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Organizing a Group Buy of Flour (jefftk.com)
123 points by luu on April 15, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 169 comments

Our grocery chain has been buying rice and flour in bulk from restaurant supply houses and repackaging them in 1lb bags. Pretty agile if you ask me.

I've seen my local supermarket doing that with toilet paper recently. They were out for as long as everyone else and now there are these massive blank cardboard crates filled with individually wrapped rolls like you would see in a hotel or office. So some clever buyer got creative with the supply chain which is awesome.

Meanwhile, my local Target is still sold out...

You can also order toilet paper from the institutional supply chain yourself through a site like McMaster-Carr: https://www.mcmaster.com/toilets/lavatory-paper-products/

2669K23 is a pack of 20 (I have this sitting in my closet right now) and 2669K24 is a pack of 60. 1-3 week lead times, plan ahead.

Nice, I ordered a pack for myself. Better than adding Tp to Instacart and hoping it magically shows up.

One of the local stores here in northern NJ has started doing that as well. They are doing the same with facial tissues.

Smaller stores are likely more agile in this respect, because they don't need to rely on the items having bar codes and entries in their central inventory system. That's what tends to hamstring large, centralized retailers.

I think big supermarkers are making things worse at the moment.

It was very hard to get basic supplies and food when all small shops were ordered to close, and only big supermarkets were kept open, and supplied by organised convoys.

This appears to be rational at first, but it only led to people all rushing to those few supermarkets the moment the convoy arrives, and them being emptied clean by first 50 something people.

It also led to wholesale bases being emptied by supermarkets, as they have the biggest buying power, and biggest truck fleets. Here, I heard that they went through more than 8 months supply of flour in just few weeks.

The situation got much better when small shops were let to open.

Both supermarkets, and wholesalers are of course very happy with that, but that left near nothing for small shops when they reopened.

In North America are non-supermarkets and non-warehouses even 5% of grocery retail? I think that restaurants being allowed to sell groceries would've been cool. But I don't see how mom and pop grocers move the needle at all here.

It's different in the cities. Especially large ones with reasonable immigrant communities. In Toronto, for example, a very sizeable portion of our grocery retail is via small grocers. The prices are cheaper (they source from small farms that supermarkets can't logistically coordinate with) and the quality (especially flavour, but often shelf life too) is almost always better. There are also clusters of small grocers like Kensington Market where rare foods are available that you just can't get at a supermarket. Rare spices, cheeses, or even a real thick, old fashion greek yogurt (perfect for home made tzatziki). The one thing that the small grocers skimp on is presentation though. The fruits and veggies are less shiny or less washed.

But in smaller towns in North America it's getting rarer and rarer to see even an independent butchery, let alone veggie market or bakery.

> I think that restaurants being allowed to sell groceries would've been cool.

At least one restaurant chain already is:


>I think that restaurants being allowed to sell groceries would've been cool.

At least 2 restaraunts in my town do this. Order online, drive around beck (sometimes with a line of cars, but never more than a 5 minute wait), and they drop your food/tp/etc in the trunk. Much better than hitting up Safeway or Costco, and not really much more expensive.

I think the pizza place at DNA lounge sells TP along with the pizza.

Where have small grocery stores been ordered to close while large ones remained?

> This appears to be rational at first, but it only led to people all rushing to those few supermarkets the moment the convoy arrives, and them being emptied clean by first 50 something people.

Wait, they didn't place restrictions on how many items individual customers could buy?

Around fifty people, each buying 2 bag of food, is all that's needed to empty an average load of a 40 feet truck.

> Wait, they didn't place restrictions on how many items individual customers could buy?

Barely did, and even when it was enforced, this didn't prevent panickers reliably rushing to supermarket all and every time the truck arrived to buy full bag of food, or two. People were literally running after that truck.

And the more people see that, the more people do that.

Even switching to food stamps wasn't able to stop that entirely until they got the trick with small shops.

> this didn't prevent panickers reliably rushing to supermarket all and every time the truck arrived to buy full bag of food

Please don't characterize buying a bag (or two) of food as panicking.

That is less than an ordinary amount of shopping at a time for me during times when there isn't a public health order to avoid going out. And I'm not shopping for half as many people as some people are.

Characterizing the reasonable and prudent behaviors, directly driven by the advice of public health officials as "panic" because it is exposing supply chain limitations is extremely harmful.

2 full bags of food will reliably last me 2 weeks.

Even for a family of 4, this should last at least 3-4 days of comfortable living.

Those people there were buying that much food daily. I do remember their faces.

Where was this? Is there an article about it?

Nur Sultan city. Stuck here when I came to collect last payment from a delinquent client for whom we did a project half a year ago.

That was a very foolish thing to do just for a few thousand dollars

The very same situation was happening in some cities in China in first weeks of quarantine, before they also realised that.

After some reading, I realises that this did happen during great lot of modern day famines around the world. "Throwing food off the truck" seems to be a really counterproductive way to distribute food, because of it facilitating overconsumption by the few.

Used to do this when I worked at an agricultural supply company, spent many an hour in the warehouse filling consumer-sized bags of ag-grade fertilizer from a jury-rigged hopper. Probably paid my summer's salary with only a couple days of that work, you could resell 5 cents worth of fertilizer for $20. Apparently made your lawn grass grow like weeds.

When I was in business school, the school was just introducing PC use for projects and had setup a computer lab with PC-AT compatibles as I recall. Yes, I'm dating myself.

