The Business of Bulk Buying – How To Get Started

Bestselling cookbook author Melissa Hemsley shares her tips on getting started with bulk-buying in order to minimise plastic consumption.

Bulk buying benefits: if you like to eat; save money; reduce your plastic footprint; cut down on waste; support good people and generally feel like you’re making a positive life change, then bulk buying is for you.
It can be something you can do as little or as lot as you want. The pressure’s off.  You might start by filling up a few bottles of wine (or kombucha) on your way to a dinner party or getting a great deal on a supersize bag of chickpeas a few times a year but before you know it, it becomes a regular happy habit.
The aim of the game is to reduce all unnecessary waste – especially single use plastic. Bulk buying shops allow you to bring your own containers or, if you forget, use their recycled paper bags to weigh out what you want and buy just what you need.
When my sister, Jasmine, and I started Hemsley + Hemsley as a private catering business almost 10 years ago, we used to go to this incredible shop near her old flat in Elephant & Castle, called Fareshares. It was setup in 1988 as a vegan grocery co-op run by volunteers; and allows you to shop on a DIY trust basis. More and more shops are opening all over the UK and online (see a full list of where to bulk buy), selling organic, fair trade and ethically sourced products.

And back in the day, we didn’t have so many single use, throwaway products and unnecessary, thoughtless packaging at our fingertips. It’s become a bit terrifying.

To inspire your first bulk buy spree, see my recipe for quinoa porridge with banana and berries.

Top Ten items for bulk buying
Take a look in your cupboards and have a think about what you eat in a week or month – we’ve all got our favourite meals on rotation – for a good starting point. It depends on the time of year too – right now I’m making lots of dahls, porridges and banana bread so I’m stocking up on red lentils, quinoa flakes and ground almonds for baking.  I’m also cooking stews and curries and freezing them which takes the pressure off the next few months when I know I’m extra busy and home late. I like to change up my ‘bulk buys’ every month as variety is of course the spice of life, but here are my Top 10 shopping staples to get you going:

  1. Extra virgin olive oil
  2. Dried chickpeas and beans 
  3. Dried lentils – especially red lentils and mung beans
  4. Dried fruit  – love dates and also coconut flakes and dessicated coconut
  5. Quinoa flakes / buckwheat flakes / oats
  6. Nuts and seeds – you can also get freshly ‘churned’ nut butters at some shops
  7. Flours – ground almonds  / buckwheat flour / chickpea
  8. Dried spices and sometimes herbs (or see my Grow Your Own Edible Garden feature, here)
  9. Household cleaning products
  10. Wine – more and more delis and shops are offering refills. If you’re not into wine, look out for kombucha on tap (my friend Kate Arnell of Eco Boost bought me over 2 big refilled glass bottles as a housewarming gift this summer)