Bulk bins are one of my favorite sections of the store; I love that I can get the amount I need, often organic, with minimal packaging and at a great price. So I'm glad to hear from the BIG: Bulk Is Green council that bulk bins are gaining steam; according to a recent poll of grocers, bulk foods sales have increased 10 percent over the past year. Here are bulk-bin basics to shop the bulk aisle like a pro.
1. Ask for a tour. Yes, that's right: If you're at all intimidated by the array of bins and the vast selection, ask a store clerk to give you a tour. You'll be amazed and, I think, delighted at the options they can point out.
2. Start with staples. Buy in bulk things you already use. Dried beans, flour, sugar, salt, rice, and nuts are my favorite bulk-bin buys; they're often cheaper and fresher than their packaged counterparts. Oh, and spices! Bulk spices are an excellent option when I want a small amount rather than a huge jar; they're fresher, too.
3. Get help with the bins. If you have any doubt at all about how to use the dispensers, just ask! Believe me, store workers are happy to give you instruction; they don't want rice grains all over the floor any more than you do.
4. Take your own bags. You'll find rolls of plastic bags in every bulk-bin aisle, but when possible, take your own. I stuff dry plastic produce bags (e.g., the ones I used to buy apples, oranges, and the like) in an empty paper-towel tube, then throw the tube into my canvas shopping bags to take with me. You can also take empty plastic containers for things like peanut butter and honey; get the cashier to weigh it before filling, so you don't pay for the container's weight.