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Bulk Food Shopping Guide

If you’re trying to reduce the plastic you use, or are aiming for zero waste living, the supermarket isn't going to give you the foods you need package-free. Even the fruit and vegetables are wrapped in plastic! 

Bulk food stores are the perfect place to begin reducing your waste.

If you haven’t shopped at a bulk food store before, the concept of bringing your own containers and filling them up can be daunting! We may be bulk store regulars now, but we still remember the our first time! If you’re new to the bulk food store scene, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with a practical step by-step guide to bulk food shopping. We’ll be holding your hand every step of the way!

You will need:

  • Mason jars
  • Metal/ plastic/ glass containers or Draw string bags
  • Reusable carry bags
  • A brave and open attitude

1. Prepare Yourself: A key difference with bulk food shopping, is that it starts at home. Reducing your waste starts with preparation.

Look through your cupboards, and make a list of what you need (we recommend a scrap piece of paper, or your phone- save the trees!). Gather enough mason jars, of a variety of sizes, to match every item on your list. Smaller jars are best for spices and condiments, medium jars are great for snacks, and larger jars are awesome for things like flour and rice. Always throw in a few extra jars, in case you see something you need and forgot about. This will save on trips back.

2. Always Tare: Remember to weigh your jars before you fill them! This will save you money and time.

Different stores have different ways of taring your items. They may leave a measuring scale out for you to do it yourself, or do it for you. If you’re new to the store, ask the checkout attendant how they tare. If it’s up to you to weigh them, place the container on the scale, with the lid on, and weight them one by one. You can write the weights with a permanent market straight onto the jar, place a sticker on it, or even record the weights in your phone.

3. Fill em’ up: Now for the fun part! Fill your jars with delicious goodies.

Place your weighed containers and jars back into your trolley or bag, and start shopping. Use the scoops or tongs to transfer goods into your containers. If the scoops are too small or too big for your jars, instead of getting flour all over the floor or making a coconut mess, ask the attendant for a different sized scoop. Be mindful of writing down codes on your phone or jar. These codes refer to the product, so the attendant knows how much to charge you. 

4. Checkout: Now is the time to purchase your bulk goods, and seal the deal.

After one last check that you have everything you need, proudly place your jars on the counter, and high five yourself for your plastic-free shop. If you’ve missed a code, don’t have a heart attack. The attendant will simply ask what the product is, and if they don’t remember it themselves (they usually do), you may have to pop back to the bin and check. No drama.

5. Take your food home: Using your reusable bags, carry your groceries home.

Bulk food stores with plastic bags, are super ironic. Most don’t have them, and if they do, just refuse. Plastic bags can’t withstand the weight of jars anyway, so your strong reusable bags come in handy here.

6. Organise your jars: Label, sort, and arrange your jars in a way that makes them accessible in your pantry.

So not to confuse your baking soda for rice flour, or custard powder for icing sugar, make sure you label your jars when you return home. You may even choose to do this in store. Additionally, refrigerate the goods that need to be kept cooler. Organise your jars into categories. When reaching for things, it is helpful to know where they are, e.g. a section for baking, dried fruit, spices, and nuts.

Congratulations! You’ve completed your first bulk food shop, and we couldn’t be more excited. The more you do it, the easier it gets. You’ll soon become best friends with the attendants, and have your own bulk food routine down pat.  Happy plastic free shopping!

P.S. If you’re in New Zealand, here are a few places to shop in bulk.

Bulk Food Shopping Guide

1. GoodFor: Auckland
2. Bin Inn: New Zealand wide
3. The Source Bulk Foods: Launching New Zealand wide


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