Buying bulk wholesale and clearance food – is it worth it?

I’ve recently started buying food in bulk, to see if it brings down my overall spend on the food I buy most often. I’ve used both normal supermarkets (where I got some funny looks!), specialist wholesalers and online retailers as well.

Buying food in bulk is usually worth it. It’s cheaper, it’s more convenient and it’s kinder on the environment thanks to fewer shopping trips and less packaging. Here are some tips on buying bulk – and also one warning about when you shouldn’t buy bulk, too.

Can you buy wholesale food for personal use?

Before anyone starts bulk buying it’s a fair question to ask if you’re actually allowed to buy wholesale items for personal use. After all, cash and carries and wholesalers are usually only open to businesses such as small shops and other retailers who buy larger quantities.

From my experience, a large percentage of wholesalers, particularly those who are independently run, will happily sell to private individuals for personal use, so long as you’re buying enough to justify having an account with them. Some even encourage it and have made it their business model (such as Costco). Either way – it can’t hurt to ask.

Online is a different story, where most companies are actively selling wholesale and bulk food to everyone, not just businesses. Although it sounds like it could be expensive due to the postage and weight involved, very often you’ll only be charged a flat fee if you spend over a certain amount – which is easier to achieve when buying in bulk.

Is buying food in bulk cheaper?

Usually, yes, it’s cheaper to buy food and drink in bulk. Here’s a recent real-life example of some multiple savings I made at the UK supermarket, Tesco. They’re a ‘normal’ supermarket and not even a wholesale specialist, but this illustrates what can be done if you take advantage of deals in any ordinary store, if they frequently run offers.

There’s a Malbec wine I really like that usually retails at £8 a bottle. Occasionally it’s on sale at £6, which is when I usually buy it. Recently there’s been a “buy 6 or more bottles and get an extra 25% off” deal too. This is an excellent time to buy in bulk, but bear in mind you’re sometimes restricted to a number of units per customer (in this case, 36 bottles – still an awful lot of wine!). I bought the maximum 36, so here’s the maths:

Buying 36 bottles of wine in bulk

Buying at the normal retail price – £8 x 36 = £288
Buying when it’s on sale – £6 x 36 = £216, saving £72
Buying when it’s on sale and there’s a bulk 6+ offer – £216 less 25% = £162, a saving of £126

That’s a huge difference, and makes the same wine nearly half price, from £8 a bottle to £4.50. Always do the math before bulk buying and you can quickly see how much money you’ll save. Wine is a good candidate as it lasts a long time and will happily sit in storage without spoiling. Which brings me to the bulk buy caveat…

Which food should I buy in bulk?

The short answer is:

  • Anything you normally use
  • Anything that will keep well

The “anything you normally use” caveat comes from personal experience. I once got all excited when a shop was selling cases of tinned green beans for a bargain price. We don’t normally eat canned green beans, in fact, we decided we didn’t like them all that much and it was a chore thinking of ways to cook dishes that incorporated 20+ cans of them. It took three years! On the other hand, we buy tinned tomatoes in bulk and these get used all the time.

Check the best before or “use by” dates of any item you’re buying in bulk. Canned goods are a good candidate, as are pre-packaged items such as the ready-made rice pouches, food in jars like jam and marmalade, canned drinks, wine and so on.

Unless you use an awful lot, it’s best not to buy huge sacks of grains, beans, rice or pasta in bulk. Eventually, you may get bugs or weevils and once infested, the entire package or sack will be affected.

bulk grains in sacks

This happens even if the bag is sealed or if you bought it from a reputable source – it’s just ‘one of those things’ when storing grains or flour for a long time. You could batch-freeze it or use other techniques that kill any eggs in the package, but for huge amounts of food this could be more trouble than it’s worth.

If you do know you’ll get through it then there are some excellent options for where to buy whole foods online – including the aptly named BuyWholeFoodsOnline. For example, I sprinkle dried fruit on my cereal in the morning and I buy it in bulk because I know I’ll use it all before it has a chance to go off. It’s also a good source for expensive baking ingredients if you’re using a lot of them at once.

They have a free delivery service if you spend over a certain amount, and their parcels go up to substantial weights, if you’re buying something particularly heavy.

What about buying clearance food online?

Buying clearance food online is increasingly popular as it helps to cut down on waste. It’s also known as “short dated” food. Very often, supermarkets get rid of products that have a short time remaining on their shelf life. There’s nothing wrong with the product – they just need to replace it with newer stock.

In addition, if a product is at or just past it’s “best before”, it’s still good to eat or use. Note that this doesn’t apply to “use by”, which means it must be used by the date listed. “Best before” is a good way to find bargains.

If you know you’ll use the food in a relatively short space of time, particularly if you are feeding a family, then cheap food clearance sites or shops are a good option.

bulk sweets

One of my favourite places to buy clearance food online is Approved Food. They sell clearance food in bulk as well as case deals on some items. I have three nephews and I buy lots of sweets, chocolates and biscuits from Approved Food because I know they’ll get eaten – fast! Their delivery prices are per 25kg box, with further reductions the more you buy, so there’s no need to be wary about buying cases of heavy items such as tins or jars.

If you live near Sheffield there’s also the option of pickup for free from their warehouse.

Star Bargains operate on a similar model, and are owned by Fultons Foods, who are well known in the North of England. At the time of writing they have over 800 items in stock, most are ‘big brand’ items that you’d usually find at a supermarket – except their prices are far lower. It’s where I bought all my Easter Egg presents this year as they were almost all half price compared to the shops. Delivery is also free over a certain amount.

Other ideas on buying wholesale online

Although this is a food-centric website, it’s also worth noting you can buy other things besides food in bulk online. Other examples of things I buy a lot are toilet roll, washing up liquid, dishwasher tabs and shampoo. I use the same brands so it’s not an issue having a lot of something, and it’s not like shampoo or loo roll is going to go off in storage! After doing the maths, I can usually get everything for half price if bought in bulk.

An excellent place to buy in bulk is Amazon UK. Lots of people only think about Amazon when they want to buy single items, however, manufacturers have started selling a wide selection of bulk goods on the site that many people don’t realise are so much cheaper if bought in bulk. Good examples are coffee pods, dog food, nappies and bulk ingredients that don’t go off – for example, buying soy sauce or white wine vinegar in bulk.

Overall, if you’re canny and you know what you usually spend and use, you can probably make good savings by buying food in bulk online. If you apply the same principles to ‘normal’ supermarket shopping, you can also reduce the price of your weekly shop, too.

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