Founded in 1982, Bulk Barn now has 275 locations throughout Canada. If you’re looking for essential grocery items, Bulk Barn is one of the most inexpensive places to shop, thanks to its buy-in-bulk business model.
But is Bulk Barn cheaper than other grocery stores in Canada?
Bulk Barn is often significantly cheaper than other grocery stores in Canada. The only problem is that the store doesn’t offer your favourite name brands and doesn’t have a very wide product selection.
Below, I’ll explain a bit more about how Bulk Barn works, what type of products you can buy in bulk, and share some tips to help you save even more.
If you’re a frugal saver who enjoys cooking meals at home, then Bulk Barn is the place for you. Compared to purchasing the same items at traditional grocery stores, Bulk Barn allows you to save a lot of money by purchasing in bulk.
Because you’re purchasing items in bulk, you’ll forgo certain luxuries provided by most grocery store items:
- Your food won’t come in resealable boxes and bags
- You’ll have to take a picture of or individually research the nutritional values of the food you’re buying
- You’ll have to physically weigh products if you’re trying to stay within a set budget
When you buy from major brands, you’re not just purchasing the food product itself. You’re also paying for the multi-million-dollar advertising campaigns, the fancy packaging, and celebrity partnerships that the brand promotes.
When you buy a bag of rice from Bulk Barn, though, it’s just that – a plain old-fashioned bag of rice.
Bulk Barn is nothing like going to Walmart or Superstore.
You won’t find big-name brands and trendy snacks. Instead, the experience is a lot closer to going into an old-school general store and buying what you need to touch out the winter in your Yukon cabin.
Instead of shelves lined with pre-packed boxes and aisle end caps, you’ll find large bulk bins filled with essential dry food ingredients, snacks, and grains.
Although Bulk Barn sells a few pre-packaged bottles and jars, the majority of the store’s selection is all stored in large bins. Customers simply use the provided scoops and tongs to pack their bags full of whatever items they need.
When it’s time to check out, the cashier will mark down the item codes, weigh the products, and charge you according to the weight.
The only drawback of Bulk Barn is that you likely won’t be able to buy all of your groceries there. Sure, it’s a great place to buy essential items. However, you’re not going to be able to find some of the more particular items you might want.
For example, you can buy white rice by the kilo, but you won’t find small bags of microwaveable, ready-to-eat rice that can be used for a quick snack. The same goes for beans, lentils, pasta, and other food items sold by the store.
Most of the products sold at Bulk Barn are dry goods. This helps the grocer further cut down on costs, as managers don’t have to worry about money lost from expired goods like dairy or meat.
That being said, Bulk Barn does sell some liquified goods, such as bulk syrups, nut butters, and honey.
Personally, I shop at Bulk Barn for a few key things:
- Essential baking ingredients like flour, sugar, and starch
- Dry food items like nuts, rice, pasta, oats, and grains
- Bulk coffee beans (they actually have a pretty great selection)
- Snacks like popcorn, dried fruit, chocolates, cookies, and cereal
Bulk Barn also sells soap by the bar for those looking for a more natural alternative to the chemical-laden soups found in most discount stores.
By most shoppers’ standards, most of the items sold at Bulk Barn are “on sale.” Despite their already low prices, though, Bulk Barn also offers a number of other sales throughout the week. If you’re a couponer, I recommend looking through Bulk Barn’s weekly flyer to check out the latest deals.
Every week, you’ll find new deals, such as:
- 15% off snack items
- $5 off purchases of $20 or more
- 25% off nuts and snack items
These sales can be very beneficial if you’re shopping for a family and need to stock up on grocery items that you use already.
Given that it’s a fill-your-own-container type of store, you wouldn’t expect Bulk Barn to offer expedited services. However, after the pandemic, Bulk Barn started offering free curbside pickup at many locations.
Curbside pickup isn’t available at all locations (especially the smaller stores), but most of the large stores I’ve visited in the Vancouver and Toronto area allow customers to place pick-up orders.
You can view the store’s entire catalogue of items and sales online, which makes the process fairly easy, even for those who aren’t the most tech-savvy.
Packaging and Weight Considerations
Packaging has become a growing concern for many consumers, primarily due to environmental concerns and the shift towards sustainable living. Bulk Barn provides an eco-friendly approach, eliminating the excess waste that comes with single-use packaging often found in traditional grocery stores.
- Bring Your Own Container (BYOC) Initiative: One of Bulk Barn’s unique selling points is its BYOC initiative. Shoppers are encouraged to bring their containers from home, thereby reducing the use of plastic bags. This initiative not only reduces waste but also ensures that consumers can tailor their purchases to their needs.
- Tare Weight: When shoppers bring their containers, Bulk Barn stores have a tare weight system. Before filling up, shoppers weigh their containers to determine their empty weight. This ensures they’re charged solely for the product they’re purchasing.
- Pre-packed Options: For those unprepared for the BYOC initiative, Bulk Barn does offer some pre-packed options. However, these typically come in simple plastic bags, avoiding the hard plastics and excessive branding found in other grocery stores.
Health and Ingredients Quality
In an era where consumers are increasingly conscious of what they’re eating, ingredient quality becomes paramount.
