Buying in bulk and splitting the bill: Shoppers get creative to combat inflation

Michael Browne

While buying food and groceries in larger sizes and quantities may sound like a counterintuitive response to inflation, a growing number of shoppers are turning to bulk purchases from mass retailers and warehouse clubs as a way to save money.

But there’s a twist: More and more of these shoppers are splitting up their bulk purchases with family and friends in a creative, money-saving effort that is paying off.

“Bulk buying and sharing allows households with limited funds to enjoy the economic advantages of larger-size products,” says Jill Blanchard, president, enterprise client services at Advantage Solutions, a leading business solutions provider to consumer goods manufacturers and retailers.

“This is a much-needed solution for households that use a disproportionate amount of their income on necessities such as groceries.”

While smaller-size products come with a lower price that accommodates households with limited funds, larger-size products provide a better price per ounce or count, Blanchard notes, and people that can afford them are leaning into those larger sizes. By sharing the cost, shoppers can reap that discount.

A recent Advantage survey of more than 1,000 shoppers shows that fully one-third report currently buying in bulk and splitting the groceries — and more than four in 10 shoppers say they would consider doing so to help manage grocery costs.

The majority of those buying in bulk and splitting the cost with others are doing so with family members (78%), with a smaller but still significant number (42%) splitting these purchases with friends and neighbors. Roommates are also getting in on the action, with 12% of shoppers divvying up grocery costs this way.

While this type of expense sharing may not be new to families and those in roommate situations, there does appear to be more of a cost-related push behind this method of shopping than just a matter of convenience. Picking up a gallon of milk or loaf of bread for a neighbor is one thing; splitting a case of cereal or toilet paper is another.

With seven in 10 shoppers surveyed saying that rising grocery costs are having an impact on their behaviors, it’s no surprise they are looking for new solutions. More than a third of shoppers say they are visiting mass retailers more frequently and 17% are buying groceries at warehouse stores more.

In addition to the one-third of shoppers buying and splitting bulk groceries, more than half (55%) report buying more private brands and nearly as many (47%) are buying fewer treats and indulgences to save money. Four in 10 say they are buying more multipacks of grocery products.

A recent Wall Street Journal article notes that splitting bulk purchases is increasing among younger shoppers, who are joining warehouse clubs in growing numbers. The growth is partially because Gen Zers are entering adulthood and taking on the responsibilities of grocery shopping, but also because they are drawn to the lower per-unit food costs, Rupesh Parikh, a senior equity research analyst for the financial-services company Oppenheimer, told the Journal.

Among groceries most purchased this way, according to the Advantage survey, are fresh meat and seafood (44%), pasta and rice (43%) and beverages and snacks, 39% and 38%, respectively. Approximately one-third also purchase and split cereal and breakfast foods, fresh produce and frozen foods.

“Consumers are getting more creative. While sharing groceries may seem like an ‘out there’ concept, the grocery industry isn’t immune to rapid modernization,” Blanchard says, noting that there actually is an app in South Africa for buying groceries in bulk and sharing with third parties. Is that something we can expect here as bulk buying and sharing continues to take hold?

“It’s only a matter of time,” she says.