No More Shopping at Bulk Barn

Happy New Year! It’s been a while, and I have a story to share.

On Wednesday we went to Bulk Barn. It’s kind of far from home but we had to be in the area, and we were excited to take advantage of the larger selection available there than where we usually buy our bulk goods. Things were going well, we had some peanut butter, (we brought our own tub), walnut pieces, and I was filling a bag with baking soda when an employee approached and told me that I couldn’t use my own bags, I had to use their plastic bags. Apparently they’re afraid that my bags are going to contaminate their food. He actually said that I should put the food already in plastic bags provided by the store. I told him that wasn’t going to happen and I would return the food I had bagged to the bins, (obviously they didn’t want that), throw out the food in their garbage and leave, or buy the food already in my bags. He ran away and I didn’t see him again.

Since I knew we were going to have problems I found Joanie and told her what happened, so we went to the cash and paid for our purchases, in our own bags. At the cash the clerk asked us to use the bags provided by Bulk Barn on our next visit and explained a bit more about the rule. Apparently there are people who change their minds after filling bags and empty the bags they have filled back into the bins, so they want people to use new plastic bags which are supposedly sterile. I asked a bit more, but she didn’t have a lot of information, basically it’s a corporate policy to not permit customers to bring their own bags to Bulk Barn, and the people who work in the stores have to enforce the policy.

This brings up some interesting questions about buying foods at bulk stores. How clean is the food? By shopping at a bulk store I accept that there might be a bit of cross-contamination in the food I buy. In fact I bought some split yellow peas the other day that had a few lentils mixed in. It’s not the end of the world. I think that we have to trust, to some extent, that the store we buy our food from and the customers who shop there have decent enough hygiene habits to keep the food from becoming dangerous.

If I can’t bring my own containers to a bulk store, eliminating the use of packaging, what is the point of shopping there? Many items, (like flour and sugar), are more expensive than buying them in paper bags at Costco or somewhere similar, so I’m probably not saving money. Is it just for the novelty of buying in bulk?

As for Bulk Barn, if people putting food back is a concern they maybe they could create a rule along the lines of “you bag it, you buy it.” In fact, that might be a good idea for all bags, even the “sterile” plastic bags. Needless to say we won’t be returning to Bulk Barn anytime soon.

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26 Comments

  1. Posted February 28, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Hi
    I just found your blog doing some research on the Bulk Barn after having what sounds like the exact same experience! I just posted about it on my blog too.
    I was really disappointed with their reaction and I think they’re overlooking a potential marketing opportunity here.
    Ah well – their loss!
    - vera

    • Posted February 28, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      I just read your post and yes – that sounds very similar to our experience. I also went looking for their policies on their website and found none. Hopefully they change their policies, but until they do, at least for me, there are other bulk stores that are easier to get to and actually like it when I show up with my own bags.

  2. Darlene
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi,

    I just read your comments and I’m curious as to why you are so offended that a store is trying to protect its customers? I’ve seen people pour bulk products back after changing their minds so I appreciate that the store wants to make sure they aren’t putting something foreign into their stock. This rules makes sense to me. I have no doubt that cross contamination between products can occur but unless I had food allergies, that doesn’t worry me. Someone with a used bag from an outside source does! It’s common sense to me.
    Re-using plastic bags is not sanitary.
    As for pricing – Costco is notorious for being more expensive than other stores on many items. People are often unaware of this because of the larger packaging and the illusion that buying more saves money.

    • Posted April 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      I agree that re-using plastic bags is not sanitary, and I appreciate that the stores don’t want something foreign in their stock. The bags I re-use are my own cloth & nylon bags that get washed between trips to the bulk store. A better solution for Bulk Barn would be for them to have a “you bag it, you buy it” policy and permit customers to bring their own, clean, bags & containers from home. This way they wouldn’t be punishing all of their customers for the actions of an inconsiderate few customers.

      As for Costco I agree that some of their prices are ridiculous. However, in the stores near me there are some things, (flour, sugar, and olive oil for instance), that is often quite a bit cheaper than elsewhere.

      • Roxan
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:31 am | Permalink

        It would be difficult for a store to enforce a “you bag it you buy it” policy unless they had an employee constantly making rounds and looking out for that sort of thing. Generally they don’t have that, and cleaning/sanitation and bin checks are left to the cashier who is on at the time. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to hire on or schedule more people for that specific duty and it’s more cost efficient for the store to just enforce the bag policy they already have in place.