Anyway, in addition to making pretty good money as working the desk as a lab consultant if people had any questions and to just keep an eye on things, I sold individual floppy disks. I don't remember the numbers but basically I could place a bulk 100 diskette order for maybe a tenth the price that individual diskettes were sold for in the campus store. It was a nice profitable little side gig that took almost zero effort.

Yep also had a local bakery selling flour and oats that they had bagged from the larger delivery they received.

> Our grocery chain has been buying rice and flour in bulk from restaurant supply houses and repackaging them in 1lb bags. Pretty agile if you ask me.

I haven't seen that yet, but at least one grocery chain in my area was offering 25 lb bags of flour for sale about a month ago (or maybe they were 40-50 lb bags).

Haven't been back since to that store since to see if they're still doing it (been slowly rotating through the four we visit regularly), but flour has been available in 5lb bags so long as you're not too picky about the brand or type

We just finished our 25lb bag from the Ebola panic buying days... make sure before you buy a ton of flour you know what you’re going to do with it. Bread isn’t very good without yeast (good luck finding that), cakes aren’t very good with all purpose flour, pasta is really hard to make without a pasta maker, etc... sorry to be a downer but I’m kind of the opinion that while some flour is good, and it’s certainly good to learn how to use it, don’t expect to transform your kitchen into your favorite bakery. Also... this is just my perspective but Walmart and sams are rocking the supply chain... with some few exceptions we’ve not had to look hard for anything we want and their home delivery process is awesome. Amazon has done a great job too... i do not miss two day shipping at all... as long as I know it’s off my to do list and into their queue I’m good.

Mix flour and water and sugar and in a day you'll have a culture of natural yeast going and you can keep replenishing it as needed. There are also a variety of baking powder/soda breads you can make.

I've been baking cakes since I was about 13 and I have never used anything other than AP flour. OK. I've used bread flour in a pinch, being super-careful to mix it very little because of the high protein content.

Pasta: roll it out thin and cut with a knife. It really doesn't take that much longer. I did it like this forever until I got a pasta roller/cutter.

Not trying to be contrarian, but I felt to point out that nothing here is a show stopper, it just takes a little creativity/experience.

Thank you for adding these points. I did not know about the yeast - so thank you!

> Bread isn’t very good without yeast (good luck finding that)

Yeast is still available online: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HST626C/

> cakes aren’t very good with all purpose flour

We only stock all-purpose, and there are a lot of great cakes you can make with it. Here's one I make a lot: https://www.jefftk.com/recipes/choccake

Before organizing this, we had already gone through about 30lb since we started staying in (https://www.jefftk.com/p/stepping-up-isolation)

Besides yeast being almost-everywhere including the flour itself (the sourdough option others have mentioned) I will point out that you can also leaven your bread with the yeast from beer.

I've become a sourdough bread baker over the past three weeks, going from producing constructionnmaterials (dense bricks) to some of the best bread I've ever had.

Realized yeaast wasn't to be had for love or mone:


Starter recipe:


Took about 6 days to get going. 3rd loaf was a winner. Feedback from household and neighbours is strongly positive as well.

Flour sourcing has been spotty, but even that has upsides: testing out spelt and einkorn, along with whole wheat, AP, and (blech) bleached flour.

Loaves, rolls, pizza, crumpets, and more.

Most of this based of Youtube videos:



Dutch oven, food scale, bench knife (I use a plastering spatula) highly recommended.

Great advice thank you. Where are you finding the spelt and whole wheat?

Very intermittantly.

Spelt was a buy where other flours were cleared out at a natural food store. Last whole wheat was a half-kilo bag. I'll hit numerous stores, early in the day. Buy what's available though AP / whole wheat / specialty by preference.

Gourmet / natural food stores have tended to better selections. Ethnic food aisles often have flour where main selection is out, or specialty flours regardless.

Whole grains are also available. I've contemplated buying a mill.

<I’ve contemplated buying a mill.

As in a business or the machinery to use at home?


Ironically, the KitchenAid I'd always coveted has proved all but wholly unnecessary for breadmaking, though the milling attachmnent is among the options available.

And, FWIW, I'm experimenting broadly with grains and augmentations.

Today's batch was 1000g flour (50% AP, 25% spelt, 20% WW (last of the bag), 5% einkorn), 25g salt, 80% hydration, 200g walnut pieces, 100g mixed whole spelt & eincorn grains (boiled. in salted water). OMFGood.

I've started a straight bleached white flour batch, basically to see what the worst possible flour might be.

Basically: experiment, see what happens.

Sounds great. We just broke out our kitchen aid which had sat dormant next to the bread machine for years. I didn’t know it had a mill attachment but I guess I’m not surprised.

Otherwise known as a Food Buying Club. basic idea is you get enough people together to create a wholesale account with a distributor. Get your order and split it up between the members. Hippies and other Frugal people have been doing this forever (in my world forever, I grew up going to them).

Niche hobby communities do this all the time.

The mechanical keyboard community wouldn't exist without group buys, they rely on them to hit minimum order quantities from producers of custom keycaps, PCBs, and other manufactured items. These are then shipped to proxy vendors around the world who do last-mile shipping to end users.

Homebrew clubs also put in wholesale orders for raw materials like yeast, grain, and hops. These are usually more localized given the large volumes involved, and involve a physical meetup where the goods are repackaged and distributed to the buyers.

I daresay there are more groups like this (home bakers maybe?) but they're largely invisible outside their own circles.

This is kind of the point behind drop.com, no?

