Bulk Food Buying & Co-ops

Peaches ‘n’ Honey Fruity Dream
Peaches ‘n’ Honey Fruity Dream
March 14, 2011
Storage Tips for Bulk Buying – Guest Post
March 24, 2011

Buying food in bulk saves me a lot of money!

Buying basic ingredients in bulk, and using the Thermomix to cook from these basic ingredients instead of from packets and jars and tins, saves me so much money that we can afford to eat mostly organic. If you’re thinking, “Well, I can’t afford to buy organic,” you might be surprised – I usually find I pay less for my bulk organic produce than I would if I bought non-organic from the grocery store! (Note: I don’t always buy everything organic – if I can’t get organic, I at least try to buy local, preferably insecticide free. If I can’t afford the organic produce, I focus on avoiding the ones that are worst affected by pesticides – see this list.

I first became a part of a bulk food co-op about twelve years ago, when I became interested in using alternate grains and reducing wheat in my diet. I had bought a second hand stone grinder, and a kind lady gave me her own bread recipe using a mixture of stoneground flours. Back then I had no Thermomix to make bread making easier – I’d grind up the grains in my very noisy, messy grinder, then mix and knead the dough by hand – a big, messy job, and looking back I don’t know how I did it all with three small children and a baby wanting my attention! I started to learn about spelt and kamut and buckwheat and many more grains, and the same lady introduced me to a co-op she was a part of so I could buy them cheaply. I was so excited when I made my first bulk order – I think I must have ordered nearly everything there was to order, and ended up with way too much! I didn’t have a freezer big enough to store it all, so I stored most of it in airtight plastic containers… but a lot of it ended up all ‘weevily’, so maybe the containers weren’t too airtight! So now it’s twelve years down the track and I still get excited when I get my bulk order – it’s like Christmas has come, with lots of packages and boxes full of lovely things.

If you’re new to the concept of a bulk food co-op, here’s a definition in a nutshell:

A co-op is a group of people who voluntarily work together to provide quality goods and services at the lowest possible cost to the group, rather than buying goods and services from businesses whose aim is to sell at the highest possible price that the consumer is willing to pay!

I’ve got nothing against businesses making a profit – they wouldn’t have a business if they didn’t – but if I can get it cheaper somewhere else, I will! That’s the beauty of free enterprise.

I’m a firm believer that you can eat healthy on a budget. If you don’t have access to a co-op, you could either start one, or you could buy bulk online or from your local health food shop. It always helps to get a few friends to do an order with you – ask businesses for a bulk price even if it’s not advertised, and see what they can do for you.

Here are a list of online suppliers that will mail Australia wide, so just compare prices of what you’re looking for and see who suits you best.

Organics on a Budget

Biodistributors

Honest to Goodness

Eden Health Foods 

2 Brothers Foods

Good Food Warehouse 

Kombu Wholefoods

Kialla

Santos

Wheat Free World

Green Caravan (a co-op and online store)

Bulk Food Co-ops

I buy through three different local co-ops – one co-op buys direct from Demeter Farm Mill (Honest to Goodness is their online store) and Fitness Products – organic grains, seeds, flours, oils, pasta, dried fruits, and all the other basics. One buys from Trumps– nuts, dried fruit, seeds and some flours. And one is a local CSA, The Realfood Network, for fresh, local, mostly organic fruit and vegetables. I also buy some fruit and veges from the local shops or markets.

I also buy meat in bulk whenever I can. We have a wonderful local butcher shop where the meat is grass fed and practically organic (not certified), and they also sell organic chickens. Sometimes I get meat in bulk from friends who’ve had a beast butchered. I also buy fish in bulk for about $10/kg (eg. Barramundi & King Salmon) from local fishermen. (For some great ideas on saving money by buying your meat in bulk, see this article by Rhonda at Down to Earth: Saving Money on Meat – Buying in Bulk.)

For a list of bulk food co-ops, community food co-op shops, and places to buy bulk, see my Quirky Cooking Facebook Page– and feel free to add more links in the comments, which I will add to the list.

Pantry Staples 

Two of the questions I’ve been asked a lot are ‘what do you order’, and ‘what do you like to always have on hand in your pantry or freezer?’ So here’s a list of the kinds of things I order, and always try to keep stocked up on. (I’m not coeliac, but I do find my body prefers a very low gluten, low grain diet, so I use some grains, but mostly seeds, nuts and non-grain flours.)