      • Jenn
        Posted January 11, 2014 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

        I don’t mean to play the devil’s advocate here…but I actually work at a Bulk Barn. We try our best to avoid cross contamination of product. For instance, gluten-free scoops, pet food, and regular scoops are all washed separately. However, frequently throughout the day we constantly see people moving scoops to other bins, and scoops and tongs become misplaced. Thus, resulting in the possibility of cross contamination that is largely beyond our control.

        Additionally, the own container issue is a corporate policy. Which makes complete sense. You may have sanitized your bags, cleaned them or whatever, but what if someone else didn’t? What if someone had crumbs of peanuts in a bag, and you were highly allergic and they poured it back into a bin you were purchasing from-or worse. Also, returns are done at the end of the night with products people did not want to purchase throughout the day. If people used their own bags/containers, we would have to waste the product (which in many cases are big ticket items like nuts) just to give the container they shouldn’t have brought in back. Also, we use weightless bags and containers (we take the weight of the container off at cash). Therefore, using your own containers would also cause an increase of price in many cases, as you wouldn’t be just paying for the product itself.

        The bag it you buy it policy is unrealistic as we cannot keep eyes on every customer in the store. You cannot also physically make someone buy a product-they can always just walk out, and that would cause a slew of other problems with it. With that in mind, if someone does bring up a product up in their own containers, we still accept it but politely tell them our policy regarding the issue so that it does not happen again. The same goes for people wanting to use their own measuring apparatuses. We cannot guarantee the sanitation of their products, as we can our scoops.

        • Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:09 am | Permalink

          I read this comment in a different way than you may have intended.

          Firstly, nobody is accusing the people who work at Bulk Barn of doing a ‘bad job’. You do not have to defend yourself against accusations towards Bulk Barn, or any other place you are employed.

          Secondly, your post indicates that there really is NO way to keep a completely safe and uncontaminated Bulk Food store. As stated in your reply it is impossible to watch every scoop all the time. What if there is a lazy worker who doesn’t care, or forgets to separate the scoops?

          As for people with severe allergies like peanuts and gluten, you won’t ever find them shopping at Bulk Barn. I know several, and they just can’t take the risk.

          This society we have created is over consumed, over sanitized, and over thought. Worst of all we are over powered by something that doesn’t exist.

          This world has to change, if places like Bulk Barn don’t evolve with the demand for Eco-friendly shopping – then it will have to move aside and become nil.

          Once I find a better (waste reduced) solution to my bulk purchases, I will stop shopping at Bulk Barn.

          - Kaeli
          http://www.weepaws.ca

          “Give me spots on my apples
          But leave me the birds and the bees
          Please”
          JONI MITCHELL

  3. Suzanne
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been regretting the plastic I take home from Bulk Barn. Most of my food budget is spent there. I have decided to buy what I can in paper bags at the grocery because I hate plastic. On the other hand, Bulk Barn should switch to paper bags of varying weight and sizes. From the smallest for spices and herbs (like the tiny bag that our penny candy used to go in years ago) to the largest for 5 pounds. I wouldn’s mind paying the cost of a paper bag that can be reused or recycled at home. It’s not the employee’s fault. Bulk Barn needs a nudge from the consumer.

  4. J
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Is there such a thing as a “see through” paper bag? The cashiers must be able to see the product and charge you accordingly, no? Tares are also subtracted from the weight of the plastic mono cups by an automation used by the clerk. If you use your own containers you will pay for the weight of them in the price of the item inside. Many morons who cannot do simple math refuse to pay for the 18$ of chocolate covered they’ve brought up to the cashier. The product will have to be returned to the bin. Letting customers use there own containers is not in Bulk Barns financial intrest. The product would be contaminated and have to be thrown away.

  5. Posted April 15, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Hello! This is awesome because I just found this blog searching for the policy too! I’m so glad to find out that other people are disappointed as well.

    I had a very similar experience but I was already at the cash register and a supervisor came over and said that I had to use their bags next time due to health concerns. I said, “Oh, okay.” But if I do plan on going back, I’ll just bring my own bags again. I’m not a regular enough customer for them to remember me (hopefully). I would never put something from my bag back into the bin.

    I do plan on confronting the company though by saying that I have my own health concerns… for the environment. I’d like to email them some scientific peer-reviewed journal articles about how plastic is detrimental to the environment. I wish to say that if they are so concerned about peoples health, they should be worried about the amount of plastic they provide to customers. Bulk Barn should let people bring their own bags or they should AT LEAST offer paper bags (although I don’t completely agree with these as an alternative).

