Where I Do My Bulk Food Buying

When we lived at 2000 feet above sea level and a good 6 miles of hilly isolated rural roads lay between us the nearest town my dear mate and neighbour Jen and I would always put together a bulk food order and halve it when it came.

We loved seeing our shonky wonky pantry shelves packed with dried foodstuffs, tins and jars knowing that if the car broke down, illness struck or snowed heavily we would have enough to see us through. When we were snowed in for six weeks it was no matter as we were fully stocked up and ready for it.

Jen put me on to the Approved Food online clearance discount food shop which I have used ever since every few months.

It is admittedly a similar shopping experience to buying mainly from charity shops and eBay as you never know what is going to be for sale and even if you see something you want to buy it may well be gone by the time you get to the online checkout. They are as far as I can make out a retailer who specialise in end of shelf life food and household products.

This week my quarterly bulk food shopping from them cost me £101 but the RRP of the entire order had I paid full price would have been well over £300. I use Approved Foods for discount chocolate, tins of fruit and vegetables, massive catering packs of spices, pasta, bread flour and occasionally recycled toilet paper. My kids LOVE it when I tell them an Approved Food order is on its way as it is usually full of a load of stuff I would not normally buy (this time we got 20 packs of mini cream eggs, tinned Heinz tomato soup and several breakfast cereals that were not porridge).

An added bonus of doing an a quarterly shop with Approved Foods is that the food comes packed into cardboard boxes which are ideal for using as a weed-killing mulch on the areas of lawned garden I am trying to create food growing areas.

I also use a couple of other suppliers for environmentally friendly cleaning products and organic toiletries and cosmetics namely Big Green Smile for natural ingredients based and environmentally friendly shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, washing up liquid and so on. Most can be bought in huge 2-25 litre bottles which last us a very long time.

Another tried and tested supplier is the wholefoods distributor Naturally Good Food. They stock a great range and I regularly put in an order for 25kg sacks of organic and fair trade sugar, bread flour, and cereals such as oats, barley flakes, seeds and dried fruit such as raisins, apricots and so on which offer a huge cost saving over the prices for smaller packets in the baking sections of large supermarkets. I buy a massive load of raisins and then use them in tiny lidded tubs for our kids packed lunches and for baking.

I set myself a budget of £500 per year for the things I buy from these suppliers but place orders from Approved Food once every three months. Many of the things I buy last a year so when the next quarter rolls round I simply stock up on other things from that supplier instead.

This year I aim to grow and preserve some of my own home grown fruit and vegetables which has not been possible in previous years due to our transient constantly moving house lifestyle. Now we have a place we plan to stay in we can let the plants we have gathered in pots and moved with us finally spread their roots and grow!

The bulk foods I buy are mainly kept in large jars, lidded storage crates or metal bins. I need to get better at keeping an inventory of what we have got and what we need to use up as is coming to the end of its shelf life.

What bulk food suppliers do you use? How often do you order from them and how do you organise your spending and storing of the bulk products?

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5 comments to Where I Do My Bulk Food Buying

  • Hi there,

    Really interesting summary of bulk food buying and where you get it from. We tend to get most of ours through Good Foods or Suma which are great all purpose mostly organic suppliers and I think they deliver to most places in England/Wales with a minimum orders.

    We’ve also taken to getting some really high quality meat from a couple of suppliers. Firstly Bryn Cochyn (http://www.bryncocynorganic.co.uk/) farm in North Wales who does amazing grass fed beef and lamb (We go for liver which Alice seems to love), Fordhall farm (fordhallfarm.com) near you for some other meat and also Peelham (www.peelham.co.uk) in Scotland which does incredible haggis and charchuterie. Hard to find in the UK from organic sources. We also get a bit of local rabbit and venision when it comes along!

    I’ve had a quick look at what is on offer from approved foods and I struggle a bit with them from both a financial and ecological point of view. The artificial low price of today’s food comes not from sound farming and ecological principles but from the use of fossil fuels, large factories, distribution networks, etc. etc. As a society we are spending the lowest percentage of our incomes on foods that we ever have.

