a peek inside the fishbowl

13 Mar, 2017

About that reusable container program at Bulk Barn

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Yaktivism

I had the chance to try out the new reusable container program at Bulk Barn this past weekend.

I first heard about it about a month ago. The cashier popped a flyer about it in my bag and I was intrigued, for a few reasons:

1) We use an awful lot of plastic when we visit Bulk Barn and it would be nice to decrease this amount, even a little bit. If everyone decreased their plastic use a little bit, it would actually make a big difference!

2) By filling my own containers I have a better shot at buying exactly what I need. Take for example, spices. I always end up buying more than my small spice jars can hold and I’m left with little baggies of spices loosely rolling around my pantry. (It’s a first world problem, I know. But there it is.) Same goes for nuts, and nuts are not cheap, so I don’t like to overbuy (unless it’s on sale, of course).

3) I can put to good use a few of the jars I have squirreled away.

So I grabbed an old jam jar I had thoroughly washed and dried and went merrily on my way.

Trying out the Bulk Barn reusable container program!

My merriment came to an abrupt halt as soon as I stepped inside my local Bulk Barn. There were two cash registers open and a loooong line up at each one. Sigh. (Note to self: don’t shop here on Sunday afternoons.)

Here’s the problem: in order to use my own container I need to line up twice, once to get it weighed, and a second time to pay for my order. I got to thinking that this wait time could be eliminated if there was a scale available at the front of the store for customers to use for this purpose. Maybe it could spit out the weight of the container on a slip of paper a customer can then bring up to the register?

I waited in the shorter of the two lines and had my jar weighed. The cashier wrote the weight on a wee sticker and stuck it to the bottom of the jar.

My goal on this day was to pick up a half jar of smooth/natural peanut butter (which I had been seriously craving) but I was distracted by all of the things I could have filled up my jar with. (I’m not even talking about all the nuts and candy – just “wet” goods!) There were a couple kinds of honey, all kinds of nut butters including cashew, almond, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, coconut oil, icing, molasses, shortening etc. And there was also a “grind your own” nut butter station. (I am totally saving this for next time.)

Grind your own peanut butter machines at Bulk Barn

This is what I eventually chose:

Bulk Barn

The big scoops are a bit awkward but I was able to avert any kind of peanut-butter-related disasters. There were also tissues nearby so I was easily able to give the rim of the jar a quick wipe before I put the lid on it. Mission accomplished!

On my way home I popped into Loblaw’s to pick up a couple of things and decided to check the price of their smooth/organic peanut butter while I was there:

PC Organic Peanut Butter

The price tags at Loblaw’s have a handy breakdown of cost per 100g, which in this case is .958/100g. As you can see, it’s cheaper than the same stuff at Bulk Barn, which was on sale at $1.22/100g. I was convinced the Bulk Barn brand would be less expensive, but I was wrong. Oh well. It was worth investigating, and it’s yummy, AND I’m happy that I was able to use my own container! And a glass one at that. I’d still call that a win, even though I spent a few extra cents:

Bulk Barn

What do you think? Do you see yourself bringing your own containers to Bulk Barn?

If you’d like a few extra details, you can read more about Bulk Barn’s Reusable Container Program right here. (Worth noting: not all containers are accepted, and they have to be cleaned before you get there.) Click on the link for Bulk Barn coupons too!

8 Responses to "About that reusable container program at Bulk Barn"

1 | Misty Pratt

March 13th, 2017 at 2:05 pm


You and I are apparently on the same wavelength, as I was just drafting a post for KIC on this! I won’t read yours yet in case I accidentally plagiarize your thoughts ;)

2 | Claudette

March 13th, 2017 at 4:36 pm


I’ve wondered how this would work in person as I have seen (and posted) this exact thing on social media.

I’m glad you wrote it up. My mom was interested in the practical side of this, so now I can send her your post.

I have a few of ‘rhetorical’ questions:

1. For people who use coupons (buy $10 worth to get $3 off), how many jars would you have to lug with you? I guess it would depend on what you buy….(there’s a big volume difference in, say, sprinkles vs almonds).

2. For spices, you would have to bring several jars at a time, right? To use the coupon mentioned above, you might have to also buy other things to get to the $10 mark, since spices don’t weigh much…(I usually stock up on spices at the same time, rather than only on one type every visit.) So practice and learning how to estimate accurately would dictate how many jars you would have to bring with you for your next trip.

