Thursday, August 9, 2007

Spice Up Your Wallet

A while ago I may have mentioned that when shopping for culinary spices, one is best to buy in bulk at a store like the Bulk Barn, as the prices are much better than the standard supermarket. Well, that got me thinking and I wanted to see how much better Bulk Barn actually was. Tonight we find out.

I had a list of spices/baking products that I wanted to have for various recipes so we will use that as our metric:

Dillweed (used in a surprisingly large amount of recipes)
Cayenne pepper
Onion flakes
Chili powder
Baking powder
Baking soda
White sugar

What is compared? I went to the Atlantic Superstore and got the prices for 3 brands of spices they had in stock, McCormick, Club House (which is apparently the same company as McCormick), and No Name. The packaging for each is glass bottle, plastic bottle, bag respectively. At Bulk Barn, you just dump however much you want into a bag and label it with the bin #. As well, not all spices were available in all brands, so I will, of course, mention only the ones that were there. For the baking supplies, I chose the cheapest available at Superstore for the Bulk Barn comparison.


When I originally bought my spices for the kitchen several weeks ago, I did get them at Bulk Barn, but I checked Superstore before making a final purchase. I perused the unit price of this brand of spices as they looked to be of high quality. Much to my surprise, the unit cost, which is 100 g, seemed to be lower than Bulk Barn. I was reading 25.4/100g, 41.4/100g, etc... I thought that this was great; you get the spice, plus the little jar. Then I realized that those unit costs weren't 25.4 cents per 100 grams, but rather 25.4 dollars per 100 grams. Scary. The breakdown is as follows:

Oregano: 11g bottles for $2.79 = $25.36 / 100 grams
Cumin: 43g bottles for $3.99 = $9.28 / 100 grams
Dillweed: 20g bottles for $4.89 = $24.45 / 100 grams
Cayene pepper n/a
Onion flakes: 55g bottles for $3.59 = $6.53 / 100 grams
Thyme: 15g bottles for $3.19 = $21.27 / 100 grams
Marjoram: 7.7g bottles for $3.19 = $41.43 / 100 grams
Sage: 18g bottles for $2.99 = $16.61 / 100 grams
Basil: 15g bottles for $3.69 = $24.60 / 100 grams
Chili powder: 53g bottles for $2.99 = $5.64 / 100 grams

Thus if you purchased 100g of each item (ignoring fractional bottles) it would cost you an astounding $175.17. You can compare below, but out of the brands available at Superstore, this was the one with the most variety. Coincidence that it is the most expensive and has the most selection? I think not.

Club House

There wasn't as many options for Club House but what was there breaks down as follows:

Oregano: 33g bottles for $3.79 = $11.48 / 100 grams
Cumin: 90g bottles for $5.69 = $6.32 / 100 grams
Dillweed: 50g bottles for $4.69 = $9.38 / 100 grams
Cayene pepper: 81g bottles for $4.39 = $5.42 / 100 grams
Onion flakes: 116g bottles for $4.39 = $3.78 / 100 grams
Thyme: 28g bottles for $2.59 = $9.25 / 100 grams

Thus if you were to purchase 100 grams of the same items from McCormick it would cost $86.89 whereas here it is a mere (but still insane) $40.22.

No Name

One would think that the No Name products would trump the rest. And you'd be right. Selection isn't great here, but you get the basics.

Oregano: 30g bags for $1.19 = $3.97 / 100 grams
Cumin: 97g bags for $1.99 = $2.05 / 100 grams
Onion flakes: 150g bags for $1.89 = $1.26 / 100 grams
Thyme: 45g bags for $1.99 = $4.42 / 100 grams
Sage: 80g bags for $1.99 = $2.49 / 100 grams
Basil: 40g bags for $1.29 = $3.23 / 100 grams
Chili powder: 150g bags for $2.39 = $1.59 / 100 grams

So again if you were to get 100 grams of the same items from McCormick would cost you a whopping $109.29 while going with No Name is a reasonable $19.01.

