Want in on the latest food trend? When it comes to grocery purchases, go big, or go home.
Loading the larder was once reserved for “Kate Plus 8”-size families. Now boomers, seniors, empty-nesters, serious foodies and even singles are supersizing their shopping at warehouse clubs, farmers markets, co-ops and natural food stores.
According to the Bulk Is Green Council (BIG, for short), the bulk food industry is growing at a rate of 15 percent a year, making it a hefty player in the retail food business.
(The term “bulk foods” can refer to mega-size products sold at Costco and other membership warehouse clubs – think giant boxes of cereal or quart bottles of barbeque sauce.
It also refers to bushels and pecks of produce from farmers markets and bins of nonprepackaged grains, nuts, dried fruits and other staples found at natural food stores, co-ops and even local supermarkets.)
Shoppers cite multiple reasons for the appeal of buying in bulk. Some like the savings.
Estimates are that warehouse club members average 25 percent to 35 percent savings on their food bills, while consumers who purchase loose foods from bins or dispensers can save 30 percent to 90 percent over prepackaged items.
Others appreciate the “green” aspect. Still others prefer the freedom to purchase what they want when they want it.
Like Cipah Shapiro. The Burlington, Conn., resident peruses the bulk food aisles at organic markets for raisins, nuts, organic flour and other baking ingredients sold by weight from dispensers.
“I don’t trust the stuff in packages,” she says. “You just don’t know how long it’s been around. Plus, I control the amount I buy rather than having to take the pre-set amounts in boxed items, and I save money as well.”
And if your vision of bulk food shopping is dusty old wooden bins and rusting tin scoops, you might want to check again.
“That bulk foods model is a thing of the past,” says Todd Kluger, acting director of the BIG Council. “Consumers want to stretch their food dollars, and they want quality as well. And retailers are responding. Stores have expanded selections and added modern dispensers.”
The most common foods sold by weight are beans, grains, candy, coffee, cereals, pastas, spices and other dry foods.
Recently, some liquids such as honey and olive oil have entered the bulk food segment of the industry. At the Meat House in Avon, Conn., for example, shoppers fill containers of imported Greek olive oil from a large tank rather than selecting bottles off a shelf.
Doug Pyne, bulk foods grocery team leader at Whole Foods in West Hartford, says bulk food purchases at Whole Foods have grown 25 percent to 30 percent each year.
In response, the store has added a bulk purchase trail-mix bar, where shoppers can customize their selections; bulk soup mixes; and an expanded selection of bulk grains.
Rita Decker-Parry, market master at Billings-Forge Community Works in Hartford, says farmers markets are great sources for bulk food purchases.
Split Pea and Sweet Potato Soup
8-1/2 cups water
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 cups dried yellow split peas
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
Bring 1/2 cup water to simmer in a large saucepot over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook about 5 minutes, until translucent. Stir in ginger, and cook 1 minute, stirring.
Add remaining 8 cups water, peas and sweet potato cubes, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and simmer for 1 hour.
Uncover, and continue to simmer 15 minutes. Carefully puree soup with a hand-held immersion blender or in batches in a food processor until smooth and creamy. Garnish with pumpkin seeds.
Source: Whole Foods Market
1 tray (about 7 pounds or 16 pieces) of chicken thighs on the bone, skin removed
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 teaspoons minced garlic (about 9 cloves)
3 teaspoons minced ginger
3 1-gallon freezer bags, dated and labeled
Rinse and divide chicken evenly among freezer bags.
Combine, stirring until sugar is dissolved, soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar and oil in a small bowl. Divide marinade evenly over the chicken.
Into each bag, measure 1 teaspoon garlic and 1 teaspoon ginger.
To cook 1 entree: Completely thaw entree in refrigerator. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken and marinade in ungreased baking dish. Bake uncovered for 1 hour, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chicken reads 180 degrees.
Turn pieces twice during baking. The longer the cooking time, the thicker and stickier the sauce will be.
Source: “Fix, Freeze, Feast.”