- Tops Markets is slimming down its bulk bins and converting many selections over to pre-portioned packages, according to a news release. Sixty of the chain’s 169 stores have instituted the new conversions, with the remainder slated to change in 2018.
- Tops plans to implement 12-foot tub sections with bins that are 47% smaller than its current ones, the company noted. Meanwhile, the smaller packages, labeled “Better For You,” vary in size from 6 to 21 ounces, and include the traditional bulk food items as well as locally produced treats and organic foods.
- The reduction of the bins provides more room in the stores and allows more versatility for the item to be displayed throughout the stores, according to Tops.
As consumers become more health conscious, portion control becomes key. For stores that sell bulk foods, shoppers may feel the temptation to dig into a bin of favorite chocolate covered pretzels or dried fruit and nuts, without realizing the number of calories involved.
At the same time, many bulk department shoppers would argue that bulk buying allows them to buy smaller portions of foods like beans, cereal and chocolate that often come pre-packaged. Doing so also allows them to avoid excess packaging — the same kind Tops is converting many of its bulk items over to.
In any case, Tops Markets shoppers are buying less food in bulk, and because of that the New York chain had to make a move. The “Better for You” containers it's rolling out are intended to meet a variety of consumers’ needs, with smaller sizes geared towards snacking and larger sizes conducive for use in recipes.
Bulk foods have been a staple in some grocery stores for at least twenty-five years, and stores that carried those items were perceived to be committed to whole, unprocessed foods — a very attractive marketing pose these days. Bulk foods also represent savings to customers. Sprouts Market, for example, estimates its bulk foods are 15-20% cheaper than packaged. Bulk bins also allow customers to try small quantities of items, which is particularly appealing for those looking for new spices or ingredients for recipes. In recent years, retailers like Hy-Vee, Kroger, and Wegmans have added bulk bins to their locations.
Considering consumer trends, it’s hard to tell what the future of bulk bins will hold. On the one hand, consumers like the idea of customizing their purchases and being able to try items without a significant cost or waste and may prefer the bulk bin versus the packaged goods. On the other hand, consumers who want quick and efficient trips to the grocery store may skip the bulk aisle altogether.
Two other hurdles for the bulk department are customer education and e-commerce. Supermarkets have always struggled with marketing their bulk selections to mainstream shoppers, and with showing how, exactly, those large bins actually function. Meanwhile, it's hard to imagine how bags of loose banana chips, spicy nuts and other selections will fair in the speed- and efficiency-driven world of online shopping.