3. For people like me, I go go the Bulk Barn once every couple of months to stock up. It’s not a weekly trip for me. I end up buying quite a lot, and a lot of heavy stuff (flour, rice, nuts). In terms of bringing my own jars for a trip like that, I’m not convinced that it’s practical. Say, a large jar for rice, or flour, would be quite bulky whereas scooping into a bag would make more sense. So in some cases, I can see where a bag, although environmentally not desirable, would be more practical.

I’m still on the fence how I will shop there next time.

3 | andrea tomkins

March 14th, 2017 at 9:00 am


Misty: I’m looking forward to hearing about your final conclusions! I think Bulk Barn’s intentions are good and I’m glad they’ve made it easier for people to shop this way.

Claudette: you’ve made a lot of great points for sure. Stocking up with jars might be a bit of a pain in the butt but it’s not impossible. I think a half-dozen empty containers would travel ok in a big cloth bag as long as you’re careful.

I can see myself using the reusable container program for the nut butters for sure, and maybe a few of the other “wet” items. The items I buy the most often at Bulk Barn include the ingredients for granola: oats, coconut, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, pecans. I already have jars for these at home. BUT when I go to Bulk Barn I can’t bring them with me because there is usually a bit left in the bottom. I restock because I’m running low, but I’m not completely out. The jars we bring for refilling need to be completely empty, so it presents a bit of a disadvantage for me because it’s caught me at a particular point in the buying/eating cycle. Also: I don’t really want to buy something in one jar, only to have to transfer it to another jar. KWIM?

re: the coupon. I spend $10 at Bulk Barn almost as soon as I step over the threshold. It’s very easy for me to do, especially when the kids come along. Sigh. You’re right in that it depends entirely on what you buy that day. It’s hard to rack up $10 worth of spices! I rarely get more than one kind of spice when I go, unless I’m cooking up a special dish and need a bit of this and a bit of that.

4 | Claudette

March 14th, 2017 at 4:48 pm


Those are good points you mention, and I wonder if this may work for me in the long term as well (bringing jars). Like you, I like to stock up before I completely run out….

Maybe the answer is to start with a few jars, and transfer from some bags to no bags as I gain more experience with this.

Also, my closest Bulk Barn location has closed, so now I’m bound by a kid’s activity to go to that location which is during a high volume shopping time…(i.e. lots of customers in the store during that time). My standing in line time to weigh jars will now be dictated by how much time this will take (kids are busy for an hour, it takes me 15 min to drive to that store from their activity and another 15 back, leaving me 30 min for shopping including standing in line twice….not sure how this will work out). (Gosh I sound like such a ‘parent’.)


Ultimately I feel it’s a good program. I want to maybe keep a few jars on hand for just that shopping trip (kind of like how i reach for the same reusable bags each time I go out to a grocery store).

Thanks again for the tips!

5 | Valerie

March 14th, 2017 at 5:35 pm


I’d like to try it for flour and sugar. I use rubbermaid-type containers at home. Would they take those? I find that putting these into the thin plastic bags always makes me feel like they’re going to rip and fall.

6 | andrea tomkins

March 15th, 2017 at 9:57 am


Valerie: It seems like they will take plastic containers. This is from their website:

Before any reusable container is used in our stores, please verify to a cashier that the container meets Bulk Barn standards for use.* Some of these standards include:

Is the container or bag free from chips, cracks, stains, debris, dirt, rust and residual food?

Is the container or bag reusable and designed for food?

Is the container or bag resealable, with a lid, drawstring or clip-closure?

Paper and plastic bags are not acceptable for reuse.

We reserve the right to reject any containers that do not meet our minimum standards.

7 | Misty Pratt

March 16th, 2017 at 9:04 pm


So I finished mine and read yours :) We do have some similar points…I suggested that they need a self-serve weigh station. ‘Cause Saturday morning line-ups are a pain in the butt! I will continue to use my own containers for sure, but I hope there are a few improvements!

8 | andrea tomkins

March 17th, 2017 at 8:23 am


I think we are definitely on the same wavelength Misty! Lining up twice is a pain, especially when it’s busy. And you made a great point about Bulk Barn rewarding people by bringing their own containers too. Maybe shaving off a couple cents or giving out paper coupons would encourage more people to use the program?

I also wanted to mention that the Bulk Barn organic peanut butter is surprisingly good! I’ve been eating it all week!

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