Simply Bulk Market in Longmont, Colorado, sells only bulk items, cutting waste for the planet and saving money for shoppers. Might we see this model duplicated nationally?
Earlier this week, I got a personalized tour of Simply Bulk Market, a three-year-old store in Longmont, Colorado, that sells bulk items exclusively.
It’s a lovely, spotlessly clean, and inviting store, and talking with owner Phil Bratty gave me further education into the benefits of bulk—and why this kind of store concept is attracting an entirely new generation of health-minded shoppers.
Why bulk only?
Phil and his wife, Georgia, launched Simply Bulk three years ago. With 28 years of retail experience, Phil says the idea for Simply Bulk “started with a couple glasses of wine … I got to know bulk when I worked at Wild Oats, I’ve always been a retailer, and I’ve always had a thing about [excessive] packaging—I just couldn’t accept it. And I wanted to see if I could have an impact on packaging waste.”
He says there are three kinds of shoppers: “Those with experience shopping bulk, who grew up in the health-food movement of the 70s; the middle gap, who want to eat healthy but are not quite sure about bulk; and the younger generation, who sees that they can save money and eat better” by buying in bulk.
So far, it’s working: Simply Bulk has seen double-digit growth every year since it opened. People find him through word of mouth, he says, and then they’re hooked by how much money they can save by reusing their own containers and buying only what they need.
Phil contacted me after “Your Gluten-Free Pantry” appeared in our May issue, in which I wrote: “To avoid cross-contamination, buy packaged instead of from bulk.” He countered with the following comment:
“As a retailer focused just on selling bulk products, I found your writing somewhat extreme. Maybe just ‘use caution when buying out of bulk bins’ would have been more appropriate.”
When someone comes into Simply Bulk asking whether he has “anything gluten-free,” Phil knows that the key question to ask is, “What’s your level of concern?” He agrees that for people with celiac disease, “you probably need packaged food.” For someone less in need of meticulously avoiding even the smallest trace of gluten, he shows them all of his naturally gluten-free, healthy items (beans, lentils, rice, quinoa, etc) and the precautions he takes to avoid cross-contamination.
I was impressed when I saw his section of gluten-free flours, for example. All of them are grouped together at the end of the dry-goods barrels, with non-spreading GF items, such as salt and sugar, forming a natural barrier to the regular flours.
Separating items this way likely wouldn’t convince someone with celiac disease to tempt fate—but for everyone who eats gluten free without such a strict need for meticulous gluten avoidance, Simply Bulk offers myriad healthy, gluten-free items at a fraction of cost of prepackaged versions. (Download our free Guide to Gluten-Free Living for more information and recipes.)
The store also offers pet foods and treats (I bought a bag of birdseed for one-fourth what I typically pay), herbs and spices (“it’s almost sinful what you pay for bottled spices; in bulk you’ll save 75 percent or better”), and a huge line of personal care products, such as shampoos—just bring in your own bottle, fill it up, and save money and waste. As he puts it, “when’s the last time you wore out a shampoo bottle? You use it 5-6 weeks and then throw it away. It’s a shame.”
“When I started Simply Bulk,” says Phil, “there wasn’t anyone in the country doing this; even now, there’s only one other place in Texas that I know of. But I’ve had conversations around the country: People want more of this.”
Here’s hoping Phil decides to mentor other entrepreneurial retailers to spread this less-is-more, money-saving concept into other cities nationwide.
For more tips on avoiding cross-contamination and finding gluten-free products, download our Guide to Gluten-Free Living by filling out the form below.