Stock up: More and more supermarkets are now carrying bulk foods

The growing interest in natural products and home cooking have prompted big-name grocers to embrace bulk to stick out among the competition. Grocers such as Hy-Vee and H-E-B have begun offering a variety of food items in bins located in their stores’ organic aisles. “These stores are starting to embrace bulk,” Diane Sheehan, Director of Retail Insights at Kantar Retail, said to “And it’s less about a natural and organic offer and more about that premium, unique offer.”

According to Sheehan, the inclusion of bulk foods in groceries is largely beneficial to retailers. Bulk food departments produce high returns yet are easy to implement if properly managed. Long-time shoppers are more likely to frequent the bulk food aisles. In addition, the presence of bulk foods can serve as an indication of a store’s commitment to supplying shoppers with whole, unprocessed foods.

Russ Welker, Natural Foods Manager of Ward’s Supermarket in Gainsville, Fla., notes that bulk foods both helped increase the sales of Ward’s and “added an aura of health to its aisles”.

Consumers also have a lot to gain from buying in bulk. As stated by, buying in bulk helps shoppers save money, reduce food waste by buying only as much as needed, and help the environment by scaling down carbon footprints. Shoppers are also able to come across hard-to-find items easier when they shop in the bulk food aisle, as well as try new things without having to purchase a whole package, states mindbodygreen. (Related: Slash your organic food bill by almost 90 percent with this one simple method)

“Being able to experiment with variety, being able to purchase as much or as little as they need, and looking for price to value are all drivers of interest from consumers in the bulk section,” Todd Kluger, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Lundberg Family Farms, states in an email to

In spite of its benefits to stores, bulk foods face a number of challenges. The use of bulk bins can encourage some shoppers to pocket foods without paying, while refilling the bins can become a messy process. For shoppers, too many bulk foods can be overwhelming. When food items like raw wheat germ are being sold with no hint of what to do with them, shoppers will usually opt for packaged foods for convenience. This, Sheehan states, is why “in-store education” is crucial to the success of a grocery’s bulk food department. “Educating [consumers] about why it works and how to execute that department are going to be critical to the department evolving.” Recipes, product definitions, and how-to-bag guides are just some recommendations to making a shopper’s experience more enjoyable and less confusing.

On the future of bulk foods, Sheehan believes that bulk will continue to increase their presence in regional grocers as well as premium supermarkets.

Food that have gained a surge in popularity because of their availability in bulk vary from store. For Ward’s Supermarket, “Educating [consumers] about why it works and how to execute that department are going to be critical to the department evolving.” Traditional offerings such as raisins, oaks and grains are among their top sellers. Spices, trail mixes and cooking flours are also favored by shoppers.  At Frontier Co-op, shoppers have shown a great interest in cooking spices and herbal teas, claims Senior Brand Manager in the bulk division, Brett Karminski.