    Also, I completely agree: what IS the point of bulk food stores if we cannot bring our own bags?

    I can understand Bulk Barn’s point of view… but they’re not even making an effort. As with all business they’re just out to make a profit. And although this may seem like, “no harm done” there are in fact harmful consequences. Just imagine how many bags people use from Bulk Barn.
    I used to live in a small town and the bulk store owner was HAPPY that I brought my own containers! It’s definitely possible, so Bulk Barn needs to be pressured into making some decisions for the environment.

    Maybe Bulk Barn could post pictures for every product showing, to scale, how much is $1 worth of product. This way people can do the simple math, “I am only willing to pay for $5 worth so I should get 5 times that amount.” I’ll suggest this photo idea to the company.

  6. john d
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Hi folks. i would just like to point out a few things some rehashed some not.

    reusing your own bags is not just a corporate policy it is enforced by the ministry of health. if you want to reuses bags why don’t you reuse the bags provided there for other uses?

    sometimes people also try to scoop using there own measuring cup i have seen this attempted with some pretty iffy looking cups chipped and scratched washed but not necessarily safe. which is why this isn’t permitted either.

    how do you force somebody to buy something just because it is in a bag they brought in. some times people scoop more then they want or accidentally scoop the wrong thing yes there is a sign telling them what it is and how much it is and yes there are scales but accidents happen all the time.

    apart from saving on plastic bags you scoop into you help reduce the amount of packaging during production even though the bags are big they are thin and not loaded with fancy dyes using chemicals also harmful to the environment which by the way foods absorb.

    and the other point in shopping in bulk is to buy the amount you need as a bachelor i can assure you i can not buy small enough amounts of everything i need with out being wasteful. if i buy a box of cereal it goes stale before i can finish it and i end up throwing it out wasting my money and food other examples exist of course that is just off the top of my head.

    you say you can except the risk of some cross contamination in your food such as lentles and split peas. but can you except that undetectable and harmful bacteria might be cross contaminated with a childs candy? do you think everyone would follow this you bag it you buy it policy or do you think that they might dump some back when no one is looking? money is tight everywhere and i doubt somebody is going to buy more then they need because they were told they have to and if they do they will end up wasting it.

    it is unfortunate that the bags that are used each time are new but i really think the pros out way the cons there is more to saving the planet than reusing bags.

  7. Brenda
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Their plastic bags are bio-degradable, so what is the problem ?

  8. Betty
    Posted October 21, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Brenda and John D. Glad to see not everyone in this country is a moron! Hasn’t the latest health scare told us enough about food safety. Give me a break about reusing their own containers and then dumping stuff back into their bins. OMG! Use your brains people! If these people stopping shopping at Bulk Barn because they cant use their own containers…I’M GLAD! You have made it safer for me to shop there!

    • Brooke
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your wisdom Betty – Food safety is definitely the issue that is being weighed against the environmental issue here. How would you tackle the latter problem. Does the waste component of the plastic use not concern you?

  9. Alice
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree with Brenda and John. You bag it, you buy it? I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s gone to Bulk Barn and not realized I’ve scooped $30 of something… And using your own scooper is just gross.

  10. PK
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    I found this blog googling Bulk Barn after witnessing a disgusting thing I’m sure happens there more often than you’d like to think.
    I was bagging some peanuts when I glanced over at a guy who was also bagging nuts but was using his bare hands and while doing so also pouring some into his mouth at the same time. Why are they allowed to sell food item this way? They could have dispensers where the food is poured into the bag.. Needless to say after seeing that I won’t be buying any more bulk food at Bulk Barn.. And yes I ripped him a new one and quite loudly.. He looked stunned and was speechless.. someone has to do it.
    People who continue to shop there.. open your eyes, I can guarantee that you will witness this sooner rather than later now that you are aware.. It’s your health after all.

  11. Danny
    Posted March 21, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read most of the posts above, and I have to suggest: why don’t each and every one of you write to Bulk Barn and express your displeasure with their policies? The more people that write the greater the chance of making some change.

    I bought something there today, and if I like it, I will return with my glass containers and plastic bags to re-use. I’ll be ready to explain to them the merits of re-using containers. I’ll kee you posted!

