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.