Organizing a Group Buy of Flour

by jefftkjefftk1 min read10th Apr 20204 comments

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We just had a huge shift from people eating out to eating in, and now a lot more people are baking, so we and a lot of people I know have had trouble finding grocery stores with flour in stock. The residential supply chain is struggling to keep up with demand. On the other hand, the commercial supply chain is massively under-utilized: so many restaurants that had been buying 50lb bags of flour regularly are now buying none. What if those of us with households that go through a lot of flour bought some from commercial sources? Not only would we have flour, but there would be less pressure on residential supplies and so more for others as well!

I looked around, and I found that Webstaurant would ship a pallet of flour, 50 bags of 50lbs each, for $1,081 or $0.43/lb. I wrote to friends, wrote to work mailing lists, posted on FB, and found other people that were interested. Enough people wanted flour that I decided to place the order when it was only about half accounted for, since I was getting about 10 more people each day.

Unfortunately, between placing the order and them shipping it they ran out of stock:

Not only were they out of the flour I'd ordered, they were out of all-purpose flour entirely. I considered ordering high-gluten flour, since a lot of people wanted flour for making bread, but bread isn't the only thing people cook and coordinating back with everyone would be a lot of work.

One of my coworkers pointed out that Baldor, a local specialty foods distributor, was now making home deliveries as long as you'd order at least $250 worth. Their flour was a bit fancier (King Arthur Sir Galahad, which is commercial King Arthur All-Purpose) and so more expensive, but their shipping was cheaper so it was still only $0.56/lb. I placed an order for 27 bags on Wednesday and wrote to people letting them know about the change and asking if they wanted to cancel their order; none of them did.

Thursday morning I set an old pallet out on our porch and put plastic sheeting on it, so I'd be able to fully wrap the bags. They arrived an hour later, and they were great about doing a fully contactless delivery. They carried the bags up, put them on the pallet, and left.

I wrapped the bags in plastic to keep them dry and keep animals out:

I told people they'd arrived, people paid me via paypal/zelle/check, and people started coming to pick them up. One thing I hadn't anticipated was how interested animals would be in the flour, and how inconsistent people would be about wrapping the bags back up again. Some people were great, but others weren't. I wrote to people again asking them to please pick up today if they could and to be careful about putting the plastic back, and moved the bags of people who said they couldn't pick up today ginside.

As of this morning I still need four people to pay, and six people to pick up their bags, so we're in good shape!

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I'd like to do something like this - it turns out we go through flour with breathtaking speed if I'm trying to personally keep up with household bread consumption through baking. But I can't find a distributor! I looked at the ones in my area listed on King Arthur Flour's website, and one doesn't have it (I think; they have no search function so I had to look manually through pages of random foods), and the other won't let me check without my having a restaurant account.

It looks to me like you could get King Arthur Special Patent? It's slightly higher gluten (12.7% instead of 11.7%: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/pro/products) but I think it's a decent all-purpose? Or you could get You could get high gluten flour, low gluten flour, and mix them depending on what you wanted to make? https://www.webstaurantstore.com/8935/bulk-flour.html

For the KA SP, https://www.webstaurantstore.com/king-arthur-flour-special-patent-50-lb-flour/104NFL5105S.html , it looks to me like it would ship to you at $38 for one bag or $33/each for ten bags. If you choose larger quantities it gets even cheaper, but they'll want to do common carrier shipping which is a pain to unload (because getting the good of the truck is your job and not the driver's).

You could try asking a local bakery if they would be willing to sell to you. They might be willing to tell you who their supplier is too.

Just be sure to go to the location with the active ovens (if there are multiple locations) or call ahead.

Good read! With businesses slow/closed it makes sense to move to commercial-focused retailers who have similar items but different SKUs, or slightly different products that function the same. The initial cost can be higher but the unit cost is often lower. I had to so something similar with rice for my family. Bought in bulk (not quite your level of bulk) from a commercial sellers in California -- ended up saving money and getting a great product.