly pickup and I pick up for 2 other gals b/c the pickup is during the day in the middle of the week. It has truly made going organic more affordable and now we put together our own spice mixes instead of buying premade. We buy lots of different grains (and soak them ourselves) for cereals and flour. It’s amazing what bulk has allowed us to do!!!
Great article. Came over from pinterest. I had similar situation when buying in bulk. Our local coop is quite successful. Some say its a homegrown “Whole Foods” in terms of available items and atmosphere, but it is a true coop, so buying in bulk is something they are really good at.
Twice a year they have a truckload sale and I try to place my orders at that time. You gave excellent advice when you said to buy what you like and eat. And more importantly….meal planning!!!!
I bought food grade storage buckets (new and recycled) and mylar bags with O2 absorbers before my first order came in. But my mistake was buying too big a bag when it came to mylars. I had 25# buckets giant 25# mylar bags of oats or wheat berries, black beans, sugar etc.. Why is that a mistake you ask? Because when you open a 25# bag of flour…the clock starts ticking. It likely will go “off” before you use it up. Now I buy 5# mylar bags and make “month” buckets. It will have my basic staples in one bucket for a month. So now I only have to worry about 5#’s at a time. Much more managable. I also have some buckets with only 5# mylar bags of my frequent use staples like sugar, flour etc.. So, I have a 25# bucket of 5# bags of flour. Another 25# bucket of 5# bags of sugar in case I use more than normal, like holidays.
I also buy fresh things in bulk and preserve them as well in addition to all that I grow. I have been successful with canning of course, but more interestingly, with dehydration.
My “go to” places for supplies are Emergency Essentials or Lehmans.
I also want to caution folks about beans…especially black eyed peas. Sometimes they are infested and you won’t know about it until its too late. One trick is to freeze them after you bag them with oxygen absorbers.
Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.
Thank you Pam. You have some good information too. I like the idea of using 25lb. buckets with 5lb. myalar bags. We are getting ready to get things in bulk, put them in mylar bags and then in buckets. My husband bought BIG bags, but now after reading what you said about putting stuff in smaller bags, we will be getting new mylar bags. 🙂
This may be a silly question. I live in CNY, and was wondering how I would find a co-op? Thank you for this article. I have started learning how to dehydrate, and water bath can.
One of the tips when buying in bulk too, is to check if it goes rancid! many beans and rices will last a long time, and a very good deal when bought in bulk. the same goes for dried vegetables. flours and oils do expire, and can go rancid.
– flours can also contain weavils that arent seen when bought, but will show themselves when they are close to thier expiration date.
– if your family cant use the product even close to the expiration date, dont get it.
– also consider what your family really likes to eat, buying it in bulk is a great idea! especially when you are a small family! like your beans example, if you dont eat it that often, a small batch would be better to eat.
hubby and i are pasta lovers, so i always have 3-4 lbs of pasta on hand. i still have to check the package, in case it has bugs in it, in between the time i bought it and when we use it. funny though, we never have enough veggies, sauce or cheese for the pasta. LOL!! so a lot of times, it gets uneaten or covered in butter and oils.
bread – we love our bread, and always seem to be lagging when trying to get it eaten. let me discuss a bread pudding, and all of a sudden all that extra bread has disappeared. LOL!!
cereals – we only buy the ones we like, since they tend to go stale quickly, now matter how good you store them. so buy small boxes of ones where only one person likes it, but a BIG box if we all like it! hubby does like bran cereal like i do, but we both love Cheerios! i like to make plain oatmeal and add what i like, whereas hubby only want the flavored oatmeal. so i buy large containers for myself (i love my oatmeal), and we buy small boxes of flavored for him.
bulk is an excellent idea, especially for large families, and even small ones, when the whole family likes the product and will eat it!
So, the last time you tried that popcorn it was hard to pop. Don’t throw it out. If you are planning a movie night take the measured amount of popcorn out, put it in a sealed container with a couple of tablespoons of water and let it sit for a couple of hours and then drain off the excess water. The kernels will absorb some of the water. Since steam is what makes popcorn pop, the absorbed water will create steam inside the kernels when you heat them and the corn will pop easier.
Great information! Thanks
Here is a tip for that popcorn that pops slowly or not at all. Popcorn needs to have the right amount of moisture to pop correctly. It gets too dry so won’t pop. Put a slice of bread in the bucket and the popcorn will absorb the moisture and pop better. Bread also works on hard brown sugar.
Where do you get your big jars from? I have been using quart size wide-mouth ball jars, but want and need to get something bigger, but the cost is an issue. What do you suggest?
I order my big jars from Azure Standard. https://www.azurestandard.com/shop/product/household-family%2Fstorage%2Fglass-containers-lids%2Fglass-storage-jars%2Fwide-mouth-glass-gallon-jars-without-lids/11737?package=PS018&a_aid=Ta97DLaY8A
What is a Co Op? Is it on line ordering or a brick and mortar store?
Usually it’s ordering online or from some type of catalog.
So I have a large family and have bought bulk for years from Azure Standard. I cannot recall ever having bugs/weevils etc. in any of my dry beans or grains from them. They are an outstanding company and I’ve been ordering from them for over a dozen years. I can’t recommend enough. I buy all my spices from them too. One thing I might mention is that we live at a very high altitude so our air is dry and it’s much easier to store items without them getting stale or moldy or buggy. Anyway-spices-I save a ton buying all my spices from Azure. Smaller families might want to split and share. Also their frozen fruit is fabulous compared to store stuff-price is good and flavor is superior. (We live again where growing fruits is nearly impossible.) Coconut oil and healthy”mayo” (Veganaise) and parmesean cheese are other money saving and excellent quality items we regularly order in bulk.
Have you ever heard about using MYLAR bags and oxygen absorbers to keep your dried bulk items in so they will last up to 25 years? If you have the freezer space place your bulk food in the freezer for three days to kill any bugs or eggs in there. You can accomplish the same end result using Diatomaceous Earth just be sure to buy the food grade. This stuff will NOT harm you, your children, pets or other animals. However it WILL kill bugs in your bulk food, garden and home without danger. One cup inside a mylar bag will keep everything good to eat for many years to come. Use your hand to mix the “DE” well enough to coat the product. Then seal up most of the bag (while it is in the 5 gallon bucket) place about 1000 cc’s of oxygen absorbers in the bag and suck out the rest of the air. Place the lid on tightly and you are ready for the next 25+/- years.
I must be the exception to the rule, but I purchased several cases of canned fruit from Azure, and the cans were do badly dented, I wrote to complain about them. I also have not purchased anything else from Azure.
Did they offer a refund? We’ve been ordering with them from over a decade and I’ve had a few things that have been bad in my order (usually produce). I just send them an email and they offer credit on the product (including the shipping).
I checked out the azure website. HOLY EXPENSIVE BATMAN! A 5lb bag of all purpose unbleached flour at Aldi is 1.15. And this website is selling it for $6.38??? That’s insane. I can buy 30 lbs for $6.98.
But when the apocalypse happens I’ll still share my bread with you so you don’t starve.
We’ve always found their prices to be reasonable. Non-gmo or organic products aren’t going to be able to compete with Aldi and if that’s an option where you live, I would for sure shop where you can get the best deal. We are in a limited area with very few good grocery stores (no Aldi or Costco or anything like that) so Azure is a great option. They are also great for food-allergy friendly foods.
Do you vacuum seal?
I do on occasion but not a lot.
Your link above for bulk storage containers does not take you to bulk storage containers.