Tuesday Tips: Saving Money at Whole Foods, Bulk Bin vs. Prepackaged

Tuesday Tips are back, yeah 2011! Yesterday while popping into the grocery store for a few things on my list, I did my usual scan of the aisles and grabbing a few items off the shelf that were prepackaged. After a little price comparison and walk down the bulk bin aisle, I decided to put back the prepackaged items and go for bulk.

The price comparisons are from my local Whole Foods Market, it's where I shop and they have a great bulk bin section. Obviously you want to compare at your local natural foods market or co-op (they typically have bulk bin grains, sweeteners, flours, nuts, etc). Most traditional national grocery store chains do not offer bulk bin options.

The savings were dramatic and to top it off there are a few extra bonuses. One, no extra packaging to have to recycle and the best part, controlling seasonings especially sodium content in prepackaged grains. I always have spices stocked in my pantry, so that's never a problem.

Comparison #1:

Near East Pearled Couscous, 4.7oz, $2.49 a box. Serving one meal for our family of 4.

Bulk: $3.99lb, I purchased 3/4 of a pound which will serve my family of 4 a total of 3 meals (1 cup per meal). $2.99

Three meals of Near East Prepackaged = $7.47
Three meals of bulk = $2.99

Savings of $4.48

Comparison #2:

365 Brand Organic Rolled Oats (365 is Whole Foods label, which is considerably cheaper than brand name) $2.99 for 18oz container. Which works out to be about approximately $2.66lb.

Organic Rolled Oats in Bulk, $1.19lb. I purchased a pound for $1.19 which suits our family just fine and that way I don't have left over oats getting stale in my pantry.

Prepackaged 365 Brand Organic Rolled Oats $2.66lb vs. Organic Rolled Oats Bulk $1.19lb

Savings of $1.47 a pound! To me a pound of oats is a lot as well.

Comparison #3:

Spices! A jar of prepackaged spices can run up to $4.99. I go for the cheapest ones I can find, which is still no less than $2.50. Bulk spices are so much cheaper.

Take for example oregano, a prepackaged jar is .36oz, to fill that jar from bulk is about .99cents-$1.25. Now let me also reiterate, freshness with spices is essential. I typically purchase about .50cents worth of spices from the bulk bins and that refills the jar in half. Faster I use them up, the fresher they are! Double bonus, spices in bulk at whole foods are Organic. Win, win, win!

Savings on spices, $2.50-$4.00 a jar!

Other bulk buying tips:
If you are going to transition to purchasing in bulk, don't run out and buy a bunch of jars to use. Use what you have. My pantry is full of leftover pickle jars, spaghetti sauce jars, canning jars from gifts, etc. Don't toss your spice containers when you use them up, save them and refill them.

If you don't want to be bothered with filling baggies and then refilling your containers at home, stop by customer service when you enter the store with all of your jars. They will weigh your containers for you and write down a tare weight (which is subtracted off when it is weighed with contents). That way you can fill a jar to the top if you want and skip that extra step! Just make sure the weight of your jar is noted when checking out.

Bulk purchasing is a great way to experiment with new items, try a small amount of a spice or new grain, that way you won't have half a box of something you may not have liked sitting around that will never get used.

Depending on the store's variety you can typically find these items in bulk: nut butters (ground fresh), maple syrup and agave sweetners, nuts, trail mixes, granola, cereal, grains, sweeteners, flours, baking items, cookies (kids animal crackers to whole grain fig bars), dried fruits, spices, soup mixes, beans, crackers, chocolate covered fruit, yogurt covered pretzels, pasta!

Just take a stroll down the aisle that is typically avoided and see what you are missing, plus reap the reward of huge savings!
Related: A post from 2008 on saving money at Whole Foods! It contains similar tips from today (we've always been a fan of bulk bin purchasing) but also some other tips as well.
Disclaimer: I'm simply sharing tips I use to help my family save money and lessen our impact on the environment. I was in no way compensated for products mentioned in this post.


  1. Denise

    I needed this reminder. Been spending way too much on pasta lately!


  2. I need to start bulk bin shopping, taking jars in is a great idea as I hate transferring them.

  3. I love the idea of the spices! I will have to check that out next time.

  4. I love the bulk bins at Whole Foods! iKeith eats Steel Cut Oats for breakfast everyday and I used to spend a ton on it in the bags!

    Now I buy lots of cool stuff in the bins!

  5. I "heart" the bulk aisles!! king sooper on 120th have some bulk items on one aisle, mainly nuts and granola
    excited your tuesday tips are back:)

  6. I have been wanting a way to stop using plastic bags every time I bought in bulk. Thank you for sharing how to go about that by asking the store to assist with weighing your containers. You've made my week!


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