My first visit to a bulk wholefoods store could be best described as apprehensive. It was in Mullumbimby, so for starters I probably stood out like lavender in a dandelion patch. I had no idea what most of the products were, felt too nervous to ask and hurried out without so much as a scoop of chickpea flour.
A decade or so on, the bulk wholefoods experience is more accessible than ever and growing in popularity thanks to increased awareness of the health and social implications of our shopping choices.
This year’s War on Waste series on ABC TV shone a glaring light on the amount of avoidable waste produced by the average Aussie consumer, while initiatives such at Plastic Free July are equipping people with the resources to make more sustainable choices.
According to the co-founder and “magic maker” at Anglesea’s Great Ocean Road Wholefoods, Bree Melotte, shoppers are increasingly making more thoughtful decisions in sourcing their food.
“It’s really quite an incredible movement. It’s a concept we were looking at doing for quite a little while and then I feel like all of sudden they are popping up everywhere, which is great,” Bree says.
“I think the interest is an integration of cost savings and reduced packaging, as well as people better understanding the link between the food we eat and how it makes us feel.
“Living down here on the coast we are in such an incredible space on this beautiful planet and people are more conscious about being sustainable and looking after it.”
I asked Bree to run through some tips for newbies wanting to shift their shopping routine to incorporate the bulk wholefoods experience.
What can shoppers expect when they visit a store like yours?
Overall they can expect a more conscious shopping experience. It’s a real opportunity to explore a wide variety of staples. For example, we have 15 different types of flour, loads of different dried fruits and even bulk chocolate. So for anyone experimenting with different diets or for people with specific nutritional needs, they are very likely to find what they need.
There are also bulk liquid items such as honey, apple cider vinegar, body wash and household cleaning products.
Wholefood bulk stores are set up to minimise packaging, so we encourage people to bring their own containers if they can.
What if a customer doesn’t know what something is or how to use it?
Bulk wholefoods stores can be a sensory and a learning experience. There is expert staff ready to give information about products and how to use them in different ways. At our store there is always at least one naturopath on hand for advice, too. It’s about more than just ticking off a shopping list. It’s all about getting information on the why, the what and the how of food.
How do customers know how to store items and how long they’ll keep?
Most of the staples will store for a year, but the bulk bins have labels naming the item, their source and their best-before date. It’s a great idea to copy that information onto your labels to help you remember once you get home.
Do I need to bring my own containers?
People will usually come the first time to check the store out and see what’s on offer. We have brown paper bags they can use, or they can buy jars or use ones other customers have left behind. After that, people will usually bring their own containers, which we weigh before the customer fills them.
What are the most popular products?
Bulk chocolate and dried mangoes are probably the most popular. Also white baking flour thanks to the astounding amount of people who make their own sourdough. Other favourites are oats, legumes, our golden turmeric mix and paleo muesli.
Is it cheaper than shopping at the supermarket?
If you are shopping for quality organic products sourced ethically and as locally as possible, then yes, bulk wholefoods shopping can be comparative or cheaper than a supermarket.
What are your five tips for bulk wholefoods shopping?
- Visit the store first to check out what’s on offer.
- Plan your trip by drawing up a list of products you are likely to need.
- Phone ahead to see if a particular item you want is in stock.
- Collect your containers for dry and liquid items as required.
- Be ready to explore, learn and experiment.
Wholefood stores in the Geelong & Surf Coast region:
Great Ocean Road Wholefoods
3/11 Inverlochy St, Anglesea
Ph: 5263 3058
138 High St, Belmont
Ph: 5245 8656
70-72 Mercer St, Geelong
Ph: 5221 5421
41 Bristol Rd, Torquay
Ph: 5261 5555
What are your favourite bulk wholefood stores and why? Share your tips for shopping in bulk?