Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bulk Food Buying & Co-ops

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Buying food in bulk saves me a lot of money!
 
Buying basic ingredients in bulk, and using the Thermomix to cook from these basic ingredients instead of from packets and jars and tins, saves me so much money that we can afford to eat mostly organic. If you're thinking, "Well, I can't afford to buy organic," you might be surprised - I usually find I pay less for my bulk organic produce than I would if I bought non-organic from the grocery store! (Note: I don't always buy everything organic - if I can't get organic, I at least try to buy local, preferably insecticide free. If I can’t afford the organic produce, I focus on avoiding the ones that are worst affected by pesticides – see this list.
 
I first became a part of a bulk food co-op about twelve years ago, when I became interested in using alternate grains and reducing wheat in my diet. I had bought a second hand stone grinder, and a kind lady gave me her own bread recipe using a mixture of stoneground flours. Back then I had no Thermomix to make bread making easier - I'd grind up the grains in my very noisy, messy grinder, then mix and knead the dough by hand - a big, messy job, and looking back I don't know how I did it all with three small children and a baby wanting my attention! I started to learn about spelt and kamut and buckwheat and many more grains, and the same lady introduced me to a co-op she was a part of so I could buy them cheaply. I was so excited when I made my first bulk order - I think I must have ordered nearly everything there was to order, and ended up with way too much! I didn't have a freezer big enough to store it all, so I stored most of it in airtight plastic containers... but a lot of it ended up all 'weevily', so maybe the containers weren't too airtight! So now it's twelve years down the track and I still get excited when I get my bulk order - it's like Christmas has come, with lots of packages and boxes full of lovely things.
 
If you're new to the concept of a bulk food co-op, here's a definition in a nutshell:
 
A co-op is a group of people who voluntarily work together to provide quality goods and services at the lowest possible cost to the group, rather than buying goods and services from businesses whose aim is to sell at the highest possible price that the consumer is willing to pay!
 
I've got nothing against businesses making a profit - they wouldn't have a business if they didn't - but if I can get it cheaper somewhere else, I will! That's the beauty of free enterprise :) 
 
I’m a firm believer that you can eat healthy on a budget. If you don’t have access to a co-op, you could either start one, or you could buy bulk online or from your local health food shop. It always helps to get a few friends to do an order with you – ask businesses for a bulk price even if it’s not advertised, and see what they can do for you.
 
Here are a list of online suppliers that will mail Australia wide, so just compare prices of what you’re looking for and see who suits you best.
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
Green Caravan (a co-op and online store)
 
 
Bulk Food Co-ops
 
I buy through three different local co-ops – one co-op buys direct from Demeter Farm Mill (Honest to Goodness is their online store) and Fitness Products - organic grains, seeds, flours, oils, pasta, dried fruits, and all the other basics. One buys from Trumps - nuts, dried fruit, seeds and some flours. And one is a local CSA, The Realfood Network, for fresh, local, mostly organic fruit and vegetables. I also buy some fruit and veges from the local shops or markets.
 
I also buy meat in bulk whenever I can. We have a wonderful local butcher shop where the meat is grass fed and practically organic (not certified), and they also sell organic chickens. Sometimes I get meat in bulk from friends who’ve had a beast butchered. I also buy fish in bulk for about $10/kg (eg. Barramundi & King Salmon) from local fishermen. (For some great ideas on saving money by buying your meat in bulk, see this article by Rhonda at Down to Earth: Saving Money on Meat - Buying in Bulk.)

For a list of bulk food co-ops, community food co-op shops, and places to buy bulk, see my Quirky Cooking Facebook Page - and feel free to add more links in the comments, which I will add to the list.


Pantry Staples
 
Two of the questions I've been asked a lot are 'what do you order', and 'what do you like to always have on hand in your pantry or freezer?' So here's a list of the kinds of things I order, and always try to keep stocked up on. (I’m not coeliac, but I do find my body prefers a very low gluten, low grain diet, so I use some grains, but mostly seeds, nuts and non-grain flours.)
 
