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How to Purchase in Bulk at Whole Foods (Bring your Own Containers)

How to Purchase in Bulk at Whole Foods (Bring your Own Containers)

How to shop in bulk at whole foods, bring your own containers and bento bags

I did it! Today I went to Whole Foods and purchased items from the bulk section and this time, I decided to bring my very own containers and my personal favorite, bento bags. I had been meaning to start this for months (in my continued efforts to be kinder to the Earth) but the last time I purchased in bulk the staff didn't even know how to use the machines and well... I was overwhelmed.

My first time trying this (months ago) the person who helped me did not understand tare weight and was not aware that the scale by the bulk area did not offer a custom tare weight (it was pre-programmed to remove the plastic containers provided by Whole Foods.) Understandably, bringing your own containers is still a relatively unknown movement. 

Fast forward to my latest endeavor and well...this time, I was determined.

Can You Bring Your Own Containers to Whole Foods?

Yes, you can bring your own containers to some Whole Foods Markets, and mine was more than accommodating; however, not all Whole Foods Markets are. 

When I originally wrote this article, I was blown away by how easy it was to purchase in bulk at my Whole Foods here in New York. However, so many of you have written to me that your local store did not allow this, so I set out to investigate. As it turns out, you are unable to bring your own containers "unless the containers are both intended for reuse and purchased at the retailer."

What are your thoughts about this rule? Doesn't it seem to be a bit dated based on the current movement to create less waste???? Please join the others and leave me a comment below.

I would recommend giving your Whole Foods a try, or perhaps even calling first to see how your specific Whole Foods Market approaches bulk shopping with bringing your own containers. 

Checklist - What You Will Need to Bring With You 

Here is a quick list of what we bring with us to Whole Foods, or other grocery stores that have bulk items. Since it seems some Whole Foods may be giving you a hard time to bring your own containers, we have found that they do not give us any issues whatsoever with produce bags, so use them for everything! 

  • String Bags - we use these for larger items, apples, potatoes, eggplant, etc.
  • Produce Bags - we use this 3 pack for various items & usually bring two sets with us. The small bags are great for herbs, garlic, shallots, etc. The medium size bags are great for onions, pears, smaller produce. The large bags are large and mesh and can fit quite a bit of produce. You can also use these bags for some of the larger items in the bulk section - like pistachios! 
  • Farmers Market Kit - This kit includes all of the bags you will need in one kit; even a bag to grab yourself a fresh loaf of bread while you are there. One reusable cotton 4 the Greater Good bag, one long handle string bag, 3 produce bags, and a bread bag. Throw some of your own containers into the bags and hope your local Whole Foods will allow you to use them. 
  • Reusable glass containers (consider olive oil, salad dressing, nut butter jars, containers for oatmeal, flour, etc.)

How To Buy in Bulk with Your Own Containers, Whole Foods

1) Start by taking your containers and bags to the customer service counter for them to mark the tare weight (this is simply the weight of your container so you are not paying for the total weight of your items and container at checkout!) When I did this, the person helping me grabbed some masking tape, but I requested that he actually write the weight on the bottom of the glass itself. He obliged but looked at me like I was a bit crazy... lol. The more of us who do this, the fewer crazy looks we will receive (not that I mind of course.)

2) Next, take a photo of the tare weights on the containers with your cell phone. If the numbers happen to wipe off while you are shopping, it could be a big headache to remove your homemade peanut butter to calculate the tare weight...

Bonus, our reusable produce bags are perfect for shopping in this section and they actually have the tare weight printed right on the bag! This step makes it super easy.

3) Fill your containers with your bulk items.

4) Write the PLU# on the container with a washable crayon (we love these)

5) No need to use the scale in the back of the bulk section as it currently doesn't have the ability to remove the tare weight. Simply write the PLU# and take it up to the cashier. Show them the tare weights on the bottom of the container, and let them know the PLU# are written on the jar and BAM!

6) Sit back and know that you are an awesome eco-warrior and others will all soon be noticing your efforts and begin to follow your lead. Congratulations on being a leader!

The short answer to successfully purchase in bulk at Whole Foods is:

1)Go to customer service to weigh your bags for the tare weight.

2)Take a photo with your phone in case it wipes off.
3) Fill your items in the bulk section.
4) Write the PLU# on your containers with a washable crayon.
5) DO NOT USE THE SCALE in the bulk section, it does not calculate correctly and you will end up printing labels unnecessarily.
6) Take your items to the cashier and show them the tare weights on the bottom of the containers and the PLU#.
7) Congratulate yourself on being an eco-warrior.


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  • I just called my local WF store and they said I could not use my own containers at salad/hot bar. The only alternative to their plastic monstrosities would be to use the soup or paper containers they provide vs the plastic.

  • I live in Austin ( the birth place of whole foods, they are everywhere here). I’ve tried a few stores, but none will let me use a glass container from home. Also for some reason our bulk sections seem a bit lacking compared to the stores I’ve seen in CA. We don’t have bulk spices or nuts at all. Seems strange considering, thought it may have been a weird TX law, but sprouts has them so I guess not.

  • I bring my own biodegradable bags, they are so light so no need to weight and write with pen on the edge the PLU #. At the cashier you’ll get 10 cents per every bag you bring. And if I’m careful enough, as they are so thin, I can reuse these bags next week.

  • Today I attempted to bring my own containers for the bulk aisle at my local Whole Foods, and I was told by the cashier that they do not allow it. I wrote to Whole Foods to complain about my store’s policy, and this is the response I received:

    Thank you for reaching out to Whole Foods Market with your question. Federal Food & Drug Administration regulations prohibit consumers from using their own containers for bulk and prepared foods purchases unless the containers are both intended for reuse and purchased at the retailer. Specific details about FDA regulations regarding reusable containers can be found on page 79 of the FDA code:

    Our stores provide environmentally friendly compostable and recyclable containers for our prepared foods salad and hot bars, and our Team Members can offer additional sustainable packaging suggestions for meats, cheeses, and other departments.

    If you have any additional questions, you can respond directly to this email or contact us at 1-844-WFM-TALK.

    Many thanks,
    Customer Care
    Whole Foods Market

    Karen in Iowa
  • The Whole Foods near me said I’m only allowed to use the containers they provide, meaning I’m able to reuse the plastic containers in the bulk section but I can’t use my own jars. Many posts I’ve read say that WF no longer allows them to byo containers due to the FDA health regulations. :(


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