How a Bakery Outlet Can Help You Save a Small Fortune Every Year

When bread leaves store shelves, it's not done. It has one more stop.

I was in middle school, I think, before I realized most families didn't have two stops on the typical grocery day: one at Food World, for the majority of the list; and one at the bakery outlet, for all the breads (and sometimes a package of cookies or other seasonal treats). And I was in college when I certainly learned to really love the value that a bakery outlet can have for many people.

A bakery outlet is a shop where regional bakeries (the ones bake the name-brand goods for grocery stores, not the mom-and-pop spots) take their nearly-expired foods and offer them at a greatly reduced price. There's not a lot of information about these stores and how they work available online; most are truly bare bones operations with wire shelving, a cash register, and a sign on the door.

But a 1996 Chicago Tribune article by the still-renowned grocery store expert Phil Lempert sheds a little light. Bakery outlets, or bakery thrift stores, are the last stop for baked goods before they hit the dumpster. Employees that stock shelves at the grocery stores will remove items that are nearing their best-by code, and they'll bring them to these stores.

The markdowns range by company and by product, but average savings fall between 25 and 50 percent of retail price. Serious markdowns can be 75 percent or more.

What does that kind of savings equal in real terms? Most bread loaves are about $3 at full retail price; specialty breads may be $4 or more. In the bakery outlet, you might expect to pay $1 or $1.50. Multiply that by the number of loaves you and your family eat in a year, and the savings can really add up.

You might also find hamburger buns, hot dog buns, tortillas, dinner rolls, English muffins, and more. It's not uncommon to find cookies, doughnuts, and snack cakes, too, and depending on what else the bakery makes, you might find potato chips or frozen foods like waffles, garlic bread, and biscuits.

Is the Food in Bakery Outlets Old?

No, most stores still pull anything that has passed the best-by code on the bag or box. (Though I know my family wasn't afraid of purchasing hot dog buns that were a day or two past their date if we knew we would be using them that night.)

But whether you have a day, or as much as five or six days, before that date is a matter of specifications set forth by the bakery itself. Stockers know when to pull things, and whatever they pull will be delivered to the outlet.

Of course, the closer to the best-by date you are, the better the bargain, and some outlets will even let you haggle for a better deal if you're buying lots of product at once. (You can of course freeze most baked goods and eat them later.)

Bread aisle of grocery store.
Katrina Wittkamp/Getty Images

So How Do I Find a Bakery Outlet?

The easiest way to find one near you is to do a quick Internet search. Type "bakery outlet" and your town. If one is near you, it will pop up. Most outlets are located in or near cities where these regional bakeries exist. My hometown didn't have a bakery, but we were about 40 miles from a large operation, so it was a good spot for one of these thrift stores.

You can also check web sites of bakeries, like Pepperidge Farms, Schwebel's, and McKee Foods. Wondering what bakery is responsible for your favorite breads and treats? Check the packaging. Most will tell you the bakery that made the food, and you can search for an outlet that way.

Unfortunately, the number of bakery outlets is shrinking, as evidenced by sites like Aunt Millie's and Bimbo Bakeries USA. Aunt Millie's writes on their site, "As of May 1 [2020], some bakery outlet locations are closed due to the COVID-19 public health crisis but some are still operating using enhanced sanitation practices and social distancing protocols. Please call ahead before you visit."

Bimbo Bakeries says much the same: "Bimbo Bakeries USA associates are currently working around the clock to stock retail grocery shelves, eliminating our ability to stock our outlet stores. The majority of our outlet stores are closed at this time, please call the outlet store in your area to confirm if they are open before visiting."

Indeed, the bakery outlet in my hometown closed in the last 10 months, the result of high demand in stores and a lack of staff to keep the outlet operational. Here's hoping when this pandemic is more manageable, these outlets will return. They're a great bargain for customers and a wonderful way to reduce loss for the companies. And everyone can appreciate a whole loaf of bread that's only $1.

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