Drop has been transitioning away from group buys for sometime now. Since their re-branding their strategy appears more reminiscent of private labeling.

Most products have Drop / Massdrop in the name now.

The most recent two actual (keyboard) group buys that I participated in have been really poorly handled. One is still delayed and has not shipped (order placed 561 days ago). The other shipped broken (to everyone in the drop) after being delayed for months. I had to manually ISP flash a bootloader.

> I had to manually ISP flash a bootloader.

I read about that problem with the Tokyo60 v3. Seems like a big problem with quality control, that should have been fixed by sending a new, working versions of the PCB to all customers.

I'm currently waiting on some Aqua Zilents which are delayed thanks to the current pandemic. I understand the delay, but they waited until the posted ship date (April 10th) to inform customers that it's going to be late. That rubbed me the wrong way for sure.


In their case, they're also trying to host the various communities rather than simply being a tool that anyone can use to run a buy.

yeah I think that is the basic premise behind drop.com. Basically just a non-localized version of it.

I used to organise the group buys for a homebrew club.

We'd buy over a tonne of grain and probably 10 kg of hops every time. It saved us over 50% of what it would cost at the homebrew shop.

I think my record for cheap brewing using bulk-bought ingredients was about $5 for a 5 gallon keg.

yes very true! It can be a great way to make purchases possible, make purchases cheaper,and/or buy less packaging.

Based in Paris, France - even prior to the lockdown, bakeries sold baking-related supplies if you knew how to ask (flour, yeast, pre-made dough at various stages, etc.).

But now they sell it like a main product; even today when I went to buy some bread at one of my local shops, they had sacks of flour set up in the storefront and showcases.

I had no idea! TY!

This isn't really a political point as much as an observation, but... the people in this country who have the worst compensation and benefits are the ones who are involved in the harvesting and preparation of our food. To this point, the supply chain hasn't been too badly affected because poor people need to work to survive and so they'll go to work sick. But now COVID has spread all over the place, and people who are in those fields and slaughterhouses and factories are starting to fall ill. Smithfield just shut down a massive pork processing plant. What happens to our food supply when those people finally say they've had enough? Lack of healthcare, lack of pay, lack of sick days... would YOU willing subject yourself and your family to the possibility that you will catch it and die when your co-worker comes to work with a fever?

In my opinion, we haven't even begun to feel the economic shock of this thing, because we've been able to ignore the foundations of our society for so long.

Yes, just so. Some days ago I posted an NPR Planet Money article about the effect of COVID-19 on farm workers, who are mostly immigrants, and the replies to my comment was so cavalier I could not engage. "The food will be fine", no thought to the harvesters who would likely fall ill. There is a swatch of disposable workers unseen by people like these. Our local grocery was out of chicken parts for a while but now it's mostly back to normal. I'm surprised there's a run on toilet paper, yeast, and flour, but meat and produce are back on the shelves.

I think that maybe a worse (or at least more widespread) part of this is that these are the people least likely to have good or any health insurance, and if they get sick enough to get hospitalized, they're probably facing a $20K bill. There's a lot of media lip service about non-medical essential personnel (a lot of horrid "thank you for your service" to people who have no choice in the matter but to starve) but no state effort in the US to (at a minimum) cover their bills or (additionally) to supplement their pay for risking their and their families' health. While we're ignoring them, we're passing stimulus bills to help bail out stockholders.

There is not a shortage of people who have very little money and will take risks.

One of the reasons why it is so unethical to rely so heavily on streams of undocumented immigrants

There are plenty of people who have an extra $600 a week to take their chances at home.

I hope we strengthen and cross link our food supply chains on a local and regional basis like this more in the future.

Having most everyone in a city or neighborhood buying from a single chainlink or two isn’t a very resilient system, nor does it make for very efficient markets.

Commodities like flour should be available sort of like data on ipfs; the problem is, of course, trust and risk of tampering. Hopefully it won’t be much of an issue and more decentralized supply chains can emerge, making more opportunities for more people.

I’d love to be able to be a local cache node in the food supply chain (or web, perhaps), as I imagine others would be.

I think you just invented grocery stores

No. Everyone in my vicinity buys their non-restaurant food from 2-3 grocery stores. I am talking about having the community's food supply be provided by more suppliers, and each other, p2p style. Perhaps a data-driven "farmer's market" style setup.

Distributed, not just hub-and-spoke decentralized. We just watched the failure mode of that one.

No we didn't, we watched a supply chain shock which could've been prevented if we had some common-sense regulation to require supermarkets and grocery stores to enact purchasing limits if their demand curves start behaving anomalously.

Distributed systems in software are hard. Th idea it'll somehow be easier when you need to truck tonnes of physical goods around is wishful thinking - the same failure modes still apply.

Around where I live, supermarkets started imposing limits pretty quickly. It's in their self-interest not to piss off customers who come into buy something and leave empty-handed.

A lot of Americans have a truck or two, and a lot of storage space. I think that these events won’t soon be forgotten, and even if nothing more happens than more frequent group flour buys and a lot more slack in the chain happens (e.g. more people with 10kg of flour in the pantry) we’ll be better off.

An uber or craigslist or sia for staple foods would be cool though.

Cutting out the middleman (grocery stores) won't remove the hub and spoke architecture.

Particularly when it comes to staple commodities like flour, salt, sugar, etc -- grocery stores by and large buy these items from the same small number of distributors. Grocery and food distribution in general have been consolidating aggressively over the last decade or so.

