Adventures in Bulk Food Shopping
Katie and I have found a ton of inspiration from the Zero Waste Home, a blog that focuses on eco-friendly solutions to a trash-producing lifestyle. Katie created her own kids’ lunch bags and I’ve been composting a majority of our kitchen waste, plus making my own granola and yogurt. The blog is a big supporter of bulk shopping — including bringing your own containers — so on a recent trip to Whole Foods, I decided to try this out myself.
I’ve been shopping in the bulk section for a while but have usually used their plastic containers and bags. I already bring my own shopping bags, so why not bring a few containers as well?
The first thing I did at the store was to weigh my jars on the scales in the produce section. I wrote the weight on the jar with a Sharpie I brought from home. My thought was that the person at the check-out counter could subtract the weight of the container from the total weight to get the accurate price of the items.
I filled up my jars with dried fruit, coffee beans, and rolled oats. Then, I hit up the baker for a loaf of bread. He didn’t bat an eyelash when I asked him to put it in my kid-decorated pillow case.
With a smile, he handed me the sticker to put on the outside for check-out. Sweet!
But when I got to the check-out line and proudly lined up my containers, I watched as the check-out person become completely flummoxed — he was charging me for the weight of the cannisters AND the items. Imagine my shock when I found out a pound of coffee beans rang up to be over $30!
As I debated the obscene prices with the check-out person, the line behind me grew to two and then three (restless and annoyed) shoppers deep. Finally, the customer service rep came over and told me if I wanted to bring my own containers, I needed to first stop by the customer service desk so they can weigh the containers and mark them. Lesson learned.
After the “incident” at Whole Foods, I also stopped by MOM’s Organic Market to check out their bulk offerings. Before shopping, I made sure to stop at the customer service desk first.
To make things run more smoothly at the the check-out line, the employee pushes a button for “tare” (the net weight) and enters the bulk item number and the weight. The computer does the rest.
It’s amazing the range of items you can buy in bulk: spices, grains, nuts, raisins, rice, beans, flour, oats, cereal, honey, oil, salt. The list goes on. You can get milk in glass bottles that you pay a deposit for; then, you bring the bottle back and you get your deposit back on the next bottle you buy.
Tips for Shopping with Your Own Containers
- Remove old labels from your jars, especially the bar codes so the scanner doesn’t detect it.
- The label should only show the weight of the empty container (tare) and the ID number of the item.
- Avoid heavy containers and glass, which will be harder to carry home. You can always transfer the items to nice-looking jars when you get home. Keep standard plastic containers to use for shopping for, say, raisins or coffee.
Do you shop in the bulk food section? Do you know of other stores that have a good bulk food section?