The problem with health food shops

I’m always glad that there are small, independent shops that sell wholefoods. The best of them steer clear of the temptation to pack their shelves with high-profit vitamins and supplements, with owners genuinely believing that good wholesome food is the best medicine.

But there’s a problem, still – one that the bulk buying club approach can fix. The simple economics of renting premises, paying staff and covering other overheads means that these costs have to be recovered through a significant add-on to wholesale prices, perhaps 50%. This makes what should be everyday foods expensive for the average family. To compound the issue, wholefoods tend to be sold only in 500g packs – few such stores stock bigger sizes – which means that these last very little time, cost proportionately more by weight and represent a lot of packaging waste over the months.

When bulk buying group members source lentils in a 25kg paper sack and split the contents between several households, the savings per kilo are significant and a good deal of plastic wrap is spared. Similarly, products like shampoo and washing-up liquid can be bought in 5 and 20 litre containers – less waste, more savings. Any unavoidable packaging can be re-used many times.

The best wholefood stores will undoubtedly be willing to ‘special order’ some bulk items of this type for regular customers, but there’s a limit to how much stock they can find space for, whereas a bulk buying club can ‘pop-up’ its operations for an afternoon, receive large volumes in a single delivery, split it and have it whisked away to households in a matter of hours.

By working co-operatively, members can share an abundance of good food without paying the costs of staff, building rental or other overheads, making supplies much more affordable and squeezing out needless plastic waste.

About this site

This site aims to encourage and support the setting up of further bulk buying clubs and small food co-ops in Ireland by sharing the experience of individuals who have operated a ‘pop-up wholefoods’ model over a number of years.