More can definitely be done on this front with regional produce or prepared/processed foods though.

That's not how any of that works nowadays. How do you deal with agricultural commodities futures in such a model, the 'flip side' of which (crop insurance) is central to businesses in certain commodities? Sure you can say 'that whole system is broken and we need to go back to how it was before the Green Revolution', but that's just ignoring all the other changes we've seen in agriculture since then, and which are all subtly interlinked (like, do we want to go back to a system where double-digit percentages of the population work in agriculture? Can we?)

Any (developing world) group buy experts here? Many years ago, I considered trying to organize fertilizer group buys in sub-Saharan Africa via SMS, where it seemed (to me, as a non-expert in this subject) that many smallholder farmers lacked access to affordable high-quality fertilizer and that group buying might help. I explored this enough to apply for a grant to develop it (and delivery logistics), but that didn't come through and I didn't pursue it further. Has something like this been tried? Is it needed? Seeing this article brought it all back.

In East Africa, there are at least two operations that I'm aware of that do this among other things - One Acre Fund (https://oneacrefund.org/), and Apollo Agriculture (https://www.apolloagriculture.com/).

Thanks very much!

> Webstaurant would ship a pallet of flour, 50 bags of 50lbs each, for $1,081 or $0.43/lb.

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

Insanity! I'm heartened that people are still baking at home though. For comparison, retail King Arthur All-Purpose flour goes for about $3.69 for 5lbs, or $0.73/lb, so at $0.56/lb Sir Galahad flour is still a bargain. Whole wheat flour has bran and germ and the oil they contain make it harder to store than white flour, so I wouldn't buy a lot of it.

Flour is for more than just bread. Top of my head: tart shell, pizza dough, tortilla, thickening up sauces, can't make a roux or a bechamel without flour, fresh pasta, cookies, muffins, cakes.

I question how many people are actually using the flour they're hoarding, and how many are just putting it in the back of the pantry because, "When the end of the world comes, you'll need flour!"

It's very irritating for those of us who actually bake on a regular basis and resisted the temptation to hoard for hoarding's sake.

I've been baking bread under quarantine when I haven't in the past been a baker on a regular basis. What it does is allow me to extend the time between grocery store visits; the usual choice is to buy less frozen food so I can store a loaf or two of bread in the freezer, instead I can fill my freezer and bake when my bread runs out.

I'm doing this quite explicitly - on my last shopping trip I bought one loaf that went straight into the breadbox. When it is gone it will be replaced by a baked loaf.

I don't know if this thinking is common, but obviously extending the time between grocery store visits is a good thing.

tangentially related: I think there's been a lot of unwarranted gleeful bashing of people as universal stockpilers when I suspect that most of this is a tempo/timing thing (which easily destroys a JIT supply chain.) It's not that most people were stockpiling unnecessarily, it's that everybody was shopping at the same time, and fully stocking their larder rather than doing it as casually as they usually would. The special cases of particular staples like toilet paper were intensely covered by the media, IMO creating the hoarding of those staples. In normal times, if I have three rolls of toilet paper at home and I'm at the grocery store, unless a sale jumps out at me I'm probably not going to buy - I only buy when I'm critically low. In current times, that would be a bad move that would result in a special trip just for TP (which would be trivial in normal times.) Not buying the largest size of TP available (which is only around $20) seems reckless under the circumstances. If I hear that people are stockpiling, I might want to buy more than one for fear that when I need TP, I might have to travel from store to store to find it, exposing myself even more.

I'm saying this as somebody who always buys the largest size unless there's a sale that makes a smaller size cheaper by sheet, went shopping a couple of weeks before any quarantines were announced, and therefore hasn't had to buy any during the pandemic. The fact that I was able to make it 5 weeks on what I had at home before going out again was a comfort.


I've talked to most of the friends in the group buy about their baking; it just comes up. People are making bread, pizza, naan, waffles, all sorts of things. I don't think this is people buying flour who aren't going to bake with it.

Around 50% of US meals are in commercial kitchens, be that schools or restaurants. The massive change in commercial to retail sales is going to cause far more issues than hoarders.

I present to you this commenter, who just bought 200 lbs of flour.


Hoarders suck, especially super hoarders like this.

> I do go through a lot of it. My hobby is baking.

Please don't reflexively characterize people who do different things or have different needs as "super hoarders".

If you're willing to dismiss 200 lbs of flour as hobby levels, then do you even believe in hoarding at all?

We're talking enough flour to make 200 loaves. At best, they bought a 3 month supply of flour (and that is baking 2 loaves every day). At worst, this is more flour than they can possibly use, and a large amount of it will go bad (storing 200 lbs of flour inside is a bit of a challenge, so it may be stored in a garage or worse).

And of course, with every product in the grocery store, if we all go out and buy a 3 month or further supply of a basic good, there's not going to be any left. Which only encourages more hoarding.

I don't know about willing to dismiss but you're making assumptions about facts not in evidence. For all you know the poster is cooking for 6 adults.

Moreover, ... whats wrong with a three months supply of flour? For the last few years we've maintained that much flour at my house-- just because its a convenient level to purchase/manage for us, nothing to do with preparedness (which, incidentally, is virtuous), and certainly not any kind of hording.

I totally agree with you. The more people that maintain a 3m supply of non-perishables and rotate through them, the more robust society will be to problems like this one.

Households also vary a lot in size: ours is six adults and two kids, so we do go through a lot of food.