  12. Moose & Beaver
    Posted April 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Hi, it doesn’t look like you’ve posted in awhile, but I thought I’d try to see how your project is going? We were similarly inspired by the documentary film “No Impact Man” and we’re going packaging-free for at least a year.

    I found your site when we ran into the same policy at Bulk Barn. A friend of mine is the former head of infectious disease control at a large hospital and said the policy is quite stupid. The contamination risk of customers’ filthy hands represents a far, FAR greater health risk than containers. Did you ever find out if the policy is truly mandated by government guidelines?

    Sincerely, Beav

    • Posted May 4, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      Hi Beav,

      It’s going, but we haven’t been as strict. I’ve been thinking recently that I should start posting again, things keep popping into my head.

      I never investigated to see if the policy is mandated by government guidelines, but I highly doubt it as every other bulk store I’ve been to has no problem with me using my own bags/containers/whatever, (so long as they’re clean). Not everyone’s willing or able to subtract the container’s weight, however, which can be a pain for liquids, (one place that used to subtract the weight “upgraded” their point-of-sale systems and can’t do it anymore). The weight of the container’s not a big deal, though, unless it’s a glass container, or something crazy expensive.

  13. Buyer
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    WOW! Now we can shop in Bulk Burn and don’t worry that you will contaminate our food with your dirty bags.

  14. Sam Jones
    Posted June 23, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Bulk Barn is a decent place to go to for spices, or other items you can’t find elsewhere.

    Aside from that, the candy / nuts /dried fruit is incredibly expensive. It’s not a deal at all. Go ahead and price out each item on a per unit basis. You’ll find you’re being ripped off at Bulk Barn.

    For candy and such, I’ll just stay with the limited bulk food sections of grocery stores.

  15. Posted August 1, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I had the same issue. The Bulk Barn plastic bags represent the majority of ‘garbage’ that my partner and I create per month. The bags are so flimsy that you can’t even re-use them either (I did try and it was a big messy mistake).

    I went to the trouble to make my own light weight ‘see through’ reusable bags – then I got turned away at the door.

    As for the people who say ‘plastic is biodegradable/recyclable’ – they most certainly are not. Plastic leaves toxins in the soil once they break down as far as they can (which isn’t much). And plastic can only be recycled once or twice before it becomes a toxic blob of uselessness.

    I am going to write to the Bulk Barn head office about this issue.

    We need to demand more stores in North America that take after European ways – for example, like the Unpackaged Store in London. http://beunpackaged.com/

    Being a Germ-a-phobic society is very irrational. It this genetically modified society and cargo cult that creates sickness.

    One scoop at a time, I suppose.

    -k

    • concerned parent
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      I’ve read his entire feed now and I can’t help but be stuck on your comment about being a germaphobic society. sometimes its not a choice its a necessity. My son has a rare health condition and I have to work ALOT harder than the average parent to n blunt terms keep my son living each day. Also in the same note I have to go to work which then requires him going to a daycare center. It widely known the almost non exsistant funding our daycare systems have these days so of course shopping at Bulk Barn for them is a must. though I do understand the enviro. side, I can’t help but advocate for the sanitary side as it personally affects me every single second of ever minute if every day. Some how we need to put as much time into finding a solution that is 50% enviro. and 50% sani. as we do into arguing which is more important. They both are and I don’t see anytime soon that were all going to atop disputing about it, so let’s try to come up with some type of a happy medium as apposed to this arguing and conflict All the time.

  16. Dave
    Posted August 8, 2013 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Bulk Barn is typically more expensive than anyone else, too.
    And a lot of the time their stuff isn’t fresh.
    That’s the last time I’ll shop there.

  17. Mastabattas
    Posted December 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    My number one concern with bulk food purchases is cross contamination of things which will kill my husband. While the germ thing seems fair I don’t stress to much about it… I work in health care and am exposed to much worse things then snotty hands. However maybe if bulk places could find newer ways to distribute the goods… Like Safeway with it’s dispensers then we could avoid people dropping stuff back in or using their own scoops or hands. Someone could even create a device that portions to some extent how much is poured with each turn or whatever. Then we at least know roughly what quantity we’re putting in our bags… I wish I was an engineer!

    Too bad it’s not little house on the prairie where the shop keeper was responsible for adding product to containers… Then the onus would be on him/her.

    • concerned parent
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      I agree. If a machine was already set for a lb and you wanted 3 lbs youd push the button 3 times, something along these lines anyways…

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