Grains & Flours:

– Spelt grain, unbleached plain spelt flour, buckwheat grain, millet, quinoa, oats, quinoa flakes, brown rice, basmati rice, arrowroot flour, potato starch, tapioca starch/tapioca, chickpeas (for making flour), sorghum flour, cornstarch (now & then), coconut flour (or I make my own)

Sweeteners:

– Rapadura, coconut sugar, coconut nectar, raw honey, pure maple syrup, green stevia powder, rice malt syrup, xylitol & yacon syrup (now & then)

Dried Fruit: 

– Dates (dried & raw), sultanas, apricots (now & then), shredded coconut  

(I have a dehydrator and can dry my own in-season fruits, especially bananas & mangoes, but I do buy some)

Nuts & Seeds:

– Almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pepitas, linseeds, chia seeds, pine nuts & pistachios (now & then) – (I buy all my nuts and seeds raw, although I often buy blanched almonds as well for dairy free sour cream or milks)

Legumes:

– Chickpeas, lentils (red & green), lima beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, turtle beans – (I also buy other beans in small amounts from the grocery store as I need them, sometimes tinned, sometimes dry) 

Oils:

– Extra virgin olive oil, macadamia oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil, sesame oil (all organic cold pressed if possible), and ghee (sometimes make my own) 

Other:

– Raw cacao powder, raw cacao nibs, additive free baking powder, shoyu or tamari sauce, coarse celtic sea salt, himalayan salt, coconut cream, raw cacao butter (for making chocolate)

I only have a very small kitchen, and a small pantry cupboard. I store my grains, flours, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit in my large chest freezer. This keeps them fresh and stops them getting mouldy or weevily… We live in the wet tropics, so you really can’t leave grains and flours just sitting in the cupboard for long periods of time – they’ll turn green and cobwebby!

If you don’t have a large freezer and can’t store your bulk foods this way, check out some other storage ideas that my friend Bel explains here: Storage Tips for Bulk Buying – Guest Post.

Starting a Co-op in your area:

 A lot of people would love to order through a local co-op, but can’t find one in their area. Well, I always say, if you can’t find one, start one!

 – Get the word out to friends, family, co-workers, and fellow ‘Thermomixers’ that you’re interested in starting a co-op. Try and get a good sized group together, but even five or ten people are enough to start with – our co-op started off small and now has about 100 people in it.

– Contact the large suppliers (see list above) and ask how you would go about ordering through them, what the freight charges are, etc. The bigger the order, the less freight you’ll have to pay – which is why we only order 3 or 4 times a year.

– You will need someone who’s willing to be in charge of the co-op, collate the orders, get the order to the suppliers, send out emails, get payments in, organize dividing up the order, etc. You’ll also need a large covered garage or verandah or room where you can divide the shipment into each person’s orders. The person doing the organizing should charge a small fee for his/her time – for example, a 3% surcharge on each order as a ‘membership fee’. This covers stationery and materials, computer maintenance, small discrepancies in orders that aren’t worth chasing up, and the time spent handling finances. A small discount can be given to those who help divide up the order, such as $10 off their bill. 

– It’s easiest if everyone orders in 1kg, 5kg or 12.5kg lots (or whatever size bags the produce comes in) – it makes dividing up the shipment a lot quicker! We used to order big 25kg bags of everything, then spend most of a day weighing out everyone’s orders into bags, and trying to work out costs, and it was a real headache. Now we sort the bags/boxes into piles of what it is (spelt grain, Rapadura, etc) and those helping go through each persons’ list and puts their bags/boxes into a pile, someone else checks it, and it’s done! Much easier. No weighing and dividing and bagging things up. But if people want to divide a bag with friends, they can always get one person to order the whole bag, then take it home and weigh it out there, and sort out payment amongst themselves.

– We have sub-groups in our co-op, divided by suburbs/towns, with up to 10 people in each group. The person in charge of each group collates the groups’ orders and sends them in to the organizer of the co-op. The organizer collates all the orders into one big order and sends it off. Once the shipment arrives, everyone’s invoices are emailed to them and they pay the organizer by direct deposit. Payments must be made within a couple of days. Once all payments are received, the organizer pays the supplier. (We have a computer program that was made specifically for our co-op, and that’s been a big help in organizing things.)

– We divide up the shipment as soon as possible after it arrives. Everyone who can comes to help with dividing up and delivering the orders – it’s quite a social activity! Then we all go home loaded up with goodies. So much fun!

This might sound like a lot of work, but if it’s well organized it will run smoothly, and it’s really worth the trouble. If you have any questions that I haven’t covered, let me know and I’ll try and help. I think food co-ops are a great way to go for those of us who want to go back to basic ingredients, buy organic foods, and save money!

79 Comments

  1. www.agutinstinct.com says:

    I have just started an organic coop in North Brisbane I am based in Keperra 4054. It is for dried produce, cleaning products, personal hygiene and eggs.

    Anyone interested for more information please email Jo [email protected]

  2. Drag2Kart says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Anonymous says:

    HI jo I have just come across this site an was very impressed with the info on Co ops. The only problem with this is I live in the country in NSW and so far I can’t find any in this area. I live in a little town called Adelong which is about an hour from the main city Wagga Wagga. So if you know of any out this area please let me know. I’m am 2 hours from Canberra and 2 hours from Albury.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hey Jo, Im catherine and live in your area – kinda. Can I join your co-op!?
    catsonline14 at gmail dot com

  5. I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

    DKNY Watches | Ted Baker Watches

  6. Drag2Kart says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. gexhouse2 says:

    Buying basic ingredients in bulk, and using the Thermomix to cook from these basic ingredients instead of from packets and jars and tins, saves me so much money that we can afford to eat mostly organic.

    pt 141
    melanotan 2

  8. Amber says:

    2brothersfood is an online bulk buying business located in Perth.

    Also Kakulas Brothers in the city and fremantle as well as Kakulas Sisters in Nollamara (WA)

  9. Anonymous says:

    Hi there. I live in the wagga area. I am aware of a bulk store/coop in Albury but would love to know if anyone is aware of one closer to wagga? Thanks

    • Christina MW says:

      We’re moving to Wagga Wagga in January. Have previously been part of a co-op which was great. I notice 2 other people in/near Wagga asking about co-op’s. I’m happy to partner with a few locals to start a quarterly co-op for dry goods… Anyone interested?

  10. Melody says:

    Hi Jo (and others looking for cheap whole bulk foods),

    My husband and I have just started a food ordering group based in the Sydney’s Upper North Shore (Hornsby and surrounds). So if you’re interested in getting on board, join us here!

    https://www.facebook.com/PurelyBulkFoods

  11. Lucas says:

    Hello Jo,

    Love the information on your site…thanks for the inspiration and for sharing the useful links!

    Does anyone know of any food groups in Central West Queensland? We are outback, so fresh veggies (and choice of most things)are limited, only IGA in town, and we aren’t yet growing our own (having arrived here two weeks ago.

    I am looking also to find a source of bulk dried vegetables (especially spinach flakes) so we can maintain some basic variety and avoid high local prices.

    If anyone knows of any suppliers of dried veg to the outback, we’d love to hear about them!

    Thanks,

  12. bulk food buy only in rear case other wise it should not be purchase.printer supplies brisbane

  13. this is to nice discussion about bulk food. thanks for this share.
    Health Shop Toowoomba

  14. jhon alex says:

    your post is very helpful.these days online shopping has become most popular in world.
    laptops in Pakistan
    LCD in Pakistan
    cell phones in Pakistan

  15. nice you have purchase buld food but this is not good. you should purchase according to his requirement.
    kitchen toowoomba

  16. Jessie says:

    I have just been introduced to this blog & I LOVE IT!! I live in the Riverina on a farm near Ardlethan & I am interested in finding out if there is a co-op somewhere around here or if someone wants to start one. Either Griffith, Wagga, West Wyalong, Temora, Leeton etc. I have to travel to do groceries anyway. Thanks
    Jessie

  17. Bruce says:

    “green stevia powder”

    I’m curious, where do you buy your green stevia powder from?

    —-

    Also, another organic online retailer you can add to the list is:

    https://www.organicbuyersgroup.com.au/

    Based on my experience with them, they have great service.

  18. […] flours, beans, meat and fish (and a few other things) in bulk, about four times a year. (See this post for more info on the whys and wherefores of bulk […]

  19. Bron says:

    Hi Jo,
    What temperature do you keep your flours,nuts and grains etc in the freezer at?
    We live in Tasmania, just working out if it’s worth doing this here too?
    Thanks

  20. Debbie says:

    I am looking for a coop in the frankston, melbourne area if anyone knows of any would be absolutely interested

    • Aimee DeCelles says:

      If you find one or something close to it please let us know to as we just moved here. We are looking for a bulk spices. Cheers, Aimee

  21. Graeme Allen says:

    Good Morning,
    What location can I purchase LINSEED in BULK as you do.
    I live at CARINGBAH SOUTH 2229 & I have been Buying Bulk form Waterloo area around a 3/4 Hour drive BUT THEY HASVE BEEN OUT OF STOCK SINCE XMAS
    Can U HELP
    Waiting for your REPLY

    Graeme

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *