Buying In Bulk–What We Have Learned, by J.S.P.

This article is to share what we have learned in our attempt to leverage our food preps by buying commercially and in bulk with Survival Blog readers. What works in our part of the world may not be reality in your location but I hope what we have learned will be of value to some readers.

To begin with, one of our favorite places to buy in quantitative is “cash and carry” stores. Cash and carry stores were originally set up by large food distribution firms that allowed businesses such as restaurants, bars, smaller retail stores, schools, etc to come to their outlet and buy products for resale. In years past, most such stores required that you had some kind of license such as a business license or resale permit, or a membership, etc.

Yet today, many of these stores have opened to the public with no requirements for purchase. For example in the Pacific Northwest the food supplier URM operates several stores that anyone can walk into and pay cash, use credit or debit cards or write a check. 

There are outlets for the big national chain called Restaurant Depot, not far from us. I have never been in one of their outlets but would like to some day. They operate stores in 27 states but to date they maintain a reserved membership status. Their web site states that Restaurant Depot is wholesale only. To qualify for a free membership account, on your first visit you need to show a valid reseller’s permit (business license) or tax-exempt certificate (for a non-profit organization) and show proof that you are authorized to purchase for said business or organization.

If Restaurant Depot was my only option for buying food wholesale, given my “don’t take no for an answer” personality I am pretty sure I could garner a membership. For example in some municipalities, obtaining a business license is easy. Or, if you know someone with a business license or have any connections with a not for profit –  A little creativity and I think this would be easily solved.

What I like about buying from “cash and carry” type stores;

1) The prices range from good to outstanding. Many of these stores run weekly specials; Food service is a competitive business, keeping an eye out for their weekly specials has allowed us to take advantage of some screaming deals.

2) Buying in bulk is what theses stores are set up for. You can typically buy food in individual units but if you want to stack up the cases of #10 cans or buy biscuit mix in a 50 lb box, this is the place. Nothing against Costco but this is a whole nether level.

3) Because of number two above, nobody bats an eye when you roll up a flat bed cart to the check out with a thousand dollars worth of groceries. It’s the $75 order that’s the exception; everybody buys in quantity at these stores. Probably just not for the same reasons that us preppers do.

How do you find a “cash and carry”? An Internet search engine would be your best start…Just out of the blue I searched “Tennessee cash and carry” and came up with several great hits including this one that right up front says, “open to the public”. 

The next trick we learned is to find out if there are any Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) groups in the area. If so, find out where they buy their groceries. Adventists are pretty strict about their diets with most of them being vegetarian and many are vegans. Typically where there are Adventists in any number there is a grocery store that caters to them, and if so you have likely just found a preppers paradise.

The ones we have patronized have bulk everything!  25 lb bags of every conceivable grain and legume and so on. 25 lb bags of groats, and regular rolled oats and thick cut oats, and steel cut oats, they even sell non fat powdered milk in 55 lb bags (that makes 44 gallons of milk!). They will stock grain grinders and bulk local raw honey in half gallon glass mason jars. The one closest to us sells 25 lb bags of triple cleaned Pinto beans and 20 lb bags of extra fancy long grain white rice for $9.99 each, normal price. My suggestion to flush this out as a potential is to search the internet or your phone book for an SDA church. Then either call or email them and explain that either you are new to the area or that your family is simply trying to eat better and ask if they have a suggestion for a place to buy healthy groceries.

If you have never been around Adventists their businesses tend to be well run, they are good people its just that most of them look like they could desperately use a bacon double cheese burger!

Grains;  In terms of what to do with stored grains, I have nothing to add to the fine article posted in SurvivalBlog on November 24, 2010 by Naomi titled “Using the Grain You Have Stored”. Naomi obviously has a thorough command of the science of nutrition, which was an excellent contribution to this blog.

What I can add though is how to obtain grains in bulk. When buying grains and legumes in bulk you are going to go directly to grain elevators and seed companies. Be prepared to buy at least a thousand pounds if not a ton at a time. Some places will sell smaller quantities even down to 50 lb bags however most commercial outfits are typically moving products truck loads or train loads at a time. That being said, don’t get discouraged if you try this and run upon a dead end or two, just keep going. I have no inside connections to the grain industry whatsoever yet now have numerous sources for buying bulk grains wholesale.

