The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Saving Money On Flour and Other Staples

baltochef's picture

Saving Money On Flour and Other Staples

Several recent threads voicing concern over the recent rise in the prices of flours prompted me to start this thread..

For people living long distances from a nearby source of good flour(s) I recommend starting a co-op to purchase flour(s) in bulk..The smallest amount that most mills will consider packing up and shipping is a full pallet of twenty 50 lb. bags of flour..This may at first glance seem to be an obscenely large amount of flour to consider purchasing at one time..However, from my own needs baking bread for myself, and one otjher person, I know that I could easily purchase and store up to 250 lbs. at a time without risking the possibility of the flour spoiling before I finished using up the last of it..People baking for larger families can easily store, and use larger amounts..

The logistics of storage is generally the biggest concern..For storing 20-25 lbs, of flour at a time I recommend the followimg containers..While not dirt cheap, they will last for decades with reaasonable care (some of mine are pushing 10 years old)..I recommend the white polypropylene containers over the clear polycarbonate containers, as the clear containers are easily fractured by an errant drop to any hard surface..The white containers will bounce off a hard surface when dropped..They can be broken, especially at the corners, but one has to work at breaking them, unlike the clear ones that break pretty easily..

For storing larger quantities of flour the baker is going to have to decide how much convenience is desired over the extra work to fill several smaller containers from a single 50 lb. bag of flour..Plastic, aluminum, and SS ingredient bins on casters are available to purchase, albeit at a premium price..Used is always a possibility..Traditional 20-32 gallon galvanized steel garbage cans make good, relatively inexpensive flour containers..Dollies with wheels are available for round cans if mobility is desired..

I believe that those bakers such as are represented here on The Fresh loaf are going to have to give very serious consideration to adopting a new mindset as regards to purchasing and storing bread flours..I believe that the current situation is only going to worsen as the economy declines, and as the healthy business's survive, weeding out the marginal ones..If we as serious bread bakers want the smaller so-called boutique flour mills to survive the coming lean times, then we are going to have to patronize those firms to the possible exclusion of NOT purchasing flours from the giant, nationwide grocery chains..

For those people living within a several hundred mile drive of a good, small flour mill, this might mean being willing to spend part of a weekend every month or two that is dedicated to driving to the mill to purchase a 1-2 months supply of flour direct from the miller..Many of the smaller boutique mills are already set up to sell direct to the consumer in this fashion..For any mills that are not set up to sell direct to the public, a few letters, and or phone calls, from home bakers expressing a willingness to purchase the mill's products above and to the exclusion of the giant flour producers products, might go a very long way to getting such a mill to sell direct to the public..

This is especially true of the few mills that specialize in organic flours..Everything humanly possible should be done to insure the survival of these all so valuable sources of organically milled flours..

As I mentioned in one of my recent posts, I fully believe that serious home bread bakers have over the past 10-20 years, and are currently continuing to be, marginalized by the producers of flours aimed at supermarkets..The flours packaged in 2-5 lb. paper sacks destined for sale in supermarkets are a major pain in the butt for the huge flour producers..Regardless of how much we as comsumers need and want these products, the amounts sold in supermarkets are but a tiny fraction of the yearly flour sales for the big food conglomerates..Most of their yearly flour sales come from the sale of 50 lb. bags of flour destined to be sold to commercial bakeries, and by railcars of flour sold to food factories..In the Baltimore area it is very hard to any longer find 10 and 25 lb. bags of A-P flour, something that was fairly common to find in local grocery stores just a few short years ago..

We live in an age where the average person / family crams an awful lot into each 24 hour day..In addition to filling our days with activities, we do not particularly care to be inconvenienced..As a result, we have become accustomed to one-stop shopping at our grocery stores..People my age, 54, can barely remember the days when meats were purchased at a butcher, lunch meats at a delicatessan, fruits and vegetables at a produce store / stand, and everything else at a dry goods store..We tend to regard those days as quaint, nostalgic remembrances that have little to no meaning in the 21st Century..We forget that those individual small stores tended to do what they did very, very well, with a lot of specialization, and generally a ton of pride in serving their community well..For the convenience of the grocery store, Americans have substituted quality of product and service for supposedly lower prices, quantity of choices, and convenience..

