Buying Bulk Foods Costs More, But Saves On Packaging

NPR investigates whether buying in bulk is worth the extra dollars

To buy in bulk or not? Sure, stores like Costco and Sam's Club make buying multiple economy-sized bottles of hot sauce easy, but is it worth it? NPR examined research and found that in fact, bulk foods aren't as economical as you think.

One study from the group Bulk is Green said its independent research found that a shopper can save nearly 90 percent on its grocery bills by buying in bulk. Students from Portland State University did some comparison-shopping in area stores and found that buying in bulk — buying nuts from a canister rather than packaged nuts — was the better deal. Packaged containers were 89 percent more expensive than bulk, NPR reports. That totals up to about 56 percent of savings. NPR did the same comparison test and found that while the savings weren't as big in Washington D.C., savings were about 21 percent.

Sounds like a winning endorsement, right? One problem: the foods that people buy most in bulk — nuts and seeds — are actually more expensive in bulk. Coffee and spices in bulk can actually save you money, but NPR reports most stores don't sell those in large packages.

BIG, however, says it's not just price that should motivate to buy in bulk; buying bulk reduces waste in landfills. If, for example, "Americans purchased all their almonds in bulk for one year, 72 million pounds of waste would be saved from a landfill," BIG says. Same for coffee: "If coffee-drinking Americans purchased all of their coffee in bulk for one year, nearly 240 million pounds of foil packaging would be saved from entering a landfill." Can't argue with that.