Or they intend to bake and when their first try at a sourdough starter fails they give up, in part because at least around where I live there's no shortage of bread (and there hasn't been) in the stores.

> there's no shortage of bread (and there hasn't been) in the stores.

Bread, especially good bread, gets stale kind of quickly. If you want fresh bread right now and don't want to continually go out an expose yourself to infection the only real option is to make it at home.

You can slice it and freeze it. Even when I make it myself, I don't go through enough bread (and don't want to) to make it more than once a week or so. So, in my case, it's definitely not about baking fresh bread every day or two.

ha very true! I think this true for all types of hoarding, doesn't matter what the thing/product is. It is just problem of hoarding.

waffles are the perfect comfort food during these times- 2c flour, 1.75c milk, 1/2c melted butter or oil, big pinch of salt, 4tsp baking powder, 2 eggs. Throw in some vanilla or other flavor concentrate if you'd like!

A quick crowd pleasing recipe using all staples

Waffles are so simple. Obviously, they require a waffle iron, but apart from that I can quickly mix up a bunch of ingredients I always have at hand in a single bowl with a pour spout, using a single fork to stir it, a plastic IKEA cup for measuring ingredients (exactly 1 cup), and a 1tsp measuring spoon. I try to use "standard" dishes whenever possible because they're so much easier to clean (stack neatly in the sink and easily loaded into the dishwasher). Specialised tools like whisks just aggravate me.

And so delicious!

FWIW whisks to me are basic kitchen equipment, anything but specialized.

To me specialized would be something like an "avocado cutter" or a "poached egg cooker", etc. Or a waffle iron ;)

Absolutely. I'm still using the same balloon whisk I bought almost 30 years ago during my "no power tools in the kitchen" phase.

See my reply to your comment's sibling.

Ok; I guess you can fork with a whisk ... you can't really whisk with a fork!

You can sometimes whisk with a fork but it's a lot of work.

It’s a bit like cutting with a spoon.

I, too, am annoyed by special purpose tools and gadgets in the kitchen. It's for that reason that I'll point out that whisks are far from special purpose, especially in comparison to a waffle iron.

Yeah, but if I'm making waffles, the waffle iron isn't optional. The whisk is.

And by "specialised", I don't mean uncommon, I mean anything other than a basic spoon, fork, bowl, plate, or knife. A whisk has a very specific, specialised purpose, and I'll use one if I need to (such as when baking a cake), but a fork does just as good a job in the same amount of time for the waffles I make.

The reason for this is I hate dealing with all these one-offs when loading and unloading the dishwasher. One more bowl or spoon doesn't add any time if there's 20 other identical ones anyway, but every specialised tool like a whisk or a dedicated measuring cup adds disproportionate complexity to the process.

It's also why I dump all the spoons, forks, etc. into separate compartments (handles up) in the silverware holder in the dishwasher. Putting them all back in the drawer is a single step, but takes only a few more seconds when loading it.

Thanks for this. I am going to try your recipe.

Few months back we bought Waffle maker with great expectations. However after 2 disastrous attempts which resulted in very stogy waffles, we put that away. I was wondering should if we just buy some readymade batter that some stores sell.

Real waffles use yeast, sadly another item that's becoming scarce. Here's the Cook's Illustrated recipe which I use very often, it turns out excellent waffles.

1 3/4 C milk

1 stick butter (melted but not hot)

2 C flour

1 T sugar

1 t salt

1 1/2 t yeast

2 eggs

1 t vanilla extract

Whisk everything together in a lidded container. Stick in fridge overnight (10 hrs min, 24 hrs max). It'll be thick and bubbly in the morning, ladle it in your hot waffle iron, don't whisk it down, it'll deflate the gas. Makes 7 - 8 waffles.

if you have flour you can have yeast in the form of sourdough starter. I make my waffles with my pre-feeding castoff occasionally.

I still see yeast online with reasonable shipping time: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HST626C/

Waffle makers also produce phenomenal cornbread (or cornwaffles) in minutes.

Otherwise it's an appliance that doesn't get much use around lunch/dinner time.

Brush waffle iron with oil, place a handful of tater tots inside, and close to cook.

I'll happily eat cornbread at any meal

I'm not a big believer in prepackaged mixes of cakes/etc., but Krusteaz Belgian Waffle mix is da bomb. Good enough that I don't bother making waffles from scratch unless i'm out.

also put sugar in, amount to taste!

Store brand flour though is only $0.40 / lb (5 lb bag @ $2) so this really only makes sense of you can't obtain flour another way. Once you add in labor of splitting it up and billing everyone it seems like too much effort. Fwiw, it seems like the bread supply recovered very quickly.

Yes, this is much more hassle than just buying flour at the store, but in our experience right now that's not an option.

Sometimes stores just keep selling when out of stock to collect your email address. Especially likely if they only authorized his card instead of fully capturing the charge.

Also, just because a flour is labeled high-gluten doesn't necessarily mean that it actually has more gluten than all-purpose flour. It varies by company and country. A percent in either direction isn't going to affect much. Even though cake flour has about half the gluten of all-purpose, you can still make noodles out of it.

You certainly can make noodles with cake flour, but I think decent noodles need at least 50% durum flour even when you're using eggs.


Some of my local restaurants are doing this - effectively becoming concierge grocers who will break down bulk quantities for their customers. Call an order in and pick it up in ~24 hours. They have and can get almost anything the grocery stores are out of including TP (in jumbo commercial rolls), flour, eggs, meats, etc.