As bakers that are increasingly finding it harder and harder to find quality products in our local grocery stores with which to bake with, it is up to US to make the decisions to regain some of the control over our food choices..Organic flours, milled by a speciality miller are the best way to start taking control of those choices..It only takes twenty people purchasing 100 lb.s of flour each to obtain the pallet price from a mill..

Another way might be to get a pallet added to a truck that is delivering flour to an artisan bakery near to where you live..Smart, resourceful bakers willing to invest some time, and perhaps a little money in flour storage containers, should be able to source out high-quality flours regardless of where in the United States they live..

People living in very rural areas are going to have the toughest time getting flour delivered..Even so, adopting the rural Alaskan method of twice-yearly deliveries of staples should insure that a family gets the best prices on flours..I lived in Alaska for two years, and a lot of the folks up there can only afford to get the heaviest items that they need for survival delivered 1-2 times a year by barge or small plane..Bakers in the lower 48 states not close to a small flour mill might have to consider storing 500 lbs. of flour at a time in rodent-proof containers in order to be able to afford the high-quality flours of their choice..



LindyD's picture

People my age, 54, can barely remember the days when meats were purchased at a butcher, lunch meats at a delicatessan, fruits and vegetables at a produce store / stand, and everything else at a dry goods store..We tend to regard those days as quaint, nostalgic remembrances that have little to no meaning in the 21st Century..

Great post, Bruce, but I take it you live in a big city.  I live in a rural area and the good news is that there are lots of specialized food stores in just about every town.  Butcher shops, delicatessans, produce stands, and of course, the absolutely wonderful farmers' market that take place twice each week during the summer in just about every small town around.  They specialize in selling local fresh produce and are always packed with happy customers.

If you drive the rural roads, you'll also come across roadside tables sitting on green lawns, loaded with garden veggies (including sweet corn) for sale. Sometimes there are kids out there to take your money, but many times there's just a jar, a piece of cardboard marked with the prices - and you pay on the honor system.

Alas, there are no mills that I'm aware of, but there are food co-ops to be found.

iancameron's picture

Hi Bruce, I agree with you 100%. I hail from the Interior of British Columbia, starting a very small bread bakery back in January. The price of flour in the local stores has risen by 20-25% since then, forcing me to look further afield for product. Fortunately there is a milling company about 200 miles away, that is willing to package 25kg sacks for me if I can gaurantee a firm monthly order of a pallet, minimum. I have to go and pick it up. Actually, not a bad deal. 25kg coarse whole wheat, $18. Cdn. Unbleached white $23. Cdn. They can't guarantee organic (yet) but there is not a large demand for it in my part of the world. Also, I am able to offset the transportation costs by selling some flour on the side.Folks come with old flour bags, and one dear old soul has an old cotton Purity flour sack to fill every other week.  Hey, in this day and age, you do what you have to do to survive.


Building my loaf at a time.

Janknitz's picture

Would it be a pain in the butt if . . .

Small scale commercial bakers would sell smallish quantities of flour to home bakers who are interested in good quality flours but truly do not have the storage space or capacity for large quantities at a time?

It seems it would benefit the commercial bakers who could then assure the millers of buying a certain minimum quantity of flour monthly and perhaps make a profit on the flour sold to home bakers.  Home bakers could bring their own containers and pay for just the amount of flour needed--with certain minimums to make it worth the commercial baker's while.  This would make those specialty flours available to the home baker in reasonable quantities and prices.   Commercial bakers could also place limits on when flour is available for sale, so it works for their schedules (i.e. Saturday afternoons between 2 and 4 p.m.).

