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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Buying in Bulk

Frugal Kitchens 101
I have often mentioned buying foods in bulk on this blog but what does that really mean and how can buying in bulk save you money? Many folks think buying in bulk means buying huge boxes of dried cereal or case lots of commercially canned foods. Often they equate bulk buy as shopping at a warehouse store such as Sam's Club® or Costco's®. While this type of food shopping does fall somewhat into the category of buying foods in bulk, it is not what I consider bulk buying. With that being said these types of stores can be a good source for certain bulk food purchases of which I will explain further. True bulk food buying to me often means going to the source. Since this usually means a special trip enough has to be purchased to warrant the trip so in general.

Certain foods are better than others for bulk food purchases. These include seasonings, spices, dried herbs, grains, dried pastas, sugars and flours. Most meats, fish, poultry as well as many fruits and vegetables can be purchased in bulk providing you have the storage space (pantry, freezer). When you buy in bulk be prepared to buy larger (in general) amounts of that food usually 20 lb or more at a time. It will be a larger cash outlay on the surface but per unit price will be the cheapest. So where can you buy bulk foods?

  1. meats - The direct source for buying domestic meats (beef, lamb, pork) and poultry is from the farmer. This is often referred to as buying meat on the hoof. The price per kilogram (pound) applies to the entire purchase and in most cases you will pay cutting and wrapping fees but the overall price is always cheaper than meat bought in the store. The quality is better because it is fresher. An alternative to direct purchasing is buying through an abattoir where you will pay a slightly higher price per kilogram (pound) but it will still be cheaper than meat bought in a grocery store. If you don't have direct access or an abattoir, check with your local butcher shop where you can buy in meat in bulk. Quite often they have meat packages (eg. so many kg roast, ground meat, steak etc for a certain price) and these do tend to go on sale.

    Game meats (moose, venison, bear) can really save you money on your meat costs but for a fair comparison factor in all costs to get that meat. You might be surprised that it ends up costing more per kg (lb) than you thought and it might be more expensive than store bought meats. In general unless you know a hunter buying game meats in bulk will be rather difficult.

    Poultry is cheapest bought directly from the farmer. If you can't buy that way check for a meat processing plant or poultry processing plant in your area. Quite often they have factory outlets where you can buy poultry already cleaned, packaged and frozen. While I was staying with the kids we went to one they frequent so watch for a post on that. When you go through the guard gate they give you a flyer with the current prices. You then place your order and a worker brings the boxes to your car. It is considerably cheaper than buying poultry in the grocery store.

    The fresher the fish the better so caught by yourself is always going to give you better and cheaper results but since we are talking about buying in bulk, the best place to buy fish in bulk is a fishery. These will invariably be located on a waterway where the fishing boats can easily unload fresh caught fish. This is where you will find the lowest price per kg (lb). We are lucky to be close to several fisheries! If you don't have a fishery nearby look for a fish market.

  2. produce - The cheapest source for buying is the grower. Quite often growers will have a small stand and they have no problem selling in bulk at a considerably cheaper price than in the grocery stores (eg. hamper of tomatoes, 5/8 bushel goes for $8 here compared to $1.49/lb in the grocery store). Check orchard stores, farm stands and U-picks for great produce deals. Surprisingly some organic orchard stores are cheaper than in the grocery store. Produce that is not grown in your area (eg. citrus in northern areas) can often be purchased per case through food distributors. Do call before heading to a food distributor as some are not open to the public. If you are forced into buying your produce from the grocery store buy on sale and ask the owner/manager if they can give you a better price if you buy a large amount. Look for a mushroom farm in your area to save on the costs of those as well.

  3. seasonings/herbs - Buying seasonings and herbs in bulk makes good sense not only because they are cheaper but because you can buy what you need. We have a couple of Bulk Barns in our area. This type of shopping is different because everything is in covered bins and you scoop out the amount you want. This is ideal for seasonings and herbs.

  4. grains - Grains can be purchased for the cheapest price per kg (lb) at graineries or flour mills. Be prepared to buy in larger quantities of 100 lb bags although some will allow you to buy smaller amounts. If you are not near either of these, check your local grocery store or warehouse style store. You should be able to find white flour, whole wheat flour and white rice in large packages (10 lb or larger).
I'm sure you have seen the institutional sized containers of pickles, condiments, fruits and vegetables. These may or may not be cheaper than smaller sizes so make sure you shop the unit price. Buying industrial sizes is one area of bulk buying that you really do need to know your family's food usage! It is not recommended to re-can or freeze these products either so only buy what you will use. Unless you are planning a large get together or you have a large family industrial sized containers of brown beans, cheese sauce, any vegetable or fruit is likely going to go to waste before you use it up. However, large sized containers of pickles, olives, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise or MiracleWhip® have longer shelves lives so may be a cost saver for you.

It is now possible to order foods in bulk online. This is an ideal way of getting the foods you want or can't find locally shipped to your door. You do need to shop through a reputable online store so do a bit of homework before buying. You will need to know local unit prices if available so you can tell if you are getting a good deal. You will need to add the shipping costs into the overall price per unit for the food you purchase. Some online stores will wave shipping costs if you buy a certain amount so that is something to consider. It is seriously amazing what foods you can buy online. Many cheese factories and fisheries have online stores where you can buy in bulk. Keep in mind if you do order perishables online they are generally shipped overnight in special packaging and someone must be home when the food arrives. But you can save a lot of money this way! I paid $2 per large scallop for my husband's birthday dinner then I found Digby scallops online with overnight shipping that worked out to a total price of $1 per scallop and they would have been a lot fresher. Most seafood will be cheaper but it many cases it is being able to find a product you can't buy locally so then you will want to buy in bulk.

2 food lovers commented:

Lynda said...

Thanks so much for stopping by my blog - great to meet a fellow foodie & I'll definitely be back for future visits !
Bye for now
Lynda, Kilimanjaro, East Africa

Garden Gnome said...

Lynda, thanks so much for visiting my blog! I enjoyed reading your blog and will be visiting again as well :)