My Guide To Buying Goods in Bulk
How To Source And What To Buy In Order To Keep Your Pantry Stocked No Matter What
Among the first thing that visitors remark upon when entering my apartment is: “wow, you must be into cooking.”
Okay, who I am kidding.
It’s more like: “wow, why do you have 25KG of rice in your home?”
Let me (try to) explain.
Before I go any further, I should explain a few things about my personality — because these are really the factors that underpin my whole interest in bulk food to begin with.
Firstly, when I get into something, I tend to go all the way.
Planning on getting good at cooking Indian food? If I’m trying to get good at cooking a cuisine, I’ll want to get really good at it. Which means lots of practice. So why buy 1KG of lentils when you can buy 25KG!
Secondly, although I would eschew the term ‘prepper’ I do derive a lot of satisfaction from being well prepared
Living in Jerusalem — where stores on Friday can close as early as 2PM — part of that, for me, means having a really well-stocked pantry. I work more Fridays than not. And when the mid afternoon munchies kick in, it’s always handy to have some rice and tuna on hand to whip up a quick meal.
I also nothing more than unnecessary interruptions, particularly when I’m in a productive flow state.
Managing my time as a freelancer is a work in progress. But one of the first things I got good at was cutting out unnecessary midday excursions — such as nipping down to the store to buy a (small, non-industrial-sized) container of coffee.
Let me put it this way. If you have 20KG of coffee beans sitting at home you just don’t run out of coffee all that often. Once a year you just place another bulk order, ideally well before the previous massive container runs its course. Of course, if you work at home, leaving the home is necessary and healthy — I’m not suggesting that you don’t. But I still like to have all my foodstuff ready and organized.
The final reason for my interest in buying unnecessarily massive quantities of food is a childhood visit to a food wholesaler which has stuck in my mind ever since.
My mom, a small business owner, had dragged me along while she bought alcohol for an office party. But all I can remember is the bag of oatmeal about as tall as I was that looked like a vat of cement and the gigantic caterers’ pale-sized tubs of ketchup and mayonnaise. So cool!
Ironically (because I think this is what people assume) saving money is actually the last thing on my mind when I buy bulk. I’ve run the numbers and, where I’m based at least, it doesn’t tend to work out substantially cheaper. But for me the convenience — and the time saved in rarely having to restock pantry essentials — makes it all worthwhile.
Here are some of the things I’ve bought and — roughly — how to get them.
Food Suppliers Are Your Friend
The first thing to know about getting your hands on bulk goods is really that there are no rules.
But if there were one it’s this: try to get on friendly terms with a food wholesaler and convince them to sell to you — even if you’re a non-business and they’re trade only.
Secondly, you need to know that each commodity tends to exist on the wholesale market in certain quantities.
Take coffee, for instance.
There aren’t too many crazies out there like me looking to get their hands on a two-year 10KG supply of ground coffee (photo above).
But there are plenty of coffee roasteries who will buy 25KG and 50KG burlap sacks of green (raw) coffee beans for roasting on-site.
Did you know that coffee originated in Ethiopia, that Ethiopians love to roast their own coffee at home, and that their coffee is … utterly fantastic?
Being a lover of Ethipian food and having had several coffee conversations with Ethiopians, I can confirm that these things are all true. So if I were trying to source a bulk quantity of coffee beans I’d probably ask my local Ethiopian ethnic store if they could sell me 25KG. If not, I’d ask them who their supplier is and talk to them (assuming they’d be willing to tell me). You have to use your head here: who wants large quantities of this? And where do they probably get it from?
More often than not, you will find that food wholesalers (the places that supply restaurants and caterers with raw ingredients) will not exactly be chasing down your business. In fact, you’ll often encounter hostility or people that laugh down the phone at you after they find that you want to buy 10KG of lentils and no, you don’t run a restaurant.
There are a few reasons for this:
- People can be mean
- Compared to what trade establishments are ordering, your order is very small fry. Very small fry.
