Spending too much money at the grocery-store checkout? No doubt: Gluten-free food can be expensive. Fortunately, our blogger’s got some money-saving tips for you.


Sabatasso's Gluten-Free Cheese Pizza


KIND dark chocolate bars

While I only have a family of two (four if you count fur babies), I find great joy in wandering the aisles of club stores. For Christmas, I received a Costco membership and to this day it’s one of the best gifts in memory. I know that there’s no need for the Prepper-sized boxes of Ziploc baggies or two pounds of cheese and a flat of peaches, but it just feels good buying in bulk.

As someone who must eat specialty food (gluten-free/dairy-free/egg-free), I find myself spending more than twice as much—or more—than most “normal” people. I also know that I spend more than my fair amount of my paycheck on gluten-free substitute food. I’m not great at cutting coupons or waiting for sales, so I thought that maybe using my club store membership could help me save.

Walking into any club store, it can be quite overwhelming to see endless giant boxes of food covering every square inch from floor to ceiling. But then you realize that most of the food isn’t celiac-safe or food-allergy/intolerance-friendly. On the same note, club stores are continuing to bring in a good selection of safe food—food that can justify the membership fee (approximately $55 per year).

Here’s a sampling of some great deals I found on a recent trip. (Prices may change over time, but these examples show what you can find when you price-check.)

 

Honey Nut Chex

 

• Two-pack: Sabatasso’s Gluten Free Cheese Pizza: $11.79

• Giant 20 oz. Popcornopolis Nearly Naked Gluten Free Popcorn: $7.99

• Tasty Bite Madras Lentils (6 Pack) $9.99

• Explore Asian Organic Edamame Spaghetti (2 lbs.) $9.79

• Honey Nut Chex: 2 bags/40 oz. $7.29

Other products I found that are safe and tasty:

 

 gluten-free

 

• KIND Dark Chocolate Bars (24 bars)

• LARABAR Cashew Cookie and Apple Pie (18 bars)

• Golden Island Korean Barbecue Recipe Pork Jerky

• Udi’s Gluten Free Bread (restaurant size)

• Sabra Hummus Single-Serve Packs

I’ve also found that there are plenty of gluten-free product deals online. Just checking out Costco.com, I found Ener-G Foods 15-pack pizza shells for $45, and a 33-pack of their pretzels for $39.99. There were also deals for bulk purchases of Kay’s Naturals, Tanka jerkey, Popcornopolis, Vega and Orgain protein powder, and more. I’ve heard stories of huge bags of gluten-free flour on sale for great prices too, but I’ve never purchased that from a club store—probably because it would go rancid before I could use it all.

A club membership isn’t just for packaged goods, either. There’s plenty of raw meat, staples like rice and beans, vegetables, fruit, and liquor. These are all sold in huge quantities and at pretty amazing prices. Costco, specifically, has really been beefing up their organic fruits and vegetable sections. I left my recent trip with a giant bag of organic baby kale, a flat of nectarines, and a giant bag of avocados for an insane price.

When I asked other gluten-free folks, I found that those who shop at club stores go an average of once a month to stock up on these types of necessities and to search out new gluten-free products and deals. While you can’t beat some of the deals on pantry staples, it’s like Christmas morning when you find a great gluten-free deal at a club store.

On the Other Hand…

So what’s the downfall of shopping primarily at club stores? No, it’s not trying to find where you’re going to put everything after you purchase far too much in far too large packages—it’s waste.

Food waste is a huge problem in America, and I feel like club stores hold some responsibility for that. We are trained to see deals and buy in bulk to save money. However, if you end up throwing away much of the product, are you really saving money?

That bag of avocados I purchased? They went from too hard to too ripe in the matter of a day and ended up in the trash.

The giant bag of kale? I used about a quarter—the side of a bag of kale I would have normally purchased at the grocery store—and the rest went bad and was tossed.

The nectarines? I tried to freeze some, but they went bad before most were eaten.

Unless you can freeze extra, or have a very large family to feed, the cost of the food waste sometimes outweighs the potential savings of a club store.

I recommend that people get a one-year membership to a club store. Menu planning can help outline exactly what you’ll need to purchase every few weeks. When you can make a bulk purchase at a club store, do so—but keep track of how much you’re spending. Jot down food waste from those items, too. Freeze bulk items when you can, but don’t let them get freezer burn and turn into food waste.

At the end of the year, calculate just how much you spent and how much food waste you had—and compare that to the amount of food you would typically buy at a regular grocery store. Add in the membership fee and compare what you really saved with your year experiment. While a club store membership can be useful and cost-effective, make sure you’re capitalizing on the savings by actually using all of the products purchased.

How has your gluten-free club store experience been? Have you really saved money with a membership?

To read the second of Erica Dermer’s two-part blog on how to save money on gluten-free food, click here.