It’s cheaper to buy in bulk, right?
That’s something we say a lot at the Co-op, but how are weso sure? The truth is, we don’t routinely check our bulk pricing against our competitors’ lowest price on like items. We do routine price checks, but usually we’re looking for the same or similar brands in the same packaging so we’re comparing apples to apples (metaphorically and sometimes literally). Not many grocery stores even have a bulk aisle for us to compare to, much less a bulk aisle with the variety that we’re able to offer.
So, in late December 2014, I set out on a fact checking mission to a few other grocery stores in town to prove (or disprove) the notion that our bulk aisle offers the most affordable option for certified organic staples. I chose seventeen of our most popular organic bulk items and compared our price per ounce against the cheapest organic option (packaged or bulk) at each competitor. My results are shown below.
|All prices are per ounce (or fluid ounce for liquids)|
|Item||Regional Chain||Local Chain focused on Value||National Natural Foods Chain||WSGC bulk price|
|Organic Maple Syrup (Grade B)||$0.78||$0.56||$0.62||* $0.43 *|
|Organic Olive Oil||$0.35||* $0.29 *||$0.59||$0.64|
|Organic Sunflower Oil||NA||NA||$1.08||* $0.48 *|
|Organic Apple Cider Vinegar||$0.23||$0.12||$0.15||* $0.11 *|
|Organic Sugar||$0.18||* $0.14 *||$0.21||* $0.14 *|
|Organic Whole Wheat AP Flour||$0.11||* $0.05 *||$0.09||$0.06|
|Organic Whole Raw Cashews||$0.90||NA||$1.06||* $0.80 *|
|Organic Brown Rice (long grain)||$0.16||$0.28||$0.17||* $0.14 *|
|Organic Peanut Butter||$0.37||$0.34||$0.31||* $0.3 *|
|Organic Dried Basil||$13.28||$7.07||$1.37||* $1.06 *|
|Organic Rolled Oats||$0.12||$0.16||$0.11||* $. 08 *|
|Organic Dry Pinto Beans||$0.17||* $0.16 *||$0.23||* $0.16 *|
|Organic Eggs||$0.33||$0.33||$0.33||* $0.32 *|
|Organic Pure Castile Soap||$0.81||$0.53||$0.41||* $0.38 *|
|Organic English Breakfast Tea||$2.24||$1.62||$1.37||* $1.36 *|
|Organic Penne Pasta||$0.17||$0.18||* $0.14 *||$0.16|
|Sold in bulk|
|Fair Trade Certified|
|* Least expensive option *|
Though it took some fancy math and a bit of research into the relative density of olive oil and maple syrup, I managed to convert the Co-op’s per pound (weight) prices for our liquid bulk items to their price per fluid ounce. This allowed me to make a fair comparison to the industry standard of fluid ounces for liquid products. To make up for differences in pack size, I converted all of the prices to ounces for both liquids and solids.
When averaged together, Willy Street Co-op’s pricing on the items I compared was a full sixteen cents less expensive per ounce than our nearest competitor. Of the seventeen items, eleven of the Co-op’s bulk option was undoubtedly the least expensive. Two were exactly the same (per ounce) as the lowest priced competitor, and four proved to be more expensive at the Co-op. Here’s a breakdown of those four items:
- Organic Whole Wheat Flour: Though our flour was one penny more expensive per ounce than the cheapest competitor, of all of the stores I checked, the Co-op’s bulk flour was the only locally grown and milled option. Supporting local farmers and millers seems worth a penny to me, and luckily many Co-op Owners agree!
- Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil: At 64¢/ fluid oz, our bulk olive oil is quite a bit more expensive than our competitors’ least organic offerings. However, we do offer a value bottled organic olive oil (Field Day brand) that comes in at 32¢/fluid oz.
- Organic Coffee: This is the only item that proved to be most expensive at the Co-op. Of the three competitors I checked, two offered a fairly traded bulk coffee option at 62¢/oz ($9.99/lb)—significantly cheaper than our 66¢/oz ($10.49/lb) regular price on Equal Exchange coffee. The good news is that we always make sure to have at least two varieties of organic fair trade coffee on sale for $9.99/lb (or 62¢/ounce).
- Organic Penne Pasta: Though our bulk price for organic penne is two cents per ounce higher than the least expensive competitor, we do offer a slightly less expensive organic option (Bio Italia brand) in packaged form. Bio Italia penne pasta comes in at 14¢/ounce, making it comparable to the least expensive competitor.
More reasons to shop the bulk aisle
Save money: In addition to the savings outlined above, you can reduce your grocery spending in the bulk aisle by purchasing only what you need. For example, you don’t need to buy the full 5lb bag of flour to get the cheapest price, you can buy as much or as little as you need and pay the same low price per pound.
Reduce waste: According to the EPA, 40% of America’s landfills are comprised of wasted food and food packaging. By shopping in bulk and purchasing only what you need, you can reduce both your food budget and your waste. Do you only need 1/2 lb of that obscure grain for the recipe you want to make? Instead of buying a 2 lb package and wasting most of it, you can purchase exactly 1/2 lb in the bulk aisle. If you choose to put it in a reusable container, you’re eliminating the packaging waste as well. It’s a win win!
Higher Quality: If you’ve been in our bulk aisle recently, you know that it’s a busy place! Food moves through the bins quickly, meaning a fresher, higher quality product than you may find in a package. This is especially true at the Co-op, where we specialize in selling organic foods in bulk. Larger grocery stores may carry comparable organic options, but chances are they don’t move through them quiteas quickly as we do.