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Jan 6, 2012 09:56 PM

How are bulk bins managed? [split from LA]

(Note: We split this thread from the LA board at: -- The Chowhound Team)


thanks for the reminder about whole foods. I do remember seeing bins at the one in Beverly Hills, but I haven't been there in a long time and I'll take a look at pricing.

I don't want to veer this off topic, but maybe I can since I started the thread....

Does anyone know how Whole Foods or any of the other bulk bin purveyors manage their bins?

I have a unpleasant scene in my head where they just keep dumping new product on top of the old stuff with the possibility that the grain on the bottom of the bin has been there a long, long, long time.

I'd love it if someone would tell some fresh updated managed system where the bins are constantly refreshed and cleaned, but I can't really imagine what that would be. I understand that there is a cost savings due to something.

I know I could ask a manager, but I also know that I probably won't;) So any insider knowledge here would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks again for the tips already mentioned.

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  1. Anyone have any info on this or actually witness the bins being refilled? I was wondering the exact same thing about the bins.

    2 Replies
    1. re: erichalias

      food is accessed from the bottom with a chute system, so old food does not sit on the bottom.

      1. re: magiesmom

        I believe the OP is questioning the system that uses 'barrels' or the big white plastic buckets where the product is scooped out from the top.

    2. the topic is discussed on the not about food board here:

      1. I used to be a manager at a large organic chain, so here's my experience with bulk foods:

        First off, we had four different styles of bins. The tall, skinny ones that you pull a handle to get product out of were called gravity bins. The facing of product you see is just that: a facing. It's a separate compartment that, if the product gets low enough to warrant, it should in theory fall down as you pull the handle. This doesn't always happen perfectly and with retail appearance standards to worry about, these bins are typically refilled before they get that low. In a more ideal world, the bin would at least be pulled off of its harness, that product shaken into the main compartment and then filled from there. I can say from experience that this doesn't happen all the time. It depends on the person doing it, culture involved and time.

        The other two bins are just two sizes of the same design. These are the ones that, when pulled out of their harness, they look sort of like a weird L shape. These were just called "scoop bins" as a result of the fact that the product is removed with a scoop by the consumer. There is a facing shield on the recessed part of the bin. I.E., this product is in its own compartment, separate from the rest. Product gets poured into the top, narrow part and then falls into the bottom, longer part. The facing compartment does not have an automatic way of rotating into the inventory, so you rely on the individual pulling the facing shield out to rotate it in. I often chose to walk the aisle, remove that stock as I noticed bins getting low and then wrote it off if it was anything like dried fruit or nuts unless I could guarantee how long it was there and that it was still good. The rotation on these is not as good as on a gravity bin and the nature of a customer shoving a shovel into the bin to access product dictates that it is less hygienic. These bins have a door that flips up on the front part that sticks out that a consumer lifts to access product. If anything above these bins is small and falls onto that door, there is enough room as the door is lifted that it can slip through the crevice at the joint to create cross contamination.

        The fourth kind of bins... We just called them the "big bins." These were for flour and oats. These are massive containers on wheels that can hold roughly 25kg of rolled oats. These are accessed by a scoop and have a slanted front part covering the product. Consumers slide the door up to open it and then get the product they want. There is no built in rotation method and the nature of that sliding door means that as things fall down from bins placed over them, things inadvertently fall into the bin and create cross contamination. These are generally the worst for cross contamination and hygiene of the purpose made bins. They're hard to clean, rotate and as stock gets low, it gets hard for the consumer to access the product.

        There was actually the occasional other method with bulk where we'd basically take big looking barrels with a fake top (so that it wasn't as deep) and pour stuff in. This was typically for pistachios or other nuts that get sold in shell. No straight forward way to rotate, so as long as the bin is reasonably full, the newest stock is on top. As there is no door to cover the product, these are actually worse than the big bins I mentioned before.

        Cleaning schedules varied depending on the reigning store management and what was going on in the store. The bulk buyers position stated that they had to clean 3 bins per day as a minimum in an aisle with roughly 120 bins. Supposing they were methodical about this, that means every bin is cleaned once in a 40 day cycle. Some bins need it more often though and most people will focus on those bins. Bins often get rotated item to item over the years too as cleaning cycles happen. To be entirely honest, I don't remember most of the bulk buyers being able to even maintain this kind of rotation due to a lack of extra bins and parts and even more so, a lack of time or determination. Cleaning was done in a three sink process: soapy water, rinsing water and then a dip into a chemical bath of some sort that was meant to disinfect the bin. They would then be air-dried ideally, although I caught many people using store rags to do it.

        There's a definite difference in hygienic standards at a store level comparing bulk aisles to their packaged product. Then again, even your packaged product isn't always packed in the cleanest facilities, especially with dry goods. Also, YMMV at your local store. This was my experience at a large, prestigious store doing a ridiculously large amount of volume.