Half-Price, Not Half-Baked: Save a Fortune at the Bakery Outlet

Every couple of weeks my partner visits what he calls “the used bread store.” That’s wiseguy-ese for “bakery outlet,” and those visits save us a ton of money.

Multigrain bread for $1.50 (and sometimes less). An 18-pack of good-quality hamburger rolls – not the gummy supermarket-brand ones – for $1. Flour or corn tortillas almost always on a “buy one, get two free” special, which means getting up to five pounds of tortillas for a dollar. Giant bags of restaurant-style white corn tortilla chips for 50 cents.

Why is this stuff so cheap? Two words: supply, demand.

When bread products don’t sell fast enough, markets return the overflow to the bakery. Although bread can taste fine close to its best-by date, consumers tend to go for the longer-dated stuff.

Not that you’re seeing only “old” bread at bakery outlets. Sure, some is within a day of its sell-by date. Yet we routinely buy breads and rolls with four to six days left on the clock. Not that it matters, since we throw it into the freezer and take it out as needed.

You can save some serious coin this way. Suppose your household goes through two loaves of multigrain bread each week and you’re paying $3.29 per loaf at the supermarket. Now suppose you could get the same brand of bread for $1 a loaf.

Do the math: $4.58 times 52 equals a little over $238 in savings per year – and we haven’t even gotten to the fun part of the store yet.

Cheaper Treats

Maybe you have a weakness for English muffins or raisin toast but can’t justify spending $2.99 per package or per (smallish) loaf. Perhaps the only way to get bagels in your area is to buy ’em by the bag. Could be that you have a secret weakness for chocolate doughnuts, Twinkies, or Little Debbie snack cakes but can’t stomach the cost. The bakery outlet can hook you up.

Not that you should make a steady diet of sweets, but what’s life without a little sin? If you’re anything like me, you hate to pay retail for dietary transgressions.

You never know what you’re going to find at the bakery outlet. Ours has bags of coffee beans at a price almost as good as Costco’s; sometimes they go on sale, which is when we stock up. When one-pound packages of Twizzlers showed for 50 cents each, we bought 30 pounds — we may have overbought somewhat. (Each of my nephews will get a package in his Easter basket. Dude heaven: a pound of strawberry Twizzlers, and no pressure to share with your brother!)

My partner’s son once found sardines canned in tomato sauce for a buck a can (a very good price here in Alaska, and maybe elsewhere, too). He asked if he could buy all the cans they had for a flat fee. The manager said, “Sure, why not?” and he found himself in possession with a lot of shelf-stable protein. Sometimes haggling works.

Outlets carry a wide range of non-baked goods, too. I’ve seen spices, frozen foods (burritos, barbecued ribs and the like), fish and chicken breading, condiments, grains, and gluten-free baking mixes.

Like salvage grocers, bakery outlets may pick up products that didn’t sell as well as expected, especially seasonal items or those associated with movies. In recent months we noticed an influx of “Star Wars” cookies and ice-cream cones stamped with images of Minions from “Despicable Me 3.”

One of my favorite things about bakery outlets, though, is the chance to try new varieties of bread without much cash outlay. If it turns out that onion dill rye bread sounded better than it tasted, you’re out only a buck or so.

And by all means do try new varieties. Different flavors of breads keep that brown bag lunch interesting.

Where to Find Bakery Outlets Near You

As baked-goods companies reorganize or simply get more efficient with their supply chain management (leaving them with less nearly-expired bread to unload), it’s getting a little harder to find bakery outlets. But the following locations all sell multiple brands of baked goods:

Aunt Millie’s: A Midwestern brand with shops in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Bimbo Bakeries USA: Outlets in 44 states; brands include Arnold, Ball Park, Boboli, Earth Grains, Entemann’s, Freihofer’s, Marinela, Mrs. Baird’s, Oroweat, Sara Lee, Stroehmann, Thomas, and Tia Rosa.

Franz: Stores in Alaska, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Idaho; labels include Seattle International, Seattle Sourdough Baking Co., Alaska Grains, New York Bagel Boys, and, of course, Franz.

Holsum: Outlets in Louisiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, and Colorado.

Oroweat: Locations in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

Pepperidge Farms: Outlets in Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Schwebel’s: Stores in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia.

In addition, do a search for “bakery outlet [your city]” since regional bakeries may have second-run locations.

Some Pro Tips

Ask about loyalty cards. In my Seattle neighborhood, the outlet had a punch-card system. When the card was filled up, you got a free loaf of bread.

Look for special deals. That same outlet had “senior day” and “double punch Wednesdays.” Plan your shopping accordingly and stretch your food dollars further.

Improvise. When my partner found bags of hoagie rolls for 50 cents each (eight per bag), we started cutting hamburgers in half and eating them on long skinny rolls instead of round ones. Nobody died. Another time the outlet had a screamin’ deal on big bags of tostada shells; he bought a couple, broke them into pieces and ate them with sandwiches, because ounce per ounce they were cheaper than tortilla chips.

When in doubt, add tortillas. A bowl of leftover chili becomes a heartier meal with the addition of some warm tortillas. Do a search for “dessert quesadillas” and create super-cheap sweets. Flour tortillas can also be used to make pinwheel sandwiches for a potluck, or for a brown bag lunch. Recently we ran out of those hoagie rolls so I ate the last burger between two corn tortillas, which was a little slippery but very tasty.

The Bottom Line

Obviously you don’t want to buy stuff that’s too old to be palatable. Generally speaking, you can save a lot of bread at the bakery outlet. The only difference between those discounted hoagie rolls and the full-price ones at a nearby supermarket was the price. I see no reason not to save 75 percent on the same product.

Veteran personal finance writer Donna Freedman is the author of “Your Playbook for Tough Times: Living Large on Small Change, for the Short Term or the Long Haul” and “Your Playbook for Tough Times, Vol. 2: Needs AND Wants Edition.”

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Donna Freedman

Contributor for The Simple Dollar

Award-winning journalist and veteran personal finance writer Donna Freedman is the author of “Your Playbook for Tough Times: Living Large on Small Change, for the Short Term or the Long Haul” and “Your Playbook for Tough Times, Vol. 2: Needs AND Wants Edition.” A former full-time reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Anchorage Daily News and longtime columnist for MSN Money, Freedman has also written for Get Rich Slowly, Money Talks News, and other publications