You Know Real Food is Going Mainstream When …

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist September 1, 2011

I got a big shock this afternoon while shopping at our neighborhood Big Lots store.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Big Lots, it’s like a dollar store only bigger with a much wider selection of consumer goods.

As I walked quickly up and down the aisles trying to find a cheap, medium sized cooler, I suddenly came to a screeching halt when I spied out of the corner of my eye…

No it can’t be!

There in plain view on one of the main aisle end caps …

A prominent and very wide selection of Bob’s Red Mill Baking Supply Products!

I stopped and took this picture because it still hasn’t actually registered in my brain that this is indeed what I saw with my own two eyes.

Talk about out of place!

Nestled in amongst the cases of  jumbo bags, boxes, and cans of ultra cheap, junky, no redeeming quality whatsoever, processed foods is this healthy selection of whole, grain based foods that appeals to Real Food Snobs like me!

Organic quinoa, old fashioned rolled oats, flaxseed meal, 7 grain hot cereal, even some gluten free pancake mix … bag after bag of stuff you would expect to find on an endcap at the healthfood store.   Such products are not typically found even at a grocery store (unless in the very small “healthfood section”) let alone a Big Lots (I consider Big Lots a step down even from the supermarket).

Granted, few of the products were organic and there was no arrowroot powder to be found (that really would have wigged me out as I had just picked up a bag of Bob’s RedMill Arrowroot powder earlier in the day at the healthfood store to whip up some grain free ginger snaps for the kids’ lunches).

From what I can surmise, this aberration at the neighborhood Big Lots means one of two things:

  • The Southeast Regional buyer for Big Lots is a major health nut.
  • Real Food is indeed making some serious inroads into mainstream America.

I tend to think the latter reason is most plausible.  There is no way a buyer for Big Lots would put his/her career on the line ordering  a bunch of healthfood type products to be displayed so prominently on the endcap of a main aisle unless a profit could reliably be made – no matter what his/her culinary predilections.

So, here I am, still in shock at seeing Real Food products in a budget conscious, stripped down, bare bones retail establishment.

Have you had a Twilight Zone moment with Real Food in an unconventional setting?  Tell us about it!

 

Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist.com

 

 

Comments (98)

  1. Yes, they have Bob’s Red Mill at Big Lots in Michigan. It makes me wonder if Big Lots gets ‘older’, less fresh items (this applies to grains, seeds and starch as well, doesn’t it) ? There are also some other healthier items at Big Lots occasionally. I’ve seen Nature’s Path organic oatmeal and some other things. But it comes and goes.

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  2. I had the exact same reaction when I found Bob’s Red Mill foodstuff on an endcap here in Tyler, Texas! I couldn’t believe it! It was also at a reduced price so I stocked up. I really enjoy your articles and website! Thanks for the awesome information.

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  3. Hmmmm, I think I will be heading to Big Lots after work today! Also, you guys should check out Nora Mills in Helen, Ga (do a Google search)…they are 10 minutes from me and still grind on millstones powered by the Chattahoochee River..I know they also ship, and have some amazing whole grain products!

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  4. I was delighted to find the Bob’s stuff at Big Lots the other day, too…and also found some raw, unfiltered honey for a song!

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  5. Bob’s is a good company; it’s been available in NY for a long time in most grocery stores, albeit selection is limited. Now there are many more organic grains sold in the “organic / natural” section of the grocery stores, but Bob’s seems to be the cheapest. One bag of whole grains lasts me a long time, but I must say that Bob’s makes an AMAZING gluten-free hot cereal that is to die for! I found it in the gluten-free section in the baking aisle – Mighty Tasty GF Hot Cereal – it is SO GOOD! I ran out, but will have to buy more for the winter – I make it the same as Irish oatmeal or millet cereal – 1/4 cup dry cereal, 1-1/2 cups water, 4 TBS unsalted butter, and a good amount of salt – cook until all liquid is absorbed. I love salt, but I find using unsalted butter lets me better gauge the proper amount of salt to add without it becoming too salty. I then add a tiny pinch of natural sweetener (cane sugar, honey or Vermont Maple Syrup), and a good amount of whole milk. I always use more water when cooking grains than is recommended – it only takes a few minutes more, but my stomach can’t handle the normal 1:1 ratio. And the butter is SO important – 4 TBS to 1/4 dry grains is a 1:1 ratio of grains to fat (1 stick (8 TBS) = 1/2 cup butter). Plus, it makes it really creamy and yummy!

