By Ted Burnham / NPR’s The Salt
Photo: John Rose/NPR
We’ve all been trained to think that when you buy big, you save money. That’s why many people join warehouse clubs like Costco, or scoop their own nuts and grains in the bulk section of the local supermarket.
But shoppers who care to compare know the bulk bins don’t always seem cheaper than their packaged counterparts. And when the Bulk Is Green Council, a bulk industry trade group, claimed they had independent research showing that customers can save an average of 89 percent by shopping in the bulk aisle, we here at The Salt were skeptical.
We examined the original study, then crunched some numbers at a couple of Washington, D.C., grocery stores to see whether our figures agreed. Turns out that the 89 percent figure, while not exactly wrong, isn’t the full picture.
The research was conducted by a team of MBA candidates at Portland State University’s Food Industry Leadership Center. Bulk Is Green made a donation to the school in exchange for the results of the research, but did not have control over the design and execution of the study.
The students compared bulk and packaged prices for organic products at half a dozen stores in the Portland, Ore., area, from co-ops to national supermarket chains. They found that packaged versions were, on average, 89 percent more expensive than bulk counterparts. But that translates to a savings of just 56 percent when you switch from packaged products to the bulk bins.