Phil Bratty describes himself as “an anti-packaging guy.” His disdain for wasteful packaging practices by supermarkets inspired him to open Simply Bulk Market in downtown Longmont, CO. The store has been operating on Main Street for about two and half years. Bratty says that the store is the first of it’s kind – the kind that sells natural and organic foods, bath and body products and pet supplies all strictly in a bulk format.
On a saturday afternoon, the shop is bustling with people perusing the aisles. Bratty says that the community has responded well to the idea of buying in bulk, and that he relies mainly on word-of-mouth to attract new shoppers.
But what keeps people coming in?
First, the potential for savings.
Bratty makes a modest estimate that, up front, the savings from buying in bulk amount to 30-40 percent. Bulk food can be sold for less because the consumer doesn’t have to pay for the fancy packaging or advertising that goes into the manufacturing of packaged foods. Buying bulk spices is a particularly good deal, with a 70-80 percent savings compared to buying packaged spices, without compromising any of the quality.
Peripherally, the ability for the consumer to buy only the amount of food that they need from a bulk store allows them to save even more money because less product is wasted. A very recent study by Portland State University found that consumers can save an average of 89 percent when buying foods in bulk compared to buying packaged foods.
Second, there are a number of nutritional benefits.
Simply Bulk Market offers a variety of organic foods, meaning foods that have not been treated with pesticides, biotechnically engineered or genetically modified. Simple, natural or organic foods have higher nutrient density without any chemicals, toxins or additives.
Also, it’s more nutritious to buy some products in a dry, bulk format and to prepare them than to buy the same product in a can. This applies specifically to beans. It takes a little time to soak and boil dried beans for cooking, but it’s a much healthier option because canned beans are high in sodium and canned foods can expose the consumer to BPA.
Lastly, but certainly not least, buying in bulk is better for the environment.
Packaging. Just consider how much ridiculous, inedible packaging lines supermarket shelves. The manufacturing process for all of that cardboard and plastic contributes to air emissions, deforestation, and wastewater, while really not contributing anything special to the consumer. According to Portland State’s study, “If Americans purchased all their coffee in bulk for one year, (it would be equal to) 240,000,000 lbs. of foil packaging saved from landfills.”
Also, it takes less energy to ship bulk foods. This is because without the packaging, bulk food takes up less space. Think about a box of cereal. How much of the space is actually taken up by the cereal, and how much is wasted? Less wasted cubic space means more product can be shipped – meaning fewer trips, fewer trucks and less fuel consumption.
Bratty mentioned that although consciousness about buying in bulk seems to be slowly catching on, it’s still a “fringe” sort of mentality. Seems like a no-brainer to me!