If you're on a healthy raw food diet, you need lots of fruits and
vegetables, and that can get expensive and hard to manage.
The supermarket system was meant to provide produce in minimal
quantities for people on a unhealthy standard American diet. As a raw
foodist you need your kitchen and pantry overflowing
with at least a hundred pounds of fruits and vegetables, and the
shelves of the produce isle just aren't going to cut it.
There are a number of cheaper and more efficient ways to go about
stocking your larder, but whatever you do, the key is volume.
Wholesale Produce - Buying
It's the most overused joke in my
life: Are you feeding a monkey at
I get this all the time as I'm walking down the isle of a store with a
40-pound box of bananas. People just can't bend their mind around what
amounts to a normal and healthy volume of food consumption, but this
works in my favor.
Farmers and produce managers put me in the category of food merchant
and become willing to cut me deals. You do need to know where to look,
Wholesale Produce Stop One: The Farm
The best place to get wholesale produce is where it's grown, whether
that's your own garden or the local farm.
Though I live in an area where food doesn't grow for much of the year,
I certainly take advantage of local farms during the summer and fall.
Not only is the food cheaper, but the farmer can tell me exactly how it
was grown in terms of pesticide and fungicide use.
Many farmers have roadside stands where they sell produce at
supermarket prices, but if you're willing to buy from them in bulk
they'll probably be glad to give you significant discount. This may
require some negotiation, however.
I buy peaches, nectarines, apples, and pears by the bushel basket
directly from farmers, and expect to get around 30 percent off. One of
my favorite tactics is to ask for "seconds", which is farmer talk for
comes off trees. These are not perfectly round, may
have some discoloring or a slight bruise, but still taste fantastic in
most cases. Many farmers consider these less valuable because the
general public wants apollonian produce, but I'll take tasty ugly fruit
at 50 percent off any day.
I also buy large amounts of locally-grown lettuce, spinach blueberries,
tomatoes, blackberries and other produce, and have gotten anywhere from
15-25 percent off.
It's all about getting to know the farmers and letting them know that
you'll be a good repeat customer. Many are happy to bypass the
restrictive distributors they sell to, though this is not always the
Wholesale Produce Stop Two:
We know you're not going to find the quantities or prices you need in
the the produce isle, so check in the stock room. If you're willing to
buy by the box or case, 10 percent is the minimal discount that I
accept. It also seems to be pretty standard, though I've negotiated up
to 15 percent occasionally.At 15 percent the store is probably not
making a profit.
Most small chain or privately-owned supermarkets are flexible about
this, and may be able to order you produce they don't stock in the
store. I find larger chains either won't give you a discount or won't
sell by the case at all, though your experience may vary.
The key is making friends with the produce manager and, again, letting
him know you'll be a good customer. If he orders you something, be
there to pick it up when you say you'll be.
Wholesale Produce Stop Three: The Distributor
Supermarkets are supplied with produce by large distribution networks,
which often have a central warehouse that feeds a geographic region or
In Hartford, Connecticut, for instance, I frequently stop at Fowler Produce,
recently bought out by Fresh Point. Because of the companie's
size they sometimes get a lot of exotics which I like to examine. I
believe they must stock a lot of Asian markets at times as well as the
normal grocery stores. They have a locally-grown list as well as a
small organic selection.
There's a cash and carry dock open at specified times and all you have
to do is show up and tell the guy behind the desk what you want. A
wholesale produce warehouse worker speeds off on a forklift and comes
back a few minutes
later with your boxes.
In general, though the "rules" distributors sometimes set up can make
things tricky -some refuse to sell to the public, for instance.
I get around this by telling them I'm buying wholesale produce for a
catering company. My
company caters to me only, of course, but they don't need to know that.
I use this cover at one distributor to get some of the best watermelons
I can find in my area during the summer.
Other distributors will require that you open an account with them,
which usually isn't too much of a problem, but some only accept minimal
orders over several hundred dollars.
You can get around the later issue by teaming up with others and buying
together. If you have large enough orders, you can often have them
delivered by truck to save you time.
Many distributors will send out an email weekly with what they plan to
stock. You email them or call back with your order so they have it
ready for you when you get there.
Finding produce distributors can be tricky because they don't exactly
advertise themselves to the general public. I'd start off with google
searches for "distributor" or "produce" and your state, city, or
region. They tend to be located in big cities or near arterial
highways. The yellow pages may list some, but that tends to be hit or
miss. You can also ask your supermarket produce manager who supplies
Finally, if you keep your eye out, you can usually see the produce
trucks driving on the highways or unloading at supermarkets, which can
give you a name to investigate.
Wholesale Produce Stop Four: Farmers Markets and Asian
Farmers markets tend to be a bit
expensive, but I find that if I go just before they close up, the
prices have been slashed considerably. Much of their produce would be
overripe or rotten by the following week's market, so they want to
unload it at any price.
I've gotten some amazing deals ranging from 50-90 percent off this way.
Once in awhile they'll just give me stuff to prevent it from going to
waste. Most states maintain a list of farmers markets somewhere online.
Asian food markets almost always have a produce section to supply the
Asians who miss the exotic fruits and vegetables of their own
countries. You can often find durian and others great food here. The
best place to look for them is in the China towns of big cities or in
other places asians have settled.
The prices here will vary from rips off to great deals, but I've found
the guys who run them are incredibly amused by a westerner who stops in
for durian and boxes of other fruit, and will sometimes cut me some
I've never been able to figure out exactly who supplies much of their
stock, but I'm still trying.
Wholesale Produce Stop Six: Costco and Other Retail
I'm not a huge fan of retail wholesalers, but sometimes the reduction
in hassle makes them worth it.
I have periodically maintained a membership at Costco, which I find has
relatively higher produce quality than many supermarkets. I've been
inside BJs Wholesale, but was not impressed by the prices, quantities,
At Costco the produce tends to be sold in bulk to some degree. They're
not going to be willing to work with you on prices, which I'd estimate
to be 5 percent below supermarkets on most fruits and vegetables. Some
things are more expensive than a supermarket, however.
Wholesale Produce - Following Up:
If you know how to go about it, you can shave considerable amounts of
money off your food bill. Don't be daunted and just approach the
produce manager next time you're in the store and see how things go. As
you become more confident you can start trying distributors and other
places that catch your eye.