- Transparency in Ingredients: At Bulk Barn, the lack of fancy packaging and branding ensures that customers get a transparent view of what they’re buying. The bulk bins clearly display their contents, and detailed labels provide insights into the product’s origins and any potential allergens.
- Natural and Unprocessed: Without the need to extend shelf life through preservatives found in many packaged brands, Bulk Barn’s products lean more towards the natural and unprocessed side. This often means fresher ingredients with fewer artificial additives.
- Bins’ Turnover Rates: Shoppers should be observant of the store’s product turnover. While many popular products have high turnover rates and are frequently replenished, less popular ones might sit for longer. This could affect freshness, so it’s always a good idea to ask store associates if in doubt.
Bulk Barn Vs. Other Stores
|Features/Considerations||Bulk Barn||Other Stores (Typical Grocery Chains)|
|Product Packaging||Minimalistic, eco-friendly. BYOC initiative.||Predominantly single-use, branded packaging.|
|Price Point||Often lower due to bulk buying and no brand premium.||Can be higher due to brand premiums.|
|Product Variety||Specializes in bulk dry goods. Limited product range.||Wide variety, including fresh produce, meats, dairy, etc.|
|Ingredient Transparency||High. Clear bins, detailed labels.||Varies. Some products have clear ingredient lists.|
|Sales & Discounts||Regular sales, plus unique discounts like Sustainable Sundays.||Regular sales, loyalty programs.|
|Convenience||Requires more prep and planning for shopping.||Ready-made, pre-packaged options for convenience.|
|Environmental Consideration||Reduced waste through limited packaging.||Higher waste potential due to packaged products.|
For the most part, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences shopping at Bulk Barn. However, there are a few drawbacks that are worth noting as well. Here’s a quick list of the pros and cons of shopping at the bulk grocery store.
- You can save big by purchasing items in bulk
- Bulk Barn offers good-quality food products
- Bulk Barn is perfect if you’re shopping for a family, sharing with roommates, or if you’re stocking up for the winter
- Bulk Barn offers free curbside pickup
- Bulk Barn offers weekly sales, discounts, and coupons on top of their already low prices
- Bulk Barn doesn’t offer name-brand items
- Most products at Bulk Barn don’t come in resealable containers
- Bulk Barn doesn’t have a wide product selection
- Bulk Barn doesn’t sell refrigerated or frozen goods
Want to save even more money? Here are a few simple tips to help you save the most and take full advantage of what the store has to offer.
The one problem with buying groceries in bulk is that it’s all too easy to buy too much. While bulk dried goods can stay fresh in the pantry for a few months, they’ll lose some of their flavour after a month.
One of the best ways to store bulk dried foods is to put them in freezer-safe bags and then place them in a freezer. Dried goods may need to thaw for an hour or two after you take them out of the freezer, but they’ll be as fresh as when you put them in.
For your non-freezer storage, I recommend investing in some air-tight dry food storage containers. These will prevent the air from getting into the food, spoiling the flavour, and causing it to go stale.
Bulk Barn offers a special 15% discount every Sunday to shoppers who bring their own reusable bags and containers. This is a great deal, and also offers a good incentive to hold onto your old bags.
The 15% off deals don’t end on Sundays. Every Wednesday, Bulk Barn offers a 15% off discount to all students (with a student ID) and seniors with an ID proving that they’re at least 65.
Periodically, Bulk Barn will run a flash sale on a certain item that they’re trying to sell out of. I’ve seen deals offering as much as 30-40% off of select dry food items. This is a great time to stock up at a huge discount.
Just because you’re getting a discount doesn’t mean that you need to spend more than you should. While you can preserve some items in the freezer, you should still make a point to stay within your budget and only get the food that you planned for.
Bulk Barn has a strict hygiene policy. Once you place items in your bag, you cannot take them out and put them back into the bin. So, make sure that you’re careful as you’re scooping the goods.
Is Bulk Barn known for offering good quality products?
Yes, Bulk Barn is known for offering good-quality products. While they focus primarily on dry goods and non-perishable items, they maintain a standard of quality that appeals to many of their customers. Their approach of allowing customers to see products in bulk bins also offers a level of transparency, allowing shoppers to visually inspect items before purchase.
Does Bulk Barn source its products from reputable suppliers?
Bulk Barn aims to maintain its reputation as a trusted retailer, and as such, they typically source their products from reputable suppliers. They have a vetting process to ensure that the products they stock meet their quality standards.
Is Bulk Barn a sanitary place to shop?
Bulk Barn emphasizes cleanliness and sanitation, especially given the bulk nature of their sales. They have policies in place to ensure that their bulk bins are kept clean and that products remain uncontaminated. For instance, customers are provided with scoops or tongs to handle products, and there’s a strict policy against returning items to the bins once they’ve been placed in a bag.
I can’t buy all of my groceries at Bulk Barn, as they don’t sell any meat, dairy, or refrigerated goods. However, I do like to stock up on healthy snacks, rice, and a few other dried items from Bulk Barn.
If you combine the deals you get at Bulk Barn with deals found at a local produce farmers market, you’ll be able to stock your kitchen up with healthy, inexpensive food.
Looking for even more ways to save? Check out my guide to how to save money on groceries next!