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  6. Lauren Sherry via Facebook September 2, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    I wasn’t sure how these kind of things worked, I thought maybe things that didn’t sell at regular stores were sent to stores like Big Lots. I was grocery shopping yesterday at a mainstream grocery store with a few organic/natural aisles and Bob’s products are around $3.30 regular price.

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  7. I’ve not seen this in our Big Lots but haven’t been in for a while. We have a large local chain that carries GF offerings of every description though. I hope that Big Lots has decided to go big with this….I would definitely stop in more often.
    Jason@JLHealth\’s last post: Hawthorn For Your Heart

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  8. I once received a bag of Bob’s as part of the gift bag at a 10K… usually there’s an energy bar or some sort of junk food sample and a bunch of pamphlets in the bags so I was shocked! I was 1/2 tempted to ask other runners if they were going to use theirs so I could get a few more bags ;)

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  9. Noelle Julian via Facebook September 2, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Kind of sad we have a post called ‘real food going mainstream’ since so many people don’t eat ‘real food’ anymore and wonder why they are sick! I’m glad to see we are making baby steps, but I have this feeling that we as a society can turn around into real food even faster than we went to processed food. We just much reach the tipping point and it can happen. BELIEVE IN REAL FOOD! ;)

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  10. I did triple takes when I walked into Target a couple weeks ago and saw…

    Kombucha!

    I live in Austin, so it might just be appropriate for the market (Keep Austin Weird is the slogan of local businesses here)… but I still thought it was pretty incredible!

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  11. I am in the north east, Vermont to be exact and I saw the Bob’s Red Mill at my local big lots this weekend. I think this stuff is becoming more mainstream because gluten free is a big thing right now and Bob’s carries a lot of it.

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  12. I am going to have to check out the Big Lots nearby next time we go shopping! We have Hy-vee which is awesome about organic, real food. But some items can be pricey. I have not been able to find arrowroot powder anywhere lately! The local organic market is out, the grocery stores have no idea what that even is, the commissary is a big no. Argh!
    Aadel Bussinger\’s last post: The Beauty Of The Native American Garden

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  13. Cathy Vaughan via Facebook September 1, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    The same thing happened to me earlier this week when I shopped for the first time at our new Big Lots in my neighborhood here in Michigan. I was so surprised to see their products there…I bought some oats!

    Reply
  14. Kind of doubtful it is going that mainstream. BigLots buys closeout, or otherwise unwanted inventory & buys out inventory of stores that are closing, etc. Most likely they bought out inventory from some natural foods stores that closed up shop. Otherwise they might have bought semi loads that got rejected from another store/chain for some unknown reason (often sell by date doesn’t meet the store’s criteria).

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  15. My MIL works at Big Lots and I got organic gluten free pancake mix there for $2.80 – and then I got her discount and that made it even less! I love it! You just reminded me that I have to stock up when my MIL comes to town!

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  16. Christy Mattingly via Facebook September 1, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    I always check Big Lots and TJ Maxx for surprise healthy buys. It’s hit or miss, but usually worth it if I find something I use.

    Reply
  17. Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
    Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist September 1, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    A local reader here in Tampa FL saw them at her Big Lots too and the expiration dates were fine. So stock up since it seems it might be a one time thing until they run out – $3.50 per bag is a pretty great price!

    Reply
  18. Karen Adler via Facebook September 1, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Interesting post. Are these products dated? A third possibility is that they were unsold backstock from a warehouse, etc.

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  19. Darlene Meehling White via Facebook September 1, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Coscto has had the rice and nut crackers– NutThins, and they have the Maranatha Almond Butter. Yeah. We’re always amazed when we see things like that too!

    Reply
  20. Yazmin Vella via Facebook September 1, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    But at least folks that might not otherwise have ever been exposed to products like this, maybe, just maybe,will take a closer look…purchase it…try it…like it…and buy more…! :)

    Reply
  21. Amanda Earthmothergypsy via Facebook September 1, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    They happened to get a good deal on them so they bought them. My guess is that once they are sold out, that will be that. I’ve seen it happen before, sadly.

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  22. Laura Raindrops via Facebook September 1, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    big lots sells overstocks.. it’s an overstock store which means stuff here did not sell well thus being at big lots!

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  23. I know why.. BIG LOTS is to sell overstocks from other stores. So no one bought this at some store so it was sold to big lots who is selling it now.