Grains & Flours:
 
- Spelt grain, unbleached plain spelt flour, buckwheat grain, millet, quinoa, oats, quinoa flakes, brown rice, basmati rice, arrowroot flour, potato starch, tapioca starch/tapioca, chickpeas (for making flour), sorghum flour, cornstarch (now & then), coconut flour (or I make my own)
 
Sweeteners:
 
- Rapadura, coconut sugar, coconut nectar, raw honey, pure maple syrup, green stevia powder, rice malt syrup, xylitol & yacon syrup (now & then)
 
Dried Fruit:
 
- Dates (dried & raw), sultanas, apricots (now & then), shredded coconut  
(I have a dehydrator and can dry my own in-season fruits, especially bananas & mangoes, but I do buy some)
 
Nuts & Seeds:
 
- Almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pepitas, linseeds, chia seeds, pine nuts & pistachios (now & then) - (I buy all my nuts and seeds raw, although I often buy blanched almonds as well for dairy free sour cream or milks)
 
Legumes:
 
- Chickpeas, lentils (red & green), lima beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, turtle beans - (I also buy other beans in small amounts from the grocery store as I need them, sometimes tinned, sometimes dry)
 
Oils:
 
- Extra virgin olive oil, macadamia oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil, sesame oil (all organic cold pressed if possible), and ghee (sometimes make my own)
 
Other:
 
- Raw cacao powder, raw cacao nibs, additive free baking powder, shoyu or tamari sauce, coarse celtic sea salt, himalayan salt, coconut cream, raw cacao butter (for making chocolate)
 
I only have a very small kitchen, and a small pantry cupboard. I store my grains, flours, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit in my large chest freezer. This keeps them fresh and stops them getting mouldy or weevily... We live in the wet tropics, so you really can't leave grains and flours just sitting in the cupboard for long periods of time - they'll turn green and cobwebby!

If you don't have a large freezer and can't store your bulk foods this way, check out some other storage ideas that my friend Bel explains here: Storage Tips for Bulk Buying - Guest Post.



 
 
Starting a Co-op in your area:
 
 A lot of people would love to order through a local co-op, but can't find one in their area. Well, I always say, if you can't find one, start one!

 - Get the word out to friends, family, co-workers, and fellow 'Thermomixers' that you're interested in starting a co-op. Try and get a good sized group together, but even five or ten people are enough to start with - our co-op started off small and now has about 100 people in it.

- Contact the large suppliers (see list above) and ask how you would go about ordering through them, what the freight charges are, etc. The bigger the order, the less freight you'll have to pay - which is why we only order 3 or 4 times a year.

- You will need someone who's willing to be in charge of the co-op, collate the orders, get the order to the suppliers, send out emails, get payments in, organize dividing up the order, etc. You'll also need a large covered garage or verandah or room where you can divide the shipment into each person's orders. The person doing the organizing should charge a small fee for his/her time - for example, a 3% surcharge on each order as a 'membership fee'. This covers stationery and materials, computer maintenance, small discrepancies in orders that aren't worth chasing up, and the time spent handling finances. A small discount can be given to those who help divide up the order, such as $10 off their bill.

- It's easiest if everyone orders in 1kg, 5kg or 12.5kg lots (or whatever size bags the produce comes in) - it makes dividing up the shipment a lot quicker! We used to order big 25kg bags of everything, then spend most of a day weighing out everyone's orders into bags, and trying to work out costs, and it was a real headache. Now we sort the bags/boxes into piles of what it is (spelt grain, Rapadura, etc) and those helping go through each persons' list and puts their bags/boxes into a pile, someone else checks it, and it's done! Much easier. No weighing and dividing and bagging things up. But if people want to divide a bag with friends, they can always get one person to order the whole bag, then take it home and weigh it out there, and sort out payment amongst themselves.

- We have sub-groups in our co-op, divided by suburbs/towns, with up to 10 people in each group. The person in charge of each group collates the groups' orders and sends them in to the organizer of the co-op. The organizer collates all the orders into one big order and sends it off. Once the shipment arrives, everyone's invoices are emailed to them and they pay the organizer by direct deposit. Payments must be made within a couple of days. Once all payments are received, the organizer pays the supplier. (We have a computer program that was made specifically for our co-op, and that's been a big help in organizing things.)

- We divide up the shipment as soon as possible after it arrives. Everyone who can comes to help with dividing up and delivering the orders - it's quite a social activity! Then we all go home loaded up with goodies :) So much fun!

 
This might sound like a lot of work, but if it's well organized it will run smoothly, and it's really worth the trouble. If you have any questions that I haven't covered, let me know and I'll try and help. I think food co-ops are a great way to go for those of us who want to go back to basic ingredients, buy organic foods, and save money!

71 comments:

Kelly West said...

Fantastic Jo!!! Thank you for taking the time and educating us!!! That is how we eat as well!!!
love it love it love it!!!!!!
take care, kelly!!!

julie said...

I'm keen to join a co-op, or start one if necessary. I'm in Cashmare, northside of Brisbane.

