I went to the supermarket the other day and spent $70 on almost nothing. Foods prices are climbing with fuel prices. If we want good food, we are going to have to start getting creative. One easy way to start if you haven’t done so already, is to join or start a food co-op.
There are companies around the U.S. that are distributors of foods and they will sell them to you at wholesale prices if you make a minimum order. Minimums are typically in the range of $500.
What you need to do:
1) Find a company near you who will sell to you.
2) Acquire the catalogue.
3) Do a pantry analysis with their catalogue in hand.
3) Find enough friends to meet the minimum order
4) Place your order
5) Pick up your order, sort it, and distribute it among friends
Find a company
Here is a list of companies in various regions of the U.S. If you know of a similar company in or out of the U.S., leave a comment.
- United Buying Clubs, Eastern and Midwestern United States
- United Natural Foods, Incorporated, in certain parts of the United States
- Azure Standard, Northwest United States and Southern California
Call the company and ask about minimum orders and pick-up locations.
Acquire the catalogue
You will need the catalogue to place your order. In some cases you may need to purchase it, in others it will be available online. If the company is a good fit, buy a print version of the catalogue for your own convenience.
As you become familiar with what is in the catalogue, look at your own pantry to determine what will make a good order item.
When you can get foods in bulk, you will begin to think about your pantry and freezer a bit differently. Find the items you buy often and the specialty items that tend to be very expensive. Try to find similar items in the co-op catalogue. Our own orders tend to include the following food and consumables:
Bulk nuts and seeds
Cases of black tea
Cooking and salad oils
Bulk sugar (for the record, it’s for water kefir)
These food distributors also tend to carry a wide range of refrigerator and freezer items including milk, cheese, and meats. We have other sources for those items but tend to buy a few with each order for the fun of it.
Find Friends and Family
If you do not want to bite the bullet on the minimum order yourself, find a few families to join. And when I say “few” I should emphasize that I mean “few.” The trick is to find the smallest number of participants to meet the minimum order each time you place it. Three to five families might work well. The more people involved, the more complicated will be the ordering and sorting.
Place Your Order
This is where you will be glad that you do not have too many people involved. Someone will have to be in charge of consolidating and placing the order. Use a spreadsheet or other data management tool. Prices will change, some food items will be unavailable. You need to be organized enough to know who needs a refund or owes more money.
Your company can inform you of the process of ordering specifically.
Pick Up and Distribute
Your delivery options are going to vary, but someone needs to be in charge of meeting the driver and picking up the goods. That same person or others can then sort and arrange a pick-up or drop-off to other co-op members. Here again you will be glad you kept the participation to a minimum.
Discounts You Can Expect
As a general rule, you can probably expect your food to be discounted by about 40% using a food co-op. For bulk items you will save even more compared to a non-bulk item in a regular supermarket. A fifty pound bag of grain will be extraordinarily cheaper than ten five pound bags at the full retail price.
As we head into the long days of winter, finding a food co-op is a great activity to save money in the new year.