    Has nothing to do with anything else.

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  24. Crispin Puga Lopez via Facebook September 1, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    I noticed the exact same thing a few weeks ago! I was dissapointed they didn’t have coconut flour, almond flour, or whey though…

    Reply
  25. Arrowroot is so expensive and I bought 1 bag about 3 months ago. I wasn’t aware you should keep it in frig and it went bad. (had a terrrible smell) So i just bought another b ag yesterday which will stay in frig. I want to make the gingersnaps also and was thinking that my sprouted wheat would be cheaper. What do you think Sarah? Is arrowroot lower in gluten or carbs?

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  26. Our Big Lots got a selection of Bob’s Red Mill in, too, but mostly gluten-free mixes. We have an Ocean State Job Lot store here, too and they have a much larger section of real foods at discount prices.
    ladyscott\’s last post: Hurricane Irene

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  27. I’m like Kelli- I get my olive oil and unrefined sea salt at Marshall’s or Home Goods in the gourmet section, as well as Maine Root and Dry sodas (both cane sugar sodas, no nastiness, and Dry has about 1/3 the sugar of other sodas) and PFOA free non-stick pans. Brilliant stuff! And Ollie’s (similar to Big Lots, but usually with more interesting merchandise and a bit cheaper) often has sea salt and I’ve recently found organic herb packets (1 TBS or possibly 1tsp pre-measured herbs and spices). My mom bought Good Health olive oil chips super cheap at a nearby discount grocer (same idea- they buy old/damaged stock that’s still good). This store is owned by an organic farm which sells their organic, heirloom produce (amazing tomatoes) in front of the store, so it’s really not that weird to find good foods inside too.
    WordVixen\’s last post: Disney World Resort Refillable Mugs

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  28. I have experienced this same phenomenon at many of the local grocery stores I frequent. Bob’s RedMill seems to be a great first step for many markets, and hopefully a harbinger of more to come!

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  29. Is Bob’s Red Mill sea salt okay to use. I bought it once when I couldn’t get my regular brand, it was a good price but is snow white which in previous videos you had stated if it is pure white it isn’t quality sea salt so I went back to my regular brand which is a gray color.

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  30. I live in the northeast. I see Bob’s Red Mill products in discount grocery stores and Wal-mart. I have to admit that I’ve become a bit skeptical of the brand, just because of who sells it. But it seems ok. And really, shouldn’t we be glad that there is one more thing less to seek high and low for. I’m glad to hear that this brand is trusted by lots of you Real Food snobs. It does ease my skepticism.

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  31. I’ll have to stop by the BigLots on my way home from teaching my spin class tomorrow. Gotta see this! If I can find some good deals, I’m stocking’ up. Labor day weekend will be a big cooking spree!

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  32. Five years ago, I found about a dozen 28-oz. cans of Muir Glen organic tomatoes at Big Lots for $0.99 each. I knew a good thing when I saw it, I bought them out!

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  33. I’ll have to check out our Big Lots. I was in Wal-Mart the other week and small section of Red Mill products as well next to all the chemical food. I about fell over!

    Don’t know if I have ever commented on your blog…but I have been following you for over a month. My son was diagnosed with autism this year. This has been quite the learning and lifestyle change for us. We first took all the additives, preservatives and dyes out of his diet…well actually our whole family. We try not to bring it in the house! We saw a huge change in our son’s behavior! Then we put him on gluten and casein free diet…along with supplements suggested by our alternative Dr. Our son just keeps getting better and better and I believe it’s from our diet change!

    Thanks for all your great info you share with us! I especially love your videos!

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  34. I think there was a problem with their packaging – I keep packages of gluten free baked goods for times when I am pressed for time and the Bob’s cornbread mix I got said 288 carbs per serving!

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  35. Before “Organic” products went mainstream we used to hit up Big Lots for Annies snacks and macaroni. Of course, this is before finding the WPF. But it seems the early part of trends get overstocked and end up on the shelves of Big Lots. I haven’t been in a while, I’m gonna stop by mine and see if they have any. Thanks for posting!

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  36. I saw the exact same thing in Walmart. I did a double
    take as I passed a plethora of gluten free
    products as well as a huge variety of Bob’s Red Mill products,
    including arrowroot powder! The products spanned about 8 ft and covered all 4 or 5 shelves. I was really impressed =). The prices were better than Publix too.