Thanks for the idea!

cheers,
Julie

Iwa Brown said...

I'd love to join one if there is one in the Hunter Valley, NSW...

Cheers,
Iwa Brown

Green Caravan said...

Wonderful that you share your knowledge Jo! We are a newer co-op. We first started with eco products which our members buy online at a cheaper price. Our foods list will be finished this week so if anyone would like to join our members, head to www.greencaravan.com.au and select the tab 'CONTACT US'. Our orders are placed every one-two months at this stage.

Received my new tmx last week - Loving your recipes!

Olivia x

Jo Whitton said...

Thank you Olivia!! That's great to hear of another co-op - where are you based? It will be great to get a list together of co-ops so we can all help each other out. :)

Green Caravan said...

I agree! We are in Manly Brisbane, but do ship nationally on most items ($5 up to 15kg). Our fortnightly e-zine shares alot of direct supply contacts like organic meats, sewing fabrics etc and any online stores having clearance sales - that may be helpful? Its great to be able to help each other out, stay eco and save money!

p.s just made your flour free brownies - glorious!

Regina said...

Thank you for all the information, Jo. I would be very interested in either joining or starting a co-op in Perth, WA.
Greetings,
Regina

Cat J B said...

Oooh, love to know if there's one down my way....Melbourne anyone? Or if anyone down here is wanting to get together and start one up, I'd definitely be interested!

Ryan said...

I am wondering if there are any in Tassie - particularly Devonport area (or even Launceston)??

Jo Whitton said...

Thanks to all who have left comments here about co-ops - I know of one going that's going in Geraldton WA, and one that's being started in Perth; so Regina you may want to contact me so I can get you connected to one of those?

Jo Whitton said...

Ryan, I haven't heard of one in Tassie yet, but I know people who buy through Biodistributors down there, and are really happy with their prices and service. (They are in Tassie.) You might want to check out their prices?

KylieB said...

Hi

Do you know if there is Co-op in the Toowoomba area or where I would go to look. Thankyou for your help. Just new to the thermomix but loving your receipes. Cheers.

Jo Whitton said...

Hi Kylie, great to hear you're enjoying my recipes with your new Thermomix!! :D I'm going to post a list of co-ops and requests for co-ops on my Facebook page, hopefully tonight - haven't seen one for Toowoomba yet, but the Green Caravan may be good - that or the Good Food Warehouse. Have a look at their sites for prices. Jo :)

Jo said...

I have just found this blog and think it's fantastic! I am in Perth and am interested in finding a co-op, would love any details if you have them. Would also love a Thermomix and am still working on that one!

Jo Whitton said...

Hi Jo! Thank you, glad you're enjoying my blog :) Have you had a look on my Facebook page at all? We've talked a lot over there about what co-ops are available where. There are a couple around Perth. One is supposed to have started at Murdoch Uni, one at Lockridge, and one at Geraldton. I think there was another, must check my info. I'll work on a list today to post to my facebook page. :)

Jenny said...

ON the Central Coast of NSW (Wyong and Ourimbah) I use FIG (Food Integrity Group) if anyone is interested.....organic fruit and vegie co-op once a week. Monday at Ourimbah and Tuesday at Wyong.

high risk merchant accounts said...

You are so smart having reserves. A good idea.

Lizzy (Good Things) said...

Excellent information! Thanks so much Jo.

Jo Whitton said...

Thanks for the info on your co-op Jenny!! I'll add it to my list on my Facebook page.
And you're welcome Lizzy! :)

Anonymous said...

hi regina, im in kwinana and my self and 4 others would love to start a co op. cheers kate :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi is there a co op in Adelaide?

Jo Whitton said...

You could try these places in South Australia:
* Flinders Uni Organic Food Co-op – happens just outside the front of Wholefoods store
* Adelaide Uni Magill Campus Food Co-op
* Goodwood Waste Not Want Not Co-op in Clarence Park, 107 Goodwood Road, http://www.thegreendirectory.com.au/eco-friendly-clients/WasteNot-WantNot/The-Waste-Not-Want-Not-Shop.html
* Clarence Park Food Co-op, corner East Ave and Canterbury Tce, Blackforest, phone 05 8292 8166 or 05 8297 6240
* Inner Southern Food Co-op

Anonymous said...

Hi Jo
Great information. My daughter directed me to your website. She has just started her own co-op in East Cranbourne in Victoria.
Very excited receiving her first bulk order.
Are there any co-ops on the Gold Coast? Would love to start one myself if not.
Don't have a Thermomix, but is at the top of my 'wish list' when I can afford it. My daughter swears by hers and I used it when we visted over Christmas and I am totally hooked!
Cheers
Barbara

Jo Whitton said...

