A recent poll of grocers reveals that bulk foods, those sold without a printed package, have increased in sales volume about 10 percent over the past 12 months. Further, organic foods, one of the mainstays of the bulk food category have experienced double digit sales growth for several years, while total U.S. food sales have been growing in the range of just two to four percent a year.
From the perspective of consumers, the driving forces behind this migration to bulk are multi-faceted.
Memphis resident, Lauren Byer offered several reasons why she prefers bulk foods. “I buy all my spices in bulk,” she said, “then display them in my own decorative containers. The packages of mass distributed spices aren’t decorative, nor are their contents as fresh – and they almost always cost more than bulk. Bulk spices at my grocery are much fresher and brighter in color. If sealed in airtight containers, they stay fresh longer too.”
Byer also buys many staples in bulk. “With bulk products on hand,” she said, “I have a tendency to make meals that include whole ingredients versus eating processed food. It makes for a healthier and more flavorful diet.”
Mike Green, who lives in Austin, likes to buy in bulk “because quantities aren’t dictated by a package. Bulk allows me to purchase the amount I need,” he said. “I live alone, so I don’t need to buy a lot of any food. Besides, I like to try lots of different foods and, at the bulk section of my store, I can inexpensively buy very small quantities for my experiments.”
Both consumers cited health too.
“I don’t like to eat those prepared and chemically-induced fast dinner options,” Byer said.
“I especially like trail mixes and granolas,” Green said, “and most of the pre-packed stuff has too many ingredients, mostly preservatives, that I don’t want in my body.”
Byer also expressed environmental reasons for her preference of bulk foods. “Buying bulk saves vast amounts of resources,” she said. “Less packaging means less paper production and water usage, and a lot of packages simply can’t be recycled.”
For years, bulk foods have been a mainstay of grocery stores specializing in natural and organic foods. Now, with consumer demand increasing, conventional grocers are increasingly adding bulk foods to their product mix. Texas-based chain H-E-B stores is an example of that.
“We started adding bulk sections about five years ago,” said Yvan Cournoyer, business development manager for H-E-B. “We have 275 stores in Texas and 60 of them now have bulk departments. Every year, we add bulk departments to more stores. That’s because we see growth in bulk. Last year, same store sales of bulk were up 12% for us.”
This is good news for the Bulk Is Green Council, an organization advocating bulk foods for their environmental and economic benefits. Organic and natural food makers on the council all tout increased penetration into conventional food stores. Another company represented on the council, a manufacturer of bulk food merchandising systems, indicates that half of its orders are now coming from conventional food stores.
Forming the Bulk Is Green Council are Scott Johnson of Trade Fixtures, Clint Landis of Frontier Natural Products Co-op, Sarah Galusha of the Hain-Celestial Group, Mark Devencenzi of SunRidge Farms and Aaron Anker of GrandyOats. More information about the economic and environmental benefits of bulk foods can be found at www.bulkisgreen.org.