NC State Extension Publications


Buying food in bulk can be a real money saver, but buyers need to be mindful of the actual cost per item and whether the food items are items you really use. One of the biggest issues families and individuals encounter when buying food in bulk is the spoilage and food waste potential caused by not knowing how to handle and make the most out of bulk items. Consumers should start by purchasing a little at a time to create a small reserve of foodstuffs that you know you will use.

Some issues you will need to think about before you buy in bulk include:

  • Will you be able to use up the bulk items before they go bad? Buying food and then letting it spoil is a waste of money.

  • Sometimes you can find items for less per ounce, in smaller packaging. Compare the cost per item or per ounce (Figure 1) with other similar items or other sized items to get the best buy.

  • Consider the cost of joining a wholesale club. Will this cost still make any savings you might get worth it?

Figure 1. Unit pricing label.

Figure 1. Unit pricing label.

Where to Buy Food in Bulk?

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Wholesale clubs like BJ’s, Sam’s Club and Costco are not the only places to purchase food in bulk. Others include:

  • Local farmers’ markets. These can be a great way to buy local and fresh foods in bulk and at good prices. If a bushel is too much for you, try swapping part of it with other market goers. For more information and to find a farmers market near you, visit NC Farm Fresh.
  • Aldi food stores. This chain is also a great place to shop for low-cost food that can be bought in bulk. Aldi stores carry rock bottom prices for largely store-brand foods and items. There are more than 50 Aldi stores located across North Carolina. Find the nearest store at:

  • Amazon. This is another place to purchase bulk foods. Many items are shipped free-of-charge if you spend $35, which makes this a great way to get bulk foods delivered to your home.

  • Local bulk food co-ops.

Storing Foods in Bulk

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Do you have enough storage space and/or freezer space for your food? A good idea is to use clear air-tight bulk storage containers, so you can see what is in them. For larger dry food items, most bulk buyers use 5 gallon buckets with lids that seal. Label them with content and date of purchase or use by date.

Bulk buyers know that many products can be purchased more cheaply in larger quantity and frozen for later consumption. When freezing bulk foods, divide these foods into meal-size portions and wrap with freezer paper or place in freezer bags. Freezers should be set at or below 0 degrees. Examples of foods that freeze well and how long they will keep their optimum quality when frozen include:

  • Large cuts of meat, 6-12 months

  • Fresh vegetables, 6-8 months

  • Most fresh seafood, 2-3 months

  • Baked pastry & breads, 2-3 months

  • Cooked meats or dishes, 2-3 months

  • Hot dogs, lunch meats, ground meats, 1-2 months

The Benefits

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There are many benefits to purchasing items in bulk. When you begin to create home food storage with bulk foods you can become more discriminating in your future purchases. You can wait until an item is on sale before you buy it. In a difficult economy, prices of foodstuffs generally rise, so good sales may be few and far between. It also helps to have food on hand for economic emergencies. If you were to lose your job, knowing that you have your food taken care of for a few months will help reduce your stress.

You can purchase bulk food any way that you will eat it and use it. If you are serious about saving money, you may need to make some lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Start cooking from scratch as often as you can. Sometimes this will increase costs in the beginning, such as purchasing spices and seasonings, but overall it will greatly reduce food costs.

  • Begin purchasing bulk whole grains, beans, dried apples/potato flakes, spices and so on. Just compare: A 5 lb. bag of pinto beans will cost you about $6, and equal about 37 cups of cooked beans. Yet the same amount of canned beans would cost about $14. Recent studies show that the products listed above also retain their nutritional quality and taste for as much as 30 years, and therefore they can be a real investment.

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Publication date: March 1, 2009

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