I am making certain assumptions in suggesting this.  A major one is that there are not so many home bakers in pursuit of these specialty flours that the commercial bakers would be overwhelmed with flour buyers so that they would not have time to attend to their own baking or face stiff competition from home bakers who will no longer buy commercial artisan breads. 

Home bakers often have "day jobs" and time for baking (especailly artisan-style breads with long, multi-step ferments) is limited.  That means that the amount of bread we can bake--and the amount of flour we can use--is necessarily limited.  It makes no sense for me, who takes about a month to go through a 10 lb bag of unbleached white flour (and longer if I'm using various specialty flours in addition) to buy flour in 50lb or more increments.  I have NO place to store that much flour--not just the fact that I have no large container, but literally no room to put such a container even if I had one.   (I fear that an opaque plastic bin on castors will not enhance the eclectic decor of my tiny living room)

But the thought of visiting a local artisan baker, inhaling the smell of baking bread and admiring (and most likely buying) a loaf or two along with my bucket  of flour would be a great enhancement to my baking life.  And if it helps the commercial baker and local economy too, that's good for all.   

photojess's picture

to say the very least.  That was a nice read through.  I certainly wouldn't have the ability to store hundreds of pounds of flour, but I do support our local co-op, almost on a weekly basis.  They buy the larger bags of flour, and then break it down.  If there are a few more cents tacked on, I don't mind supporting them in paying it.  I also know that the turnover of the flour is pretty quick too, so don't have to worry about freshness.

We too have the luxury of farmers markets and roadside stands, where you buy things on the honor system......just don't take big bills, and expect to get change back!  Some of those money containers are solidly locked!

Hoyden's picture

I'd love to buy a local (especially organic) flour in bulk.  I am surprised at how quickly 2 people can go through 25 lb of flour . . . I could easily buy and store 150 to 200 lb.  I looked at my local food coop and they're not currently offering flour. . .

I was wondering if there's a way in this forum to have a list of mills that are willing to sell direct to the public?

I also think the idea of buying from a local baker is a win win.

xaipete's picture

It is getting more and more difficult to obtain ordinary staples in grocery stores even if you live in a fairly large metropolitan area. I like KA Bread flour but not every market carries it. I find myself going to 5 or 6 markets on a routine basis for various regular items. Last night I was out of cracker meal (I know you can make it from crackers, but I happen to prefer the boxed product). My husband stopped at the local Raley's, which is not a small store, called me 3 times asking where it was located, asked 4 people in the store, and nada. He then went to Safeway, and no luck there either. One hour later he arrived home with a box of crackers. But this is just one example of a common item that you can't count on obtaining anymore. It's just infuriating--makes me want to go over to the general manager of Raley's and wring his neck! I have to keep a mental list of which store carries this or that. I usually buy 2 or 3 of these kinds of items when I'm lucky enough to find them so I don't run out for a while. White melba toast is another difficult to obtain product as is Ian's panko bread crumbs.


Hoyden's picture

I do that too, I shop at about 4 or 5 grocery stores for various things.  Two branches of the big chain (they stock different stuff), a small local grocer with a good meat selection, Whole Foods for stuff that 'nobody' else is carrying and yet another place for my coffee beans, oh and Costco too.  I might as well be going to the butcher, the baker, the delicatessan and the green grocer . . .

Grocery shopping is the one thing that technology hasn't really improved - sure we have a much larger variety of stuff to choose from - but we spend just as long as we ever did tracking it all down and toting it around.  I really pine for online grocery shopping with home delivery.  They say it'll never happen because people won't 'impulse' buy and manufacturers need you to actually see and touch the product.  I think a big reason still exists is because of impulse buys - it could work online, couldn't it???

summerbaker's picture

I would totally be into getting together with some other people in the Tallahassee, FL area to purchase some large quantities of flour.  Anyone out there?