There used to be a startup "Mercado" in the dot com days where consumers could form buyer's groups. It worked well for a while until the downturn.

Massdrop (drop.com) had a similar model, but they seem to be in the process of becoming a more traditional retailer.

I was just thinking why doesn't this exist!

Sadly, so many things we all wish existed already exist and yet we just dont know about it. It is a big challenge for small tech businesses / websites -- they can offer desperately needed services and yet users only have so much attention budget to learn about all the services out there.

Isn't this what Groupon started out as?

Groupon is retailer lead. These other services were consumer led, like "I want to buy this -- will 50 people join me so we can collectively pay wholesale?"

I guess this depends on where you live. I went to the store three days ago (April 12) and the baking aisle was fully stocked, including all the flour.

Some restaurants, with shrinking demand, are now selling their flour to consumers

We bought a 25lb bag from a baking school that had been forced to close.

If you are in Oakland, Firebrand -- a bakery on Broadway in uptown -- has flour and yeast some mornings on their square site. You order on square, and come by to pick up. https://firebrand-artisan-breads.square.site

I’ve thought about buying one of those big sacks of flour—I bake bread and other stuff routinely, so I know I’d use it up eventually. I mean, I just got a half-pound of vanilla beans. But storage becomes an issue. I’m already struggling a bit to find places for the extra stocking up.

Even something like flour doesn't really last forever--especially if you don't have ideal storage conditions. Maybe you bake enough though.

eh, just look at the weevils as extra protein.

make lots of hardtack

My parents always purchased 25lb bags of flour from a local food distributor, and stored it in a 5 or 10lb plastic bucket. They baked a lot growing up, so they went through it quick enough that spoilage wasn't really an issue.

Haven't had too many problems by hunting around, using local retailers, and asking at bakeries.

Might help? https://helpatmyhome.com/where-to-buy-flour-online/

Thank you for this, I put in an order with lindley like a week and a half ago and they’re swamped. Hoping it pans out but will definitely hedge with one of these others if things go south.

We put in an order with them a couple weeks ago (Monday 3/30), we didn't hear anything at all for about 2 solid weeks, and then got a shipping notification on Friday 4/10. It was shipped overnight and arrived Saturday 4/11. Hang in there!

Love this idea!

I'm sending out feelers locally to see if anyone is interested (I'm in Louisiana), and so far I've got a little interest. I was wondering if you'd come into any problems other than the animal thing with your experience, or if there's anything else I might need to know. I was wondering how you found people who wanted to participate? And how you organized it. If it was all friends, or if it was people you didn't really know or found online. I don't have a ton of friends who are really into this so I'm kind of casting a wider net.

> come into any problems other than the animal thing

I could imagine someone having issues with theft depending on the area, but that's not something I'm worried about here.

If you did end up getting a pallet you'd want to make sure that either they could put the pallet where you wanted it or that you had the equipment to move the pallet.

> I was wondering how you found people who wanted to participate?

I wrote to a few groups:

* Facebook: primarily friends in the contra dance community

* Work email list

* Email to area family

* Email to area college friends

It ended up being a mix of all these groups.

If I wasn't doing it with friends then pickup is harder. I trusted my friends to pay me and to pick up from my porch unattended -- that would be harder with a group put together from, say, reddit

Thanks for the reply! I've poked around on Facebook and Nextdoor; I'm considering emailing work to see who'd be into it as well. Good point about the ~danger of randoms~.

This exists already in the white hot Lagos startup scene. It is called Pricepally: https://pricepally.com

This seems a bit expensive. I recently bought a 25lb bag of flour from Sams club and it was 6.50, or about 26 cents a pound. They also had plenty in stock. Costco also has it for a similar price. Last time I bought yeast there it's also cheap - about 5 or 6 bucks for something like 2lbs(which is a ridiculous amount of baking yeast). Baking a lot can make this practically worth the cost of the membership.

You're comparing probably the most expensive mass market flour (King Arthur) with probably about the cheapest (Walmart's). A 2x-3x price differential sounds about right.


The original flour we were thinking of buying was https://www.webstaurantstore.com/all-purpose-flour-50-lb/104... $12.25/bag (50lb), mildly cheaper than the Sam's Club price above. But then adding in shipping on a truck from PA added another $9.40/bag.

In places where people can easily buy individual 25lb bags for $6.50, though, you don't need to organize a group buy!

Okay, but with all this flour, where is the yeast? I've actually been lucky to find plenty of flour at the local Mexican or Asian markets. Yet, no where I look have I been able to find even a tiny package of yeast. It's out all over the place.

My local stores are totally sold out of flour. I had to travel to a different state to pick up my daughter from college. While traveling, I stopped at a Costco for gas. On a whim I went into the store and they actually had some flour available. I purchased about 200 lbs, even though I had to pay sales tax, since I have no idea when flour will again be available in my area.

When I got home my wife asked me if they had toilet paper too. Doh!

Flour goes bad in <8 months. I hope your using a pound a day.

I do go through a lot of it. My hobby is baking. The day after I got home I made 2 2-lb loaves with my mother starter.

You might be able to freeze it. My mother stores some lesser used flours in her freezer, i.e. maseca, corn meal, almond flour.

It is surprising to me that the West has hit food security issues earlier than Asia.

The food supply chain in US is much better than in Europe, and Europe is better than most of Asia.

A week ago, I was very scared myself for there being a 21st century famine in Asia, but I never could've imagined how bad panic buying can hit countries even with robust food supply chains.

