How Much Can You Save Buying in Bulk? [Study]

Key Takeaways

  • Buying personal care (50%), meat (48%), and bread and grain (47%) products in bulk yield the most savings.
  • For over 70% of food products, buying the organic version in bulk costs less than buying the non-organic version individually.
  • 86% of Americans report shopping in bulk at least moderately often.
  • The average American bulk shopper reports throwing out 30% of food they purchase, wasting roughly $145 per month.

Grocery items are historically expensive in the U.S. and often don’t even make their way to the shelves. Why? The moving parts involved to get food in the store have all become scarcer and more expensive as well: Truck driver and factory labor shortages, warehouse price increases, food scarcity, and supply chain delays have all contributed to inflation and grocery price increases. Fortunately, all hope is not lost.

To determine today’s most precisely cost-effective grocery behavior, the team at CouponFollow has compiled data from Instacart and 1,000 American shoppers to find out which items are most appropriate and cost-effective to buy in bulk. And as the popularity of shopping organically continues to rise, we’ve also included items and categories where opting for organic in bulk is actually less expensive as well. You’ll want to see this data and keep scrolling before your next grocery run.

When Buying More Is More Cost Effective

Buying in bulk is generally thought to save money, and it often does, but bulk carries more financial weight in some areas than others. This first piece of research shows the general categories of grocery items, their average prices, their average prices in bulk, and the percentage savings between the two. The pricing of bulk items was sourced from Costco via Instacart, while the pricing of non-bulk items was sourced from Safeway via Instacart.

Personal care items can yield a staggering 50% savings when buying in bulk – more than any other category on the grocery list. That said, it’s important to consider which types of personal care items can actually be bought safely in bulk – many contain perishable ingredients, such as avocados or tomatoes to nourish the skin – but won’t be able to maintain their shelf life for more than a few months. Moreover, the products with longer shelf lives often contain toxic chemicals like parabens and phthalates, which many doctors now connect with cancer.

It was encouraging to see that people could save nearly 50% on the prices of meat by buying in bulk as well. While this will require a freezer, it’s certainly a great way to compete with the skyrocketing prices of meat across the country. In fact, meats represent the single largest category of food price increases in the U.S., with pork and beef up 14% and 20% in the last year, respectively. Fortunately, the net savings per unit when buying meat in bulk nullifies this national cost jump.

Is Organic Worth It?

Organic products are currently the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. food industry. Increasing research shows a dark and toxic side to not shopping this way, although a major downside is the cost. This piece of research shows the average savings (or losses) of buying certain organic products in bulk, compared with their non-organic, individually purchased counterparts.

Organic chicken drumsticks will save a person 39% if bought in bulk instead of buying non-organic, individual drumsticks. While this again requires room in the freezer, it saves a substantial amount of money, prevents toxins from entering the body, and manages to avoid giving money and power to animal cruelty as well.

Organic blueberries are another huge savings area if bought in bulk. On average, a non-organic, individual package of blueberries will cost $5.79 in the U.S. Purchased in bulk, organic blueberries will only cost $3.73 per unit – a 36% savings increase. Blueberries are such a powerhouse of nutrients that it would be a shame to lose some of those powerful vitamins to non-organic farming practices. If there’s room in the freezer, blueberries are a great place to buy in bulk.

Biggest Bulk Savings

We previously showed the largest savings discounts when buying in bulk, by category, regardless of whether the farming practices are organic. Here, we show that same concept but by specific item as opposed to their general grocery category.

Buying top loin pork chops can save you over 90% if purchased in bulk. Recall that within the meat category, pork has seen a 14% price increase within the last year – while expensive, it pales in comparison to 90% bulk savings. Other specific meats are also offering generous savings if you can buy them in bulk (and if you have room in your freezer to store them, as most meats will only last in the refrigerator for several days). Boneless skinless chicken thighs yield an 87% savings rate if purchased in bulk, while tilapia fillets will yield 83%.

Personal care items like CeraVe Moisturizing Cream and Dove Invisible Dry Spray Clear Finish Antiperspirant also offer incredibly high savings rates if purchased in bulk, and they have long shelf lives. And while a longer shelf life for personal care items can often be chalked up to toxic preservatives, the Environmental Working Group actually gives many CeraVe products good ratings. The same cannot be said for Dove.

What Should We Buy in Bulk?

Moving away from grocery store data and toward American shoppers, we next asked 1,000 people across the country about their personal bulk shopping habits. Americans shared which products they most often purchased in bulk and which stores they patronized to do so.

The vast majority (86%) of Americans are taking advantage of bulk offerings at least moderately often. While this supports the idea that Americans have substantial experience and knowledge with getting the most from bulk savings, their bulk savings strategies didn’t often line up with those that offered the biggest savings. Instead, we found respondents preferring bulk-saving strategies that saved them the most time and freezer space. For example, coffee and tea were the most common items that people purchased in bulk. While this may not have saved a ton of money, it likely did save them trips to the coffee shop or grocery store, assuming a daily or regular consumption of the product.

Cleaning products were the second most commonly bulk-purchased product. Nearly 43% of respondents bought them this way. While a likely motivation was the savings, the need to consider freezer space and expiration dates also becomes unnecessary here, which may trigger a “why not?” mentality among consumers. For these bulk purchases and others, stores like Walmart (67%) and Costco (36%) reigned supreme. That said, most Americans (71%) agreed that grocery stores should generally enforce buying limits on certain products to prevent the shortages we’ve seen in recent years.

How to Save Even More on Groceries

Bulk savings really do add up: Data showed 90% savings on some meats and drastic savings on personal care and beauty products as well. Most Americans were opting instead to lean on bulk savings for daily rituals, like tea and coffee, or nonperishables, like cleaning products. They also shared some reservations about bulk shopping and wanted stores to enforce buying limits to prevent shortages.

Ultimately, knowledge of where to find savings and how to take advantage of them are highly important during times of inflation and supply shortages. CouponFollow is dedicated to researching ways to save not only through this type of data but by collecting coupons from all around the world and compiling them in one easy-to-use, effective website. To save even more on your groceries and other purchases, head to CouponFollow.com today.

Methodology

For this study, we collected food and personal care price data using Instacart. For the individually priced items, we gathered price information from Safeway, and for the bulk priced items, we gathered price information from Costco. Both these Safeway and Costco locations were in San Francisco, California. The data was collected between April 1-7, 2022. No statistical testing was performed on this data, so the claims listed above are based on means alone.

Additionally, we surveyed 1,000 Americans about their bulk shopping habits. 52.6% of respondents identified as men, 47.3% of respondents identified as women, and 0.1% identified as nonbinary. Generationally, 22.9% of respondents were baby boomers, 26% were Generation X, 26.6% were millennials, and the remaining 24.5% were Generation Z. Survey data has certain limitations related to self-reporting.

Fair Use Statement

Sharing is normally caring, but in this case, it’s also saving. If you know someone who does the grocery shopping who may benefit from the findings of this study, please share it with them. Just be sure your purposes are noncommercial and that you link back to this page.

about the author

Marc Mezzacca
Marc Mezzacca is CEO of CouponFollow, a consumer savings engine that surfaces popular coupons. He has been in the coupon and deals industry for over a decade with a deep interest in evolving e-commerce technologies.