Hi Barbara, that's great your daughter has started a co-op! I'm not sure about the Gold Coast... But there is the Green Caravan in Brisbane area - have you heard of that? http://www.greencaravan.com.au/
Hope you can get a Thermomix - you'd love it!!
Jo :)

Marken said...

Very nice post that useful for health...
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celine said...

Hi Jo, We have a great co-op running in Hervey Bay, Qld. We order fruit and veges weekly and grains/nuts etc monthly. Anyone interested in joining please email frogcooperative@gmail.com

Love your blog btw...... !

thanks
Celine

Jo Whitton said...

Thanks so much, Celine! I've shared it on my FB page :) xx

lisa said...

Hi,Im very interested in joining a group.Do you know if there is one in Perth Western Australia ? Im in the northern suburbs.

Anonymous said...

Hi. Just wondering who you buy your sorghum flour from. Can't seem to find a supplier. Cheers.

Jo Whitton said...

Hi Lisa, here's the link to the facebook group for the food co-op for the Perth northern suburbs: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Quirky-Cooking/124673354253243#!/groups/186963714749328/

Anon, here's the link to buying sorghum flour online: http://www.wheatfreeworld.com.au/New%20Layout%20Pgs/Ingredients.html

Kim C said...

Hi there,

I am desperately looking for a co-op to join here in the north eastern suburbs of Melbourne (Doreen)...could someone please help me out and point me in the right direction. I have been on the hunt for one for the past year & have toyed with the idea of starting one, but time is an issue for me at the moment. Would be grateful for any feedback.

Cheers,

Kim

Sally Smith said...

Hey there,

I just started up a co-op in IPSWICH and I have a delivery point in BRISBANE as well. If anyone is interested please email co.opstopbrisbane@gmail.com

We just did our first order and it was great!

Anyone is welcome as long as you are willing to travel to pick up your goodies from either locations!

Love your blog!!!

Sally

Jo Whitton said...

Thank you Sally, I'll add it to my list on my FB page! :D

riki jorden said...

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aussiebeachgirl said...

To Julie from Cashmere - Samford Village has an online organic shop called Fresh Local which is situated near the Post office. They cover the whole Samford Valley right through to Dayboro, and also includes Cashmere - so it could be tricky trying to break into the 'market' from your location. Just a thought. H :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jo, love your blog but have a few silly questions. You store your foods in chest freezer, is this operational or just a storage container? Do the flours / nuts freeze? Do you keep items in their original packaging or put into other bags/containers? Thanks, Ellie

riki jorden said...

Thanks for sharing information on Quirky Cooking, i have visited your blog great post...........

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Helen said...

Can I just say, INDIAN SHOPS are awesome for this kind of thing! Really cheap and really good stuff. Your local Indian grocery store won't stock organic, I'll admit, but it will stock reasonably priced nuts, seeds, lentils, pulses, legumes, spices, dried fruits, flour, millet flour, chickpea flour, and oils, as well as unusual but healthy ingredients like coconuts and palm sugar. Usually Indian shops buy these things in huge quantities and then bag them up themselves, so they can sell to the Indian community (and me) at really cheap prices, which is kind of like a co-op anyway. For example, half a kilo of cashews costs me $7, and a kilo of beans or lentils around $2-3. My local Indian grocery is All India Foods in Balaclava St, Woolloongabba (Brisbane). Highly recommended. Hope this helps somebody out!

riki jorden said...

Thanks for sharing information on Bulk Food Buying & Co-ops , i have visited your blog great post.....!!!!!

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Sonia van Huisstede said...

For anyone looking for an organic food co-op buying group in Newcastle/Hunter Valley consider The Healthful Pantry - find us on facebook. We stared as a small group of health minded people and now are a large group working together to supply organic and and natural products.

Anonymous said...

Is there an option for Belgium too? Europe? Anyone has experience with that?

riki jorden said...

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Anonymous said...

Have you tried www.breezeorganics.com.au?

LadyLeaves said...

Hi there :) I am liking your blog a lot. I haven't got a theromix...yet...*sigh* You are in the tropics... Are you higher than Mackay?? I would love to find a co op up this way. Have you any tips for this end of town?? Ta

Dani and Sam said...

ADELAIDE BULK FOOD CO-OP STARTED

We were disappointed to see that Adelaide did not have a bulk food co-op so we have started one.

Like our facebook page to join

www.facebook.com/AdelaideBulkFoodCoop

Songria said...