Baking Supplies

For the baking supplies I chose the one at the supermarket that had the lowest unit price for the comparison.

Baking Powder: $0.664 per 100 grams
Baking Soda : $0.159 per 100 grams
Cornmeal : $0.298 per 100 grams
Sugar: $0.118 per 100 grams

Not bad. So if you purchased 500 grams of the above, which is reasonable for small baking purposes, you would spend $6.20.

Bulk Barn

Ah the wonder that is Bulk Barn. By far your best option for spices and some baking supplies

Oregano : $0.93 / 100 grams
Cumin : $1.30 / 100 grams
Dillweed: $2.37 / 100 grams
Cayene pepper: 0.81/ 100 grams
Onion flakes : $1.08 / 100 grams
Thyme : $0.88 / 100 grams
Marjoram : $1.41 / 100 grams
Sage : $1.50 / 100 grams
Basil : $0.86 / 100 grams
Chili powder: $1.03 / 100 grams
Baking Powder: $0.42 per 100 grams
Baking Soda : $0.16 per 100 grams
Cornmeal : $0.19 per 100 grams
Sugar : $0.13 per 100 grams

So if you were to get 100 grams of each of the spices available from McCormick, (which would last an incredibly long time by the way), it would cost you a measly $11.36. A savings of $163.81. In fact, you would have to get 1.55 kilograms of each of those spices to match the McCormick price.

Notice that sugar and baking soda are more expensive at Bulk Barn, but not by much. I'm unsure as to why that is.

As a final tally, it would cost $16.67 for 100 grams of each of the desired spices and 500 grams of each baking supply at Bulk Barn. Not bad for stocking a kitchen to the gills.

On a side note, I assume the high prices have to do with packaging and brand name. Glass is more expensive than plastic and plastic bottles are more expensive than bags. This leads to a functionality issue as well. If you do any cooking at all, you realize that having spice jars, like the ones McCormick spices come in, simply doesn't work in the cooking process. They are great to store in a rack, but when it comes time to actually use the spice, you never just shake spice out (at least I don't). You measure it with a measuring spoon, which would require you to remove the cap and dump some out, wasting time. It is much easier to use the bulk barn bags and just scoop out what you need. For storage, I just stuff them in some old tupperware containers and put them in the cupboard.

Thus as a final point, if you are thinking about stocking a kitchen, you are much better off getting materials at bulk barn and forgoing convention by not using spice jars.


Anonymous said...

Nice research! The bulk spice store is a little out of my way but I should definitely make the effort with savings like these.

Kris at Get Rich Slowly

ACL said...

Spices don't *keep* as well in plastic as in glass. However, if you keep your glass containers (or purchase ones that work better for your usage), you can certainly refill from plastic bags.

I rarely measure spices except by eye. If I'm aiming for a particular measurement, I measure by eye into the palm of my hand. Spicing does not need to be scientific.

Anonymous said...

Have you considered that the freshness of a spice is very much affected by exposure to light, moisture and air. These are not controlled at a bulk outlet in comparison to product purchased and sealed when it was fresh. If you are buying what you need for "right now" you are probably fine with bulk store open bin purchases but if you are stocking a pantry then you might take that into consideration.

One more consideration is control of cross contact, will it matter to you if there is cilantro in your parsley or garlic powder in your ginger

Cheeseburger said...

Depending on the turn-around time on when they refill a bin (chili powder sells quicker than cumin for example), then worrying about how fresh the spices are would be a concern.

As well, I don't think my palette is sensitive enough to notice the difference between 3 month old and 8 month old spices.

I keep mine in small tuperware containers in a dark cupboard to minimize light and moisture exposure.

The first time I make something I always follow the instructions then I would adjust measurements as need be.

Each spice bin has it's own scoop so I am not worried about contamination.

Anonymous said...

Excellent. Just what I was looking for. Intuitively pop brands command absurd premiums.
Use unit pricing comparisons for all food items and diets e.g. vegetables meat and pasta.