There are a lot of smarty-pants reasons to buy ingredients in the bulk aisle. It reduces packaging waste (“Thank you!” says Earth). You can buy exactly as much as you want (one slice of dried mango? Sure!). And it saves you money.
Or does it?
I’ve always assumed that all bulk bin ingredients are cheaper—like, a lot cheaper—but never nitpicked the price tags. (For shame, for shame.) So this week, I went to Whole Foods, around the corner from our office, and did just that.
Good news: Lots of ingredients were, indeed, less expensive. Bad news: One notable one was not. But let’s start with the good, shall we?
buy these in bulk
I eat a loooooot of oats, so saving anything adds up quickly. An 18-ounce package of organic rolled oats costs $2.66/pound. In the bulk bin, it’s $1.39/pound. And organic steel-cut oats are even better. On the shelf, 24 ounces will cost you $2.66/pound. In the bulk bin, that drops to $1.29/pound.
I compared the per pound prices of two Allegro coffee blends: the 12-ounce bags on the shelf and those barrels so big you sort of want to jump right in (just me?). Both the Early Bird and Breakfast Blend were $15.99/pound on the shelf and $11.99/pound in bulk. Not too shabby, eh?
This is going to come in handy for your next chia pudding phase. In the bulk bin, chia seeds are $7.99/pound. In an 8-ounce bag, they’re $17.98/pound—over twice as much.
Anything cuter than a lentil? Nope. This lil' legume is cost-effective, quick-cooking, and filling. (It's also a great stand-in for meat!) A 22-ounce bag of red lentils costs $4.36/pound. Meanwhile, in the bulk bin, that number drops to $2.29/pound. Picture a big sign that says: "(Almost) Half Off! Yippee!"
We’re about to get real thrifty—ready? Already inexpensive canned beans are more expensive than dried ones. And bagged dried ones are more expensive than bulk ones. So basically, bulk dried beans should win you a money-saving award (imagine if it was a cash prize!). If your bulk aisle is worth its salt, it will have a variety of dried beans. At this store, kidney beans were $2.79/pound in bulk and $2.99 on the shelf for 1 pound. Black beans were the same shelf price and $1.99/pound in bulk.
Dried Fruit—Sort of
Raisins are a curious bunch. No matter what, the organic Thompson variety is cheaper in the bulk bin at $4.19/pound. But buy a 15-ounce box and they’re $4.26/pound. Buy an 8-ounce bag and they’re $7.98/pound. That’s the same price for a bag of pitted dates or prunes. In bulk, the dates are $5.99/pound (almost $2/pound savings), but the prunes are $8.99/pound (even more expensive). So, some fruit will save you, and some won’t. Which leads us to our next category...
shop with caution
Surprise! Nuts aren’t cheaper in the bulk aisle. Whole almonds are $10.99/pound in bulk and $6.99 for a 1-pound bag. Walnut halves and pieces are $8.99 in bulk and $6.99 for a 1-pound bag. And whole cashews are the same price in both places. Which is to say, the bulk aisle is great and all, but before you go nuts, double check those prices.
What bulk bin item do you swear by? Tell us in the comments!