    Reply
  37. YES!! i noticed the very same thing at our Big Lots in Southern Oregon: many, many healthy, real food options. unbelievable!! i wasn’t planning to buy food when i stopped there on an errand but ended up leaving w/ a few food items. very cool!! :)

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  38. I used to live about 6 miles away from the Bob’s Red Mill Factory and wholesale store in Oregon. Simply stated, it was freakin’ awesome living that close to Bob’s. You could get breakfast or lunch and eat in the cafe there, and more often than not, Bob himself would make an appearance, and he looks just like the the little picture on all the bags, hat, smile and all. It always kind of made me feel like I was at the North Pole and he was Santa Claus. Within the last year or so he made all his employees shared owners of the company.
    I recently moved back to Tennessee, and was thrilled to see a great selection of Bob’s products at the local food co-op. This is a wholesome company all around and its great to see it succeeding.

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    • Jami, don’t tell me you’re talking about Three Rivers Market!!! I LOVE that place. I stocked up big time 2 weeks ago when they were getting ready to relocate.

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  39. I agree with Andy. Big Lots doesn’t have a “buyer” like typical stores. They are contacted when large companies can’t find someone to purchase their goods. They buy “closeouts” that others stores don’t want. They are able to do this for a lower price, so they can charge lower prices to customers. I love Big Lots. I can find some real food organic stuff there and they have a lot of imported things that you can’t find in other stores.

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  40. I can purchase Bob’s Red Mill at any local grocery here in the west, but I will check Big Lots as i am sure there would be a large money savings!

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  41. I think the gluten free aspect is a big part of pushing the real food movement mainstream. People actually get sick then they wake up. At least that is what happened in my case.

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  42. A little sweet tidbit about Bob from Bob’s Red Mill: My sister in law, who lives in the Portland, Oregon area has seen him on several occasions. Once on a field trip to the mill with her daughter, and other times at his Bob’s Red Mill Restaurant. He treats his employees with sweetness and respect and pays for his own meals at his own restaurant (and looks and dresses just like he does on the packages)! He told a story at the field trip about the history of his mill: He is a retired pastor who always dreamed of having an old fashioned grain mill. So he finally saved up enough money for a mill stone, which is the most expensive investment when it comes to starting a mill like his. After his business began to really grow, arsonists set the mill on fire! No on was hurt, but he was afraid the millstone would be ruined because heat will crack millstones–and he didn’t know if he could afford to start over with a new one. The miracle of the story is that as the upper story of the mill burned, it collapsed along with the huge bags of flours it contained, and landed on the millstone. All that flour insulated the millstone and protected it from cracking from the heat of the fire! Because of that little miracle, he was able to rebuild with the original millstone, and start over! She’s a fan of his restaurant and products because she not only likes the products, but because Bob himself is such a quality person.

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    • Oh, that’s so cool! I’ve become so cynical lately and thought that he was probably just a figurehead for yet another greedy corporation. But if even half of what you said is true, then I’ll be very happy to support his company!

      And, he has a restaurant? I’ll have to look into this. It’s probably no where near anywhere that I normally go, but it’s something to keep in mind. :-)
      WordVixen\’s last post: Disney World Resort Refillable Mugs

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    • I love this! I used to live in Portland, and frequently visit there as all my future in-laws plus many friends live in the area. We’ve been to Bob’s restaurant a few times (it’s really good!) but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the man himself — I’ll have to look out for him! What a lovely little story about surviving the fire disaster — God sure is looking after sweet Bob and his mill! :)
      Emily @ Butter Believer\’s last post: Bug Block Hard Lotion Bar Review and Giveaway!

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    • YES! I read on a good-food-friendly-site (don’t remember where) a while back that Bob has had numerous offers to buy him out, but he won’t do it. He has already made a plan for when he dies (he doesn’t plan on retiring) that each share of the company will go to each employee, with the greatest shares going to the longest-employed. So, it will truly be 100% employee owned when he dies…

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      • I grew up eating Bob’s Red Mill products. My mother shopped his mill in Oregon City from the beginning (then known as Moore’s Mill) and I am fortunate to live 5 minutes from the Red Mill Store and Restaurant. During my growing up Bob and his wife Charlee were fixtures in our community and always appeared in our little town parade “Milwaukie Festival Daze” in their antique car. I can tell you what you see is what you get. In 2010 Bob gave the company to the employees for his 81st birthday. Bob and his wife have partnered with Oregon State University, The National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, OR and Oregon Health & Science University to develop programs aimed at stopping childhood obesity, nutrition research and a program to promote science-based changes in diet, nutrition and health care. My niece who is six thinks Bob is a rock star and asked him to make a “Bob” ornament that she can put on her Christmas tree. I a nut shell WE LOVE BOB.

