Bulk Spices

Back in March, we told you all about the seventh wonder of the supermarket: The bulk aisle. Its eco-friendly, money-saving glory are not to be passed upon when shopping for organic, dry goods. And now, spice lovers can rejoice, too! Your favorite seasonings, from cinnamon to paprika, are also available in bulk.

As our first article mentioned, a recent Bulk Foods Study conducted by the Portland State University’s Food Industry Leadership Center (FILC) on behalf of the Bulk is Green Council (BIG) revealed both the money-saving and eco-friendly perks of buying in bulk. According to the report, shoppers saved an average of 88% per year by purchasing in bulk, instead of packaged versions.

But it’s also good for the planet. Frontier Co-op, a self-described “supplier of organic herbs and spices,” caught onto the concept of selling its products in bulk early on. We recently spoke with Ellen Bouchard, category manager, Bulk Herbs, Spices & Whole Leaf Teas at Frontier, about the company’s history, the origins of bulk spices, as well as its economic and ecological benefits.

Organic Authority: How did the Frontier Co-Op begin? How much of the initial concept was built around bulk spice buying?

Ellen Bouchard: Frontier was founded in 1976 by Rick Stewart. He and his wife started breaking down large bags and boxes of herbs and spices into one-pound bags and then selling those bags to co-op food stores. Bulk buying of spices—along with non-culinary herbs—was the backbone of Frontier Cooperative Herbs, as the business was then called. The one-pound packages were all Frontier sold in the beginning.

OA: Where did the idea to sell spices in bulk originally come from?

EB: Rick was a delivery truck driver for the Iowa City-based distributor co-op Blooming Prairie. As he delivered the 50-pound bags of oats, cases of peanut butter and similar products, people in the co-op stores would tell him they would like BP to carry spices and herbs. Rick brought those requests back to BP, but [the company] decided… that they couldn’t add the labor-intensive repackaging of spices and herbs. Rick organized Frontier as a separate co-op to respond to the requests and found there was tremendous demand.

OA: Many consumers complain that the option to buy natural products—including spices—is limited to overpriced organic supermarkets or food stores. What is your response to that?

EB: Small, independent natural food stores, as well as food co-ops , is where our bulk spices and herbs were first placed. Thirty-five years later, our best customers (in terms of product movement) are still thousands of these smaller-footprint natural food stores located across the country. Often, these stores might be more expensive for certain packaged items—but only because they don’t have the large buying power of the big grocery chains. However, these stores offer a very economical and affordable way for customers to buy organic spices (and many other products) by offering them in bulk.

OA: What are the advantages to buying spices in bulk?

EB: Affordability. Often you can save from 30% to 70% on spices and herbs in bulk.

Selection. Bulk offers the opportunity to offer a wide variety of products in a small space—especially in the bulk herb/spice sets. Many gourmet/organic items are available in bulk that you might not find in packaged, [like] smoked Paprika [and] organic black sesame seeds.

Freshness. At most natural food stores, the bulk spices are a very heavily shopped area. This means the spices & herbs are incredibly fresh and aromatic. In addition, because of the way these are purchased, you can identify for yourself, by sight and aroma, if they are indeed fresh.

Environmental Reasons. Buying bulk spices and herbs greatly reduces the amount of packaging & freight needed for comparable weight of packaged items.

Option to “Buy a Pinch or a Pound.” When you buy spices/herbs in bulk, you can buy exactly the amount you need.

OA: Frontier Co-Op products are available in some stores in smaller quantities. Are the bulk spices primarily aimed toward retailers and businesses, or can consumers buy them in bulk, too? If so, how?

EB: Our bulk spices, sold in 1pound bags, are aimed primarily towards retailers and restaurant/café users. We sell the… bags to the retailers and they place them in various sized containers for customers to purchase the amount they need. At some stores, some of our products are sold directly in 1pound bags to customers. In addition, customers can buy them on our retail website (www.frontiercoop.com).

Keep in touch with Amanda on Twitter: @Amanda_ZW

Image: pdbreen