    Approved Foods is arguably propping up this system by promoting all the foods that this system produces at an even cheaper price but probably still allows the producers to make a small profit. I suppose it is good from a waste point of a view but if we choose the companies we buy food from more ethically then I suppose ultimately the power shifts to a more sustainable production system.

    I personally find that doing a good suma/good foods bulk order every now and then, using wholefoods shop for butter/milk etc and growing (or buying vegetables from your local greengrocer) means that you don’t really have to buy into this system most of the time. I say most as I can’t resist the odd bar of Twix/packet of crisps myself ;-) )

    Anyway one to think about, I’ve really been enjoying the revitalised blog. We’ll have to pop in and see you (it’s been too long already!)

    Andy

  • Ackers

    Hi Andy

    Lovely to hear from you and many thanks for putting your thoughts about Approved Foods being part of the evil fossil-fuel burning foodopoly networks many of us are trying to leave behind. I have had the same thoughts as you and the wrestle between ethics and affordability is often an uneasy one. My decision to continue to use them occasionally them has been based on your point that I am at least supporting the cause of reducing food wastage in The System by buying products many would shun.

    I recently experimented by placing an order with Planet Organic for many of the things I would have bought from Approved Foods (organic pasta, organic tinned tomatoes, Nouvelle recycled toilet tissue, baked beans, toothpaste etc) and spent my £100 on such a really small quantity compared to the amounts received in an Approved Foods order.

    Like you we now buy our meat, fruit, veg and dairy products from organic suppliers – I’m a really big fan of Riverford Organic which has a fairly big distribution network but it is run like a family business and with Guy Watson’s weekly newsletter about growing conditions it allows us and our children to feel very connected with those in the fields actually producing the food we eat. It would be my preference to shop at the local greengrocer for organic produce until we get our new garden into production but sadly nothing he stocks is organic – the same with the local butcher.

    I think I’m going to set myself the challenge of not using Approved Foods again as you are so right about supporting that particular cog in the bigger machine and instead will continue to produce more and more food ourselves (so excited about getting our well traveled strawberries and blueberries into the ground soon) BUT please don’t tell our son as he will cry loudly about being the only kid in school who never has ‘normal food like everyone else’ and will grieve the loss of his only source of Twix and very occasional crisps.

  • I won’t tell your son ;-)

    I’d have a look getting direct from SUMA as things generally seem better value than other organic places + they are a workers co-op which ticks all the right boxes…

    We have that problem with fields of sheep/cows around but none organic and therefore we have to go elsewhere. I’d recommend fordhall though and it’s good to visit with the kids + the big muller factory is next door so you can imagine how those yoghurts are made.

    Also pimhill oats are probably near you too, one of the UKs oldest organic farms!

  • Ackers

    Ha! Just seen this and sadly Son-boy was sitting next to me saying ‘Why has Andy written ‘I won’t tell your son’? So that sparked a mini discussion with him about us not shopping at Approved Foods anymore and him realising that being an ethical shopper and thrifty one is sometimes a fine balance. He didn’t seem too shocked, surprised or upset = I guess he realised there are more important things than our being able to buy Creme Eggs for 10p each :-)

    We love Fordhall Farm – read Charlotte and Ben’s book and was blown away by their endeavours, learnt to make willow baskets over there with Jen, became a supporter and yes their farm shop is very good so I will try their meat using their online shop at http://shop.fordhallfarm.com/ I hadn’t appreciated that they had an online shop and just figured they were too far for us to drive to.

    I am still a v loyal Riverford customer and especially like being able to give their boxes back each week and being able to add to the comprehensive order until 10pm on a Tues using their online system. Viva organic growers.

    Thanks!

  • [...] hadn’t even realised it until I wrote the post about bulk shopping mentioning how I’d been delighted to get so many bargains from an online discount store when comments [...]

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