How to Use the Bulk Section at Whole Foods (Without Getting Overwhelmed)

Whole Foods Bulk Bins

My friend Jaime recently asked me how to get the tare of a container when shopping in bulk at Whole Foods.  I have only ever bought in bulk at small, local establishments, and don’t have access to a Whole Foods in my area, so I wasn’t quite sure how one should go about it at Whole Foods specifically. 

However, since I’m visiting my family in the states and they have not one but TWO beautiful Whole Foods stores nearby, I decided to give it a try.  I went in and asked a salesperson how it’s done, and he referred me to guest services, who couldn’t have been more helpful.  

If you’ve been wanting to try buying in bulk from Whole Foods but have been too flustered and intimidated by the process, allow me to de-mystify it for you:

1. Bring your own container, and take it to guest services. 

Your container can be anything that will hold your food items, whether it’s a jar, Tupperware-type container, or a drawstring bag.  The lovely folks behind the counter at guest services will take the “tare”, or weight of your container and mark it on the outside with a permanent marker.  It’s important to do this first in order to avoid getting charged for the weight of your container.  You only want to be charged for the weight of the goods.

2. Fill your container. 

Make your selection and fill your container as full as you’d like to.  You will be charged by the weight of the item, so if you only need half a container full of any given food item, you’ll only be charged for half a container. 

 my flip top jar with the tare written on top by the lovely guest services associate

my flip top jar with the tare written on top by the lovely guest services associate

 filling my jar with freshly ground peanut butter

filling my jar with freshly ground peanut butter

3. Mark the PLU code on your container. 

Each bulk bin or dispenser will have a label identifying the product, its price, ingredients, and nutritional values.  Beneath the price you’ll find a PLU code.  Write the PLU code on one of the stickers provided in the bulk section, and stick it to your container. The stickers at my local store are non-glossed, biodegradable stickers, but if you’d like to skip the sticker and really go waste-free, you can type the PLU code into the notes on your phone and tell it to the cashier when you get to the till. 

4. Take it to the till. 

Hand your container filled with your bulk item to the cashier, who will weigh it, and subtract the tare from the weight before multiplying it by the price per pound/kg of the item you’ve chosen.  She’ll be able to look up the price by the PLU code you’ve given her.  

 bulk dispensers are labeled with ingredient and nutrition information, along with a plu code

bulk dispensers are labeled with ingredient and nutrition information, along with a plu code

 my jar labeled with plu code, ready for the checkout

my jar labeled with plu code, ready for the checkout

That’s it!  My local whole foods was more than happy to accommodate my wish to use my own containers, though I gathered that most of their customers don’t do this.  Maybe that’s because the process isn’t apparently obvious.  Once you know how to do it, though, it’s really easy, and is actually kind of fun! 

Happy shopping!

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How to use the bulk section at Whole Foods (without getting intimidated)