Questions about purchasing/storing bulk foods

>>Where do you buy grains in bulk?<<

I used to buy grains in bulk directly from a bulk distributor that had an option to sell to private individuals (at a markup from what they charged the stores), until I found a store that also ordered from them that allowed me to place my order with theirs, and pick it up when I do my shopping there.  This has been much more convenient for me, since the distributor was three hours from my house and then another hour-plus to any other place I was doing shopping.  And I’m a very good customer of that store, so they were happy to do it for me – but it’s not something they generally do so something like this has to be worked out with the store manager personally.   (I had another store that also agreed to do this for me, so I’m sure this is an approach others can try). 

>>Do you have suggestions on where to find stores or food wholesalers or distributors from whom to buy in bulk?<<

I started looking for suppliers by asking local health food stores who they ordered through, then contacting them to see if they’d sell directly to me.  Those suppliers wouldn’t but I knew someone was out there who would, so I kept nosing around the internet and making calls until I found my supplier.  I had to pick my order up locally, but another company I spoke to said they’d deliver if my order was above a certain amount, and we had access for their large delivery truck.  There are also co-ops you can purchase through who have either local drops or will deliver – Azure Standard comes to mind, but there are others.  If you know others in your area who are frugally minded, they might know of other local options or would be willing to share costs if you organized a large order. 

>>how do you prevent bug infestation of your bulk grains?<<
You prevent infestation by freezing your grains for 24 hours before repackaging them into buckets.  I love how easy this is in the winter – I can just leave the things in the van overnight after our shopping trip and transfer the stuff to buckets afterward.  But honestly, I don’t bother with freezing in the summer; I just don’t have the necessary freezer space.  However, I’ve almost never had a problem with infestation from my bulk food suppliers; the problems I’ve encountered usually came from discount grocers and sometimes from regular supermarkets – I quickly glance at the plastic packaging at beans/grains purchased in small amounts to check for signs of bugs since realizing that I couldn’t assume it would be clean.  I check all of the grains we use (except wheat) before using them. 

>>How do you store them (bulk items)?<<

I store everything in buckets.  I used to stack the buckets 2 or sometimes even three high, but then it got to be too many buckets for the small area I had available.  At that time, I made a platform using a free pallet to keep them off the floor.  So last year I bought very heavy duty shelving units that can hold a lot of weight and that has made it very easy to find space, since I can use the space vertically all the way up.  Very nice, and I always have plenty of space now.  It’s lots more organized, no more stacking buckets.

>>Where do you get your storage buckets usually?<<

Restaurants often have these for free since the bulk foods they purchase come in them; you may have to wash them out, but they’re generally happy to give them to you if they have them.  You can also approach bakeries, who get frosting in large buckets.  These are all (obviously :)) food grade buckets.   I prefer square buckets, which are harder to get hold of, but I find they’re much more space efficient – you lose a lot of space with round storage containers (this is true of refrigerator storage containers, too – I try to stick with square or rectangle shapes for this same reason).   Also, the lids on the round buckets are often different sizes and it can be a chore to match the right lid with the bucket it goes to.  But I still have to use them since I don’t yet have enough square buckets for my needs. 

(This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday.)


8 thoughts on “Questions about purchasing/storing bulk foods

  1. Thanks for the answers, Avivah! Unfortunately, I’ve read the tactic of approaching restaurants and I’ve tried that, and it’s been a no go. The places that I asked all said that they return the containers to the manufacturers. I don’t believe them, but that’s what they’ve all been telling me. My husband used to work at the cheese counter at our local grocery store and he saw them throwing out the containers and took some, but now that he doesn’t work there anymore, they won’t let us take it anymore. They tell me the lie that it gets returned to the distributor, but I heard from the security guards that its not true- they just had workers who were taking the containers with cheese still inside it and stole the cheese, so they forbade anyone from taking the containers- they just go straight to the trash. I’ve asked nicely from the manager of the store- I’m a frequent customer of theirs and my husband works as a security guard there- thinking they’d be nice to me. I said they can check it to make sure its empty, and I’d even pay for the buckets, but they said NO! It is sooo frustrating! Right now I’m using some of the few containers we still have from when my hubby was working there, plus two large jugs that were from oil from a restaurant (we cleaned them out very well) that originally they told me get returned to the manufacturer, and then they gave them to me in the end… And for the rest… I’m trying to figure out what to do. I’ve been looking to purchase food grade buckets for at least 6 months now, and no luck with that either. Its very frustrating…

    1. Wow, that really does sound frustrating! It reminds me of when I was scoping out grocery stores to find out what happened to their imperfect produce – most of them had policies in place regarding throwing it all away and couldn’t change them for one person. But keep on keeping on; all you need is one place that is willing to give you the buckets rather than throw them away. Good luck!

      1. Here’s a possibility that should work for you: large plastic drink bottles (ie grape juice, soda). Ask your friends to save them for you, then wash them well, dry them, and put your grain/beans in them. They’re airtight and bug proof, and should be easy and free for most people to aquire. Sometimes you just have to think a little more creatively to find a way to get what you need!

  2. Drink bottles might work for somethings, but not when you have 50 pounds of 5 different types of things…
    I keep my beans and such in glass jars, but thats only 2-3 pounds. I can’t buy 50 pounds of beans and put them in 50 soda bottles…

    1. Well, you have to work with what you have! And more than two or three pounds should be able to fit into each bottle; there are people who store lots more than what you have in this way.

  3. Thank you for this, it’s helpful. Still, I don’t understand how you manage to buy healthy staples such as coconut oil, the nuts and nut flours and stick to your 600$ monthly budget (I’ve read your past posts on the topic but still don’t get it). Can you give us an idea of how much you pay per pound for nuts/nut flours?

    1. Hi, Chana – sorry for the delay in responding, I must have missed your comment when it first came through.

      Since I’m buying on sale/in bulk, what I’m generally paying will be a good bit less than if I were buying in small amounts or at full price. I haven’t bought nuts or nut flours in a while, but I believe that the prices for my most recent bulk order of those items were about $2 – 4 lb (nut meals were closer to the lower end and sliced almonds were a bit above the high end).

      I don’t have a set monthly amount that I budget towards bulk items – it depends how well-stocked I am and what I need to get to fill in the gaps. Some months I buy several hundred dollars of bulk items (eg last month), and other months (like this one), I’m not buying any. It all evens out – for a month like this, I might stock up on other things (like canned goods or chicken on sale), or save the extra to apply towards my next bulk order.

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