These aren't food security issues, these are supply chain issues.

The difference is enormous, and it's far too soon to relax about famine. We'll know if that happened by about 2023.

A time when people can't eat food IS a food security issue. Do not invent other names for it.

The Irish famine has happened when UK was drowning in corn, and had the best harvest in many years.

The Bengal famine has happened in times when most regions of India had otherwise at least bearable harvests.

The Ukrainian famine has happened in times when the soviet union had bumper harvests, and was exporting megatons of grains, and other foods.

The Great Chinese Famine has happened when Mao too has tried the same trick as soviets did, except it failed on him even worse, like ten times as much.

Bangladesh 1973 famine has happened when Bangladesh was awash with humanitarian aid.

The chronic undernutrition of socially marginalised groups in 1st world countries keeps happening with governments throwing billions of cash on food stamp programs.

One very large difference is that even at the height of the supply problem (store stock levels are pretty much back to normal now), suppliers weren't out of food or unable to restock the stores. There was plenty of food being supplied to the stores, but people were arriving very early in the morning and buying up as much as possible. Once limits were imposed, this started coming under control.

> A time when people can't eat food IS a food security issue

If no food is available, sure. If other food is available, no way. Are people starving in the US yet due to food unavailability?


We've seen supply runs on certain popular shelf-stable starches.

I've never yet walked into a grocery store and been unable to leave with a variety of good foods, nor have I seen pictures of bare shelves. Sections, sure; last time I went to the grocery store, tortillas were cleared out for some reason.

These are supply shocks. To date, we have more than enough wheat for everyone who wants to eat it, and the mills are still producing abundant flour. What's straining is the system that delivers as much to the shelves as people are in the mood to buy.

Have you not seen news of people in the US not able to buy any normal food for weeks, and having to subsist on things like potato chips, and instant noodles?

And, yeah. Having a double digit of your (American) population being socially marginalised, relying on unreliable food stamp program, and having no alternative to junk food should've also been called a genuine food crisis long ago.

Famines do happen even when there is food on the shelves, like in Yemen, early nineties China, or late ussr.

I lived in an American food desert for about six months. I hated it! All I could get was cheap burgers and hot dogs and chicken...

The main health problem facing the poorest Americans is obesity, with opioid addiction a close second. Famine is not an issue here and I hope it stays that way.

I'm genuinely unsure what point you're trying to make, but there's an enormous gap between the supply chain being unable to fill the shelves as fast as they're emptied, and the country not having food to put back on those shelves. That's the point I'm trying to make.

Well, it's certainly nothing like a catastrophic famine, yet it bares the existing problem with food security in US, and it came really close to the level of something genuinely concerning.

Watch for reports of wholesalers going through many month worth of food staples. In Kazakhstan, where I am stuck now, the government came out and asked "where will we get 8 month worth of grain now?" in response to panic buying. Full shelves now came at the cost of many months worth of supplies. Biggest food silos went through 1/3 of annual throughput volume in just 2 weeks here.

> I lived in an American food desert for about six months. I hated it! All I could get was cheap burgers and hot dogs and chicken...

> The main health problem facing the poorest Americans is obesity, with opioid addiction a close second. Famine is not an issue here and I hope it stays that way.

I spent 6 years of my life in between Vancouver, Canada, and Seattle in US.

It was a big surprise to be that finding what otherwise be "normal" food was relatively hard, and you even had to pay extra for it. I was later told that Vancouver is considered very good on that side, and Seattle is actually better than most other US cities.

Unpopular opinion: maybe so many people don't need to suddenly become bakers who weren't baking before, and then we wouldn't have empty shelves all of the sudden.

It's a shame that people are learning new things and experimenting with new hobbies to keep themselves busy during quarantine. All change is bad, but especially personal growth.

But really though, a family buying 5 pounds of flour isn't the problem, it's the hoarders loading up shopping carts full of toilet paper and flour that give us empty shelves. I think we'd have enough for everyone if we didn't have greedy hoarders.

You don't really need hoarders to have a problem. If only twice as many households are cooking now than before, instead of stores having say 10% slack, they run out half way through the week. If you have four times as many people cooking, you run out your slack in two days.

So the store increases their orders. But their suppliers only have X% slack. So they have to ramp up too. The whole supply/demand balance takes time to stabilize.

The same number of people are eating the same calories as before, but the supply chains for those calories have shifted rapidly. Same for toilet paper: No one's pooping on company time anymore!

Yes there are some hoarders, but we'd get temporary problems even with 0% hoarders.

Yep. It was basically a Thanksgiving-level event without the usual months of prep work preceding it.

The situation has given me a new perspective on the ultimate purpose of all those sales around Thanksgiving. The stores know they're going to be selling a large amount of items some time before Thanksgiving. But they can't just order large quantities of items, only to store them until people decide to buy them. Rather, the sales let the supply chain control when people will be buying the bulk quantities, so the goods can arrive in stores as close to being sold as possible.

I don't care about people trying a new hobby. That doesn't account for the lack of TP, flour, and now even chips and butter. Like you say: hoarders. Everyone is acting selfishly, and the stores aren't policing purchases enough.

Your claims are not supported by reports from industry experts: https://marker.medium.com/what-everyones-getting-wrong-about...

Our supply chains are optimized to have essentially no slack. When people switch from using the toilet at work to home, and when they buy a month at a time instead of a week at a time in order to comply with shelter in place orders, they drain the grocery stores extremely hard.

