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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.