Sustainable Food Trends: On Board with Bulk

With an influx of grocers angling to enhance their value and sustainability propositions, many are expanding their bulk food sections across a variety of categories, which has in turn prompted an estimated 15 percent increase in bulk food sales during 2009 over the previous year, according to the Little Rock, Ark.-based BGC Bulk is Green Council (BGC).

Long a staple of natural and organic food stores, bulk foods are making major inroads in conventional food stores, as evidenced by more than 1,000 retailers nationwide that have expanded their bulk offerings, among them Giant Eagle, whose new 150,000-square-foot flagship Market District store in Pittsburgh carries a vast selection of up-market bulk foods offering shoppers an opportunity to see, smell and sample a potpourri of uniquely flavored teas, spices, olive oils and vinegars. The store’s tea and spice section features 24 varieties of loose teas and some 40 intriguing spices, along with granolas, trail mixes, rice, beans, seeds, dried fruits, grains, candies and snacks. The bulk olive oil and vinegar station enables customers to sample and choose from seven rotating varieties to purchase and pour into an empty cork-topped bottle that can be filled for the first time for $5.99, with subsequent refills for $4.99.

“People are paying closer attention to the food they purchase,” said Pajaro, Calif.-based SunRidge Farms’ Mark Devencenzi, a founding member of BGC, an advocacy group that aims to help consumers, manufacturers and grocers learn about the environmental and economic benefits of bulk foods. “They’re shopping smarter and turning to bulk food for budget and eco-friendly alternatives that don’t lack in quality.”

Several consumer trends bode especially well for bulk foods, including increased interest in at-home eating and cooking, as well as the economic benefits that offer folks the ability to precisely purchase a desired quantity for a single recipe, thereby reducing waste and clutter in the fridge or pantry.

Supporting the council’s assertion that interest in sustainable products is also on the rise, bulk council member Clint Landis of Norway, Iowa-based Frontier Natural Products Co-Op says bulk shopping makes it easy for consumers to go green in an affordable fashion. “It’s smart, sustainable shopping that uses minimal packaging and allows the customer to reduce waste by purchasing as little or as much as they need,” he explains.

Estimated to cost 35 percent lower than their pre-packaged counterparts, many bulk foods offer organic attributes that also appeal to a growing base of shoppers. The BGC says herbs and spices offer the greatest savings, with the most dramatic difference pertaining to bulk bay leaves, which offer a savings of 96 percent vs. packaged bay leaves, followed by bulk thyme, which boasts a savings of roughly 87 percent.

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