Bulk Foods Deliver Higher Value in Down Times

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food prices are expected to rise another four percent in 2009. Yet even if prices were stable or going down, consumers’ ability to purchase food has definitely diminished in the ongoing recession. Meanwhile, there is money to be saved by buying bulk foods rather than their packaged counterparts.

Bulk foods are sold without a printed package. Today, almost any food can be delivered from its source to the consumer in bulk form – and historically, bulk foods, including organic and natural varieties, are priced lower than their packaged counterparts. Studies vary as to how much lower bulk foods are priced, but all agree that the savings are substantial. A national study recently conducted by the Waste & Resources Action Programme concluded savings of 30-60%. A study last month in Little Rock, Ark., revealed that bay leaves in bottled form were 26x higher in price than bay leaves in bulk form. That study compared the bulk variety at a natural foods store with the packaged variety at a conventional grocery. Both stores were part of national chains.

Another economic benefit of bulk foods is the consumer’s ability to purchase precisely the amount desired. Very small quantities of various ingredients can be purchased for a single recipe, reducing waste and saving space in the pantry. In bulk form, a very small quantity of a given ingredient costs the same per ounce as a much larger quantity.

Long a staple of natural and organic food stores, bulk foods are becoming a popular addition to the offering of conventional food stores. “At one time, virtually all of our business came from natural and organic grocers, but that’s changing fast,” said Scott Johnson, president and CEO of Trade Fixtures, a manufacturer of bulk food merchandising systems. “Today, 50 percent of our systems are being installed at conventional food stores that are adding or enlarging bulk food departments.”

Johnson is a member of the Bulk Is Green Council, an advocacy organization to help consumers, food manufacturers and grocers learn about the environmental and economic benefits of bulk foods. Others in the council are Clint Landis of Frontier Natural Products Co-op, Sarah Galusha of the Hain Celestial Group, Morty Cohen of SunRidge Farms and Aaron Anker of GrandyOats.

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