You've inspired me, Jo (yet again)!

I've started a co-op in Bayside/SE Melbourne.

Link to the group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/524550417603962/

Wendy and Marcus said...

Such great information Jo. You inspired me last year to set up a Co-Op, as I couldn't find one! Sharing Organics Co-Operative Melbourne Eastern Suburbs ! We are on Facebook, look us up!

Mama Going Natural said...

Thank you so much for the information on co-ops.
You have inspired me, its exactly what we need on the Fraser Coast, so we can eat well with out breaking the bank.
I need to stop reading your blog! & get to work on setting up a co-op :)

Beck Andrew said...

Hi Jo, I just saw your miessence affiliate on your blog ! I love Miessence ! I have been with them for 4years.... and like you I just love love foodies ! My husband & bought into a farm share & invested in the security of the future of our food... and we love it, but before the farm starts producing a lot, we were in a coop. So that coop closed. So like a reflex I started one, last sept / oct. Boy o Boy its long hours, but I do enjoy it....
Thanks for your inspiring creations... one day I will have a thermie - how cool if it were to be solar !
*raising eyebrows* Anyways, since you're encouraging coops, I thought I would let you & your readers know about our buyers group on the Gold Coast of Qld. We have branched out from Robina to Ormeau & Tweed Heads now ! Which is so exciting !
http://beanvision.com/robinabuyersgroup/

Jo Whitton said...

Thanks Beck! Must add yours to my list :)

Anonymous said...

I would like to know of any Gold COast co-ops or of any that deliver to the Gold Coast :) Thank you

Anonymous said...

I am keen on starting one! Where in melb are u located? Im in south eastern suburbs. Feel free to email me kbjmiller@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

I am not too far from your daughter! Would love to join a co-op. are you able to either give me her details or something so I could join with them? Providing there is availability of course!! Thank you :)

Anonymous said...

Im starting a co-op in Melbourne but my Dad is concerned about liability and other issues!! I didnt even think about all those things. Can you tell me what issues may arise that I mightnt have thought about? The biggest one I can see is following up payment? Is it better to get everyone to pay before receiving their order?
Thank you!!!

gexhouse2 said...

This is very informative, keep shearing this blog.

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www.agutinstinct.com said...

I have just started an organic coop in North Brisbane I am based in Keperra 4054. It is for dried produce, cleaning products, personal hygiene and eggs.

Anyone interested for more information please email Jo admin@agutinstinct.com

Drag2Kart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

HI jo I have just come across this site an was very impressed with the info on Co ops. The only problem with this is I live in the country in NSW and so far I can't find any in this area. I live in a little town called Adelong which is about an hour from the main city Wagga Wagga. So if you know of any out this area please let me know. I'm am 2 hours from Canberra and 2 hours from Albury.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jo, Im catherine and live in your area - kinda. Can I join your co-op!?
catsonline14 at gmail dot com

Big Name Brand said...

I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

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Drag2Kart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gexhouse2 said...

Buying basic ingredients in bulk, and using the Thermomix to cook from these basic ingredients instead of from packets and jars and tins, saves me so much money that we can afford to eat mostly organic.

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Amber said...

2brothersfood is an online bulk buying business located in Perth.

Also Kakulas Brothers in the city and fremantle as well as Kakulas Sisters in Nollamara (WA)

Anonymous said...

Hi there. I live in the wagga area. I am aware of a bulk store/coop in Albury but would love to know if anyone is aware of one closer to wagga? Thanks

Melody said...

Hi Jo (and others looking for cheap whole bulk foods),

My husband and I have just started a food ordering group based in the Sydney's Upper North Shore (Hornsby and surrounds). So if you're interested in getting on board, join us here!

https://www.facebook.com/PurelyBulkFoods

Lucas said...

Hello Jo,

Love the information on your site...thanks for the inspiration and for sharing the useful links!

Does anyone know of any food groups in Central West Queensland? We are outback, so fresh veggies (and choice of most things)are limited, only IGA in town, and we aren't yet growing our own (having arrived here two weeks ago.

I am looking also to find a source of bulk dried vegetables (especially spinach flakes) so we can maintain some basic variety and avoid high local prices.

If anyone knows of any suppliers of dried veg to the outback, we'd love to hear about them!

Thanks,

William James said...

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Di said...

Hi Barbara, I know it's been quite some time since you posted but does your daughter still have the co-op in Cranbourne East. I'd love to be involved with that.

jhon alex said...

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William James said...

nice you have purchase buld food but this is not good. you should purchase according to his requirement.
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