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  43. I have a store about 1/2 mile from me and I never even go there, but tonight after work I am going to stop by and see what they have. I am in CT, so I don’t know if the products will be the same…As Kelli said above, you can get EVOO at Marshall’s also! (Don’t worry Kelli, I won’t tell either!).

    Reply
    • The expiration dates on all food packaging is actually the half life of the product unless it says use by, instead of best by date. Yes freezing is a way of extending lifetime. If you live in a part of the country that does not have something you want. Make a friend or two around the country on Facebook and ask them if they have it in their area. If they do the cheap 2 pound mailing box is the way to make your money work for you. Real Maple syrup in my part of the country cost over 100 bucks a gallon. I get it from a friend in Tennessee who’s dad makes it shipped for about 27 bucks a gallon shipping included. I do the same with lots of products. See the internet can be a money saver too!

      Reply
  44. While it’s good news for grain-eating customers who can currently find those products there, it’s probably not good news overall. Big Lots is a close-out store. They buy inventory from stores going out of business and from companies discontinuing a particular product line. It is not at all unusual to find real food products at Big Lots–I’ve found Lara Bars there super cheap–but you have to grab them when you see them since once they are gone they are gone.

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  45. This is not exactly what it seems. Big Lots is a not a normal retailer that purchases products from the manufacturer/distributor and sells them. They purchase closeout items that other retail stores can’t sell at super cheap prices, and sell them at their stores cheaper than their original retail price.

    The selection of food they have is not so much them looking to sell more ‘real food’ products, it’s that more ‘real food’ products have not sold at the normal retailers and are thus left for closeouts.

    I still think its excellent though, and if they carve out a niche in the area, it would be a good thing. I always find good stuff in the International aisle at my local Big Lots.

    Reply
    • This is very true, Andy. Sam’s Club does that very thing which is why you can’t get the same thing twice, as a rule. I don’t shop at Sam’s or wallyweirdworld but people who do are always complaining about Sam’s because they find something they like at a decent price and the next time they go out, it’s gone and the store never carries it again, most likely.

      But this Bob’s stuff is probably nearly ready to expire, which is why it’s being sold so cheaply. When I saw that sign for $3.99 I nearly lit out for FL myself (and I don’t fly). The cheapest we can get the tiny bags of Bob’s Red Mill stuff around here (and that includes anything in his line) is $7.99 and upwards. I never buy his stuff if I can help it. I buy from MtRoseHerbs.com for things like organic arrowroot. Our health food stores have other great buys on steel cut oatmeal for much less than Bob’s charges. I want to be healthy and organic as much as the next person, but I’m not going to spend myself into oblivion to do it, nosirreee.

      Reply
      • Sam’s isn’t a close-out store. It’s inventory–like Wal-Mart’s–changes based on what is being purchased by customers and whether or not they can find a cheaper source for a similar product. There are occasional seasonal closeout items, but most of their products are pretty consistent. Big Lots has no consistency at all. It’s different every time you go–especially in the food aisles.

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  46. Hi Sarah,

    This is great to hear! I’m in Japan (my husband is stationed here with the Navy) and our on-base commissary is just awful. We have such limited selection, but recently I began seeing more and more of Bob’s Red Mill products popping up. I was actually a little skeptical, simply BECAUSE they were being sold at our lousy store. It’s great to hear that you trust this brand, because I have been using them for several months now. When we first got here (October 2008) there was almost NO healthy food choices, but in the last year that has changed dramatically. They now have an entire section of gluten-free products, the majority of them from Bob’s Red Mill.

    So I think you’re right! If they’re showing up at our commissary and at your Big Lots, we may have some hope in this fight. But I really can’t wait to move back to the US where I can get REAL milk (at least for now)!

    Reply
      • Commissaries all over the country as well as those supporting their bases overseas are known (within the past 3-5 years) to have some organic foods such as organic frozen fruit (my husband is retired and will still load up on Cascadian Farms fruit and Muir Glen tomatoes), organic, canned tomatoes, and gluten free products. Having lived overseas, it would’ve helped a lot if