East Bay Unwrapped: the Bulk of Berkeley Bowl

Everyone knows that buying foods in bulk can be a cost-effective way to stock up on every day pantry items and your favorite, albeit strange, snacks. Alison even provided tips on what to buy in bulk in her post from last year (click it, it’s got awesome pictures). So why don’t we take advantage of the bulk section more often? Does the prospect of opening your cabinets and being crushed beneath an avalanche of plastic bags freak you out? Is it just more convenient to toss a pre-packaged box into your cart? Or is it that you just aren’t aware of the wide array bulk products?

Check it: Berkeley Bowl has the most diverse, crazy-ass bulk section I’ve ever seen. It’s like an exotic zoo of groceries; you’ll encounter foods you’ve never even heard of and possibly can’t pronounce. But their selection extends beyond just edibles. Here’s what you can expect to net in the ‘Bowl’s bulk aisle:

That was my nickname in high school.

1. Dried fruits: Well duh, right? WRONG. Of course you’d expect to find dried fruit in bulk, but this ain’t your grandma’s dried fruit (eww). They have white peaches, pears, nectarines, cherries, and about six different kinds of raisins. And I’ve only just scratched the surface. There are two different kinds of apple rings (one for $3.99/lb and $4.99 for organic), a tropical fruit mix for $3.99/lb, and persimmons for an admittedly pricey $7.99/lb. But the point is, they have persimmons. A word of caution before you go diving into the mango: you will get hooked. It’s a very addicting snack if you ever enjoyed fruit roll-ups as a child. So unless you want to feed a $8.99/lb habit, don’t touch-a the mango.

2. Granola: I know, I know. Saying there’s a lot of granola in Berkeley sounds like a cheap joke, but after I saw just how many varieties of it there were in bulk, I began to think that there really might be some truth behind the stereotype. No kidding, there were about 15 different flavors of granola available, and they ranged from $3 to $6/lb. For instance, they had cranberry orange (which looked delish), pumpkin flax, and “ginger zing.” I also spotted some low fat and oil free granolas. No matter what kind of vegan you are (kidding), there’s a granola for you!

Guess which one's hiding a katana?

3. Bar snacks: So I guess people really like sesame sticks, huh? It would seem that way, because there were more flavors available than I even knew existed. At $3.39/lb, you could choose from whole wheat, poppy onion, brown rice, and many others. I also saw mini pretzels, generic Cheez-Its, wasabi peas, and something that was all altogether alarming and intriguing called Samurai Mix.  This mix consisted of green, blue, red, and yellow balls of who knows what. Maybe it would be a festive snack for a Samurai party, or something.

4. Tea: Tea Partiers would go nuts if they saw all this tea just waiting to be wasted. And no, I don’t mean the likes of Michele Bachmann and Rand Paul. I was impressed with the selection of teas, each of which cost $16.95/lb. That sounds expensive, but when you think about how much tea constitutes one pound, it’s a helluva lot. Choose from Genmaicha, Darjeeling black, organic rooibos, and organic yerba mate (which only cost $10/lb), to name a few. Then, maybe you could poke holes in your plastic bag and make one giant cup of tea when you get home!

Oh, yeah? How'd it die?

5. Body care stuff: One of these things is not like the others. And by that I mean, don’t eat this stuff. Only at Berkeley Bowl could you purchase your dead sea salts in bulk (and for $3.99/lb, at that).  And if you wanna get dirty, they also sell French green clay at $5.99/lb. Aside from the fancy stuff, there is a selection of bulk shampoos, conditioners, and body washes. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I understand bulk soaps, but someone out there might be interested (or really, really stinky).

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About the author

Mia Di Pasquale - Scroungy Scribbler

Mia is a nice Italian girl from an exotic Italian colony called New Jersey.  She studied English Literature and Screenwriting at Drexel University in Philadelphia and has no intention of ever being a teacher.  Instead, she produces low-budget films with her crew/friends, one of which actually won a contest hosted by AMC and judged by Mr. Robert (Rob) Zombie.  She currently lives and loves in beautiful Oakland, California, which, she maintains, is just as great as and even sunnier than San Francisco.

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