First a bit about terminology; “Food grade and human grade” mean the same thing in our area. “Seed grade” is typically food grade products that have been treated with chemical fertilizers for the obvious purpose of planting. “Screenings” are the bits, pieces and dust that result from cleaning products to attain “food grade”.

For example this year we bought a ton of dried whole peas and a ton of pea screenings. Dried whole peas are split peas that have not been split. When you split the pea the outer skin comes off and you lose a good deal of the nutrition plus we prefer the texture to split peas. Not so mushy! At any rate, in our area a portion of a dry pea harvest is going to be used for food, and a portion for seed to grow next years crop. The portion going to “food” is typically moved in such large quantities that attaining part of it before it hits the grocery store is hard.

However the part of the harvest devoted to seed, typically is moved in smaller quantities and kept locally. All you have to do is find a “seed” company and buy the commodity before they get treated for planting. We found a company that was glad to do this for us. They wanted 18 cents a pound in” bulk” which means they forklift a big wooden box into the back of your pick-up that probably weighs 2,400 lbs. Or, 20 cents a pound if they put them in 100 lb bags and 22 cents a pound in 50 lb bags. For ease of handling we went with the 100 lb bags so a ton of peas was $400. Trust me, that’s a lot of food for $400!

We divided the ton of dried peas with another family and kept the ton of pea screenings  for the chickens and livestock…they love it and its nutritious. A ton of screenings were $110.

In our area this can be done with peas, lentils, garbanzos, wheat, corn and barley. Insist on having a look at the product prior to consummating any deal because “clean” to one person can mean something very different to someone else. Meaning that if you intend to consume the product, it should be almost exclusively that commodity and relatively devoid of dust, or stems or dirt.

Don’t be shy about walking into grain elevators and such to facilitate buying in bulk. I have never encountered a hostile reaction by doing so, most people just want to help you out.

As an exercise of how to do this, again randomly out of the blue I searched for
“Tennessee Seed Company” and immediately came across their “producers list” with lots of contacts. Then I clicked on the web site of one of their members who says they sell all kinds of products including Oats, soybeans, corn, millet and wheat. Their prices seem reasonable and you should shoot for a discount when buying in bulk. I noticed some of their offerings are listed as “coated” which means, as stated above, that they have taken the “human grade” product and turned it into seed grade. Most likely they did this procedure at their plant, so you could inquire about buying the product before it’s treated. And to the extent its all been treated, maybe you can have access to some next year prior to treating.  You just might want to stop by with a box of donuts right before harvest next year to seal the deal.

Generally speaking the higher the protein content and the cleaner the product, the more expensive it costs. For example, food grade, super clean lentils are going for 50 cents a pound in our area because the protein content is about 25% and consequently world wide demand is high. While that is a lot of money, $1,000 per ton, that’s also a lot of food.

Lastly let’s talk about storage. We know of people who round up food grade five gallon buckets at Wal-Mart, Super Target, bakeries and so on. There is nothing wrong with that as they are often free or cheap. The downside is that you can normally only pick up two or three at a time. And buying grains in bulk as described above is going to take more than a few five gallon buckets.

We purchase food grade used buckets and barrel’s from a local juice plant. I have heard of many different commercial operations selling food grade buckets and barrels.  Beverage manufacture’s such as “Cott” and “Clifstar”  have plants all over the country. The one we utilize sells five gallon buckets with lids and gaskets for $1.50 and 55 gallon metal food grade barrel’s with lids and bands for $3. So if you literally want 50 five gallon buckets, if they have them, you can walk out the door with them. Most plants like these have a “visitor” entrance or a “visitor” gate with an intercom. Don’t be shy, just push the button and tell them what you are looking for.

As I pointed out above I thought Naomi’s article regarding what to do with your stored grains was brilliant. However, it also is an eye opener regarding how much grain it takes to feed a person for a year. Buying in bulk as listed above is “doable” for most the saying goes “if we can do it, you can do it”. I think its pretty clear that food commodity prices will do nothing but go up and the value of the dollar will likely do nothing but go down. Converting dollars to food grade commodities that are capable of storing for decades if done properly just makes good sense to us.

Blessings to my SurvivalBlog friends.