No selfish or hoarding behavior is required to produce the effects you're talking about.

Are you under the impression people are throwing the bread away after baking?

No, I'm under the impression that people who did perfectly well buying loaves of bread before, and whose family@home bread consumption increases the amount of bread usage only by a moderate relative amount, are now buying loaves and months-worth of flour.

The shortage of flour, butter, TP, chips, and everything else is due to individuals' selfishness. There is certainly enough food to account for the extra meals at home, its just now very unevenly distributed.

This is simply false.

The entire grocery supply chain works on a just-in-time model. Demand for stuff like flour, toilet paper, etc. on a chain-level scale is entirely predictable in normal times - Walmart can likely tell you what a given day's sales will be of stuff like toilet paper down to within a couple percent.

A sudden, unexpected, and sustained 10-20% increase in purchases of various staples blows a gaping hole in the entire thing.

The entire supply chain plans months ahead for Thanksgiving-level demand. We basically all did a Thanksgiving shop without warning.

I recently had no problem buying organic flour from the organic aisle, despite the regular aisle being sold out. People are stupid when they panic.

It's perfectly rational to want to buy twice as much flour if it's the same price it normally is, but not be willing to pay extra for the organic flour. It depends on the individuals willingness to pay and their estimation of the probability that the situation gets much worse.

For most Americans, they will eventually use their normal brand of flour, so buying extra is essentially no extra cost. (Time-value of money over, say, 6 months means that we're talking about a 1% difference here.) It's a cheap hedge against supply disruptions. But that's not very likely to happen. The organic brand is often at least 20% more expensive, making the calculus not worthwhile.

Put another way, if you expect flour prices to rise 10%, you should buy as much flour as you will use before it goes bad at today's prices, and 0 organic flour at a 20% premium.

>It's perfectly rational to want to buy twice as much flour if it's the same price it normally is, but not be willing to pay extra for the organic flour.

Knowingly putting pesticides in your body never seems rational to me, even if it saves some money. But if they were going to do that anyway, then sure, your point stands.

Organic products use pesticides, it's just that they often use older pesticide technologies or supplement the use of pesticides with other techniques for repelling pests. Most organic pesticides are no more healthy nor environmentally friendly than modern synthetic pesticides (maybe this wasn't true when DDT was popular, but these days it is).

Yeah I’m aware the world isn’t perfect, and some things are not as labeled, but thanks for the heads up.

More likely, the cheaper product sells out first.

Three weeks ago, there was no flour of any sort in the store I went to. No corn meal, not grains at all. Except for matzo meal, however, on the end of aisles where seasonal products are held, so I finally made matzo ball soup for the first time! There were also no beans except for a completely ridiculous $8/pound of dried lentil in some sort of super fancy packaging.

This story reaffirms my sense that the recent explanation du jour for scarcity, residential vs commercial supply chains, isn't quite right. This person set out to buy an order of 250 lb of flour and it still vanished before their eyes.

My experience with commercial toilet paper has been the same, watching it dry up just like retail. People seem to be stockpiling cheap familiar essentials, plain and simple, wherever they can get it.

Who knows what's going on in the commercial supply chain though. The usual buyers are canceling orders so the upstream distributors--maybe even manufacturers--are also canceling without necessarily anticipating being able to sell direct to consumers.

That said...

>People seem to be stockpiling cheap familiar essentials, plain and simple, wherever they can get it.

I'm sure there's some truth to this. I'm not stocking up on huge quantities of things I don't need. But, for example, a couple weeks ago there happened to be one bag of my favored flour in the store so I grabbed it even though I wasn't necessarily at the point where I would normally buy it. I also have an extra dozen eggs at home. Etc.

Multiply that behavior by most people and that's a lot of extra buying from stores and inventory scattered around everyone's houses even though most people aren't doing the two-year supply of beans level of prepping.

Not 250lb -- 2500lb!

My local supermarket here in the Netherlands split their toiletpaper section and spread it across the store to make use of this stupidity.

I fail to see how going to the normal location when looking for an item can be called "stupidity".

I think the stupidity refered to here are the people buying pallets full of toilet paper.

How many people are really buying "pallets"? It's probably more like people picking up another one of those big 18-roll packages even though they're not at the point yet where they would stock up under normal circumstances. And that adds up to a lot (of a bulky product) in the aggregate.

While not pallets, I have read anecdotal reports here in NJ that stores are selling out of toilet paper within hours after opening following a restock, so it seems to be more than just buying an extra package every time someone goes to the store.

The only way I have been able to get any since this started is the store I mentioned elsewhere that is selling individual institutional rolls.


About 3 weeks ago I went to Walmart at 6AM to beat the crowds. I got meat (20lb tube of ground beef!), rice, flour, and a bunch of essentials. Checked the toilet paper aisle and they were out.

Went back to my car and while I sitting there, I saw people leaving the store with TP. Asked a lady where she got it and went back inside. It was gone!

Between the time I checked the racks and left the store (maybe ten minutes at most), they put out toilet paper and sold out! That's insane.

TBF, the many people who don't keep a lot of extra stock in the house probably got caught out early on even as the usage was going up a lot. So there probably are genuinely people who need it at this point and they're buying more than they usually do. (And, yes, a lot of people who are in the store for other reasons may well grab a package of TP even if they don't really need it and wouldn't normally have bought it.)

Reddit has had no shortage of photos of people rolling into stores and trying to push out multiple shopping carts full of toilet paper and paper towels. Particularly back before stores imposed limits.

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