- Many food wholesalers have minimum order quantities (MOQs). You’re unlikely to meet them
- Most will sell to registered businesses only. If you’re not a registered business many will not sell to you
- Delivering small quantities doesn’t make sense for them logistically
That being said:
- Google is your friend. Also, policies change and can be flexible. By contacting 15 bakery supply places near me with a form email, I managed to find one that would sell straight to consumers. My wife, who is an avid baker, now buys a 25KG bag of flour from them once every few months along with smaller quantities of specialty flours. I recommended them on Facebook in a foodies’ group so I hope they got a few more private orders. I guess my hobbies must be contagious! Try searching for “food wholesaler + [your location” or just search for what you’re looking for “25kg chickpeas”
- You’ll often find that random consumer stores will be happy to use their supplier-buying privileges for a small markup. Try find a small family-owned place that is open to being flexible about they have to do business. This is how I’ve managed to find a source near me for 25KG of just about any dried goods that exist under the sun. Finding him just took knocking on a few doors in the right part of town. I also previously found a friendly health food store owner who would source me 5KG of dried hibiscus flowers straight from the supplier (what can I tell you, I have diverse interests).
- Ethnic stores are also great for this. Immigrants know how to economize. Many come from food cultures where bulk buying for large families is the norm. Asian stores, for instance, will typically carry rice in up to 25KG containers (5KG and 10KG are also common sizes). If a grain is popular with a culture and there’s an immigrant community and ethnic stores where you live, see if they have or can get what you’re looking for. You may need to put aside all political correctness in the aim of finding your best source. But in my experience, ethnic stores are some of the friendliest places you can shop.
The World of Bulk Goods Awaits
Before you get too excited about the prospect of lugging 25KG sacks of grains into your apartments, there are a few caveats:
- Weevils are your arch-enemy: Here’s where things get a bit disgusting. Weevils are a type of beetle that can infest many grains. As a non-entomologist I don’t have all the details — but thankfully Wikipedia does! Your best bet is to freeze all bulk goods for 24 hours after purchase. But, if you’re buying in bulk, that might not be practicable. But if it in any way is do it and thank me later. If you can’t pre-freeze, just seal your grains as well as you possibly can. Be vigilant. If you see even one weevil, I would toss the whole thing out.
- You’ll need somewhere to store thing: I’ve devised quite an elaborate system for how I get through these grains. I have a jar that holds roughly 5KG of rice and I use this to fill up a smaller rice jar which I keep by the stoves. Periodically the burlap sack is repurchased. And then the distribution cycle resumes. Do what works for you.
Here’s What You Can Find
If you’re buying coffee in bulk for personal consumption, then whole green (raw, unroasted) coffee is the obvious choice. It’s pretty shelf-stable. The downside is that you’ll have to roast it yourself. Which is an upside if you’d like to learn home roasting.
This one can be a little tricky to find. But try to find a friendly wholesaler that supplies cafés and roasteries.
If you’re not finnicky about how fresh your coffee is and are unashamedly just in it for the caffeine (it takes one to know one), then you can skip ahead and buy a large cache of roasted beans. Hopefully you’ll be so buzzed that you won’t care how stale the coffee is!
Beans and Grains
Just about any bean and grain you can imagine is available in bulk quantities, although some will be easier to find than others depending on where you live.
As a rule of thumb, it’s easy to find up to 1–2KG of most things as a consumer (rice being the exception). But if you want to land some 25KG or 50KG sachets it’s time to play with the big boys — the food wholesalers.
With relative ease, and working through food wholesalers, you should be able to find 10KG to 25KG packets of all of the following:
- Lentils (green and red)
The more obscure an ingredient is — say, rice flour — the smaller the product size you will be able to procure. And, probably, the lower the economies of scale.
If you want to show off your interest in bulk buying, then the burlap sacks these often come in make interesting collector pieces.
If you’re buying in restaurant quantities, or buying loose in the same quantities, then you’ll almost certainly want the use of a car to take the goods home.
If you’re a busy home baker, then you might be surprised at how quickly you can make it through a 25KG bag of flour.
Bulk flour is often found most easily through wholesalers that supply baking shops. In fact, these often have entire catalogs of common and obscure flours. If you’re a baker and can find one that will sell to you — you’re in luck!
Bulk Goods Are Great
I have to admit that I find something mesmerizing about large quantities of dried goods. There’s something primordial about it all.
After all, agriculture, and food storage, is what took us from being a hunter gather society into a settled one.
The Bible recounts tales of Joseph wisely choosing to store grain in silos during bountiful years in Ancient Egypt in order to sustain the people during times of famine and hardship.
Ultimately, those massive 25KG and 50KG sacks is how most of our dried goods make it to consumers. We’re just used to seeing it in tidier, and lighter, formats.
Happy buying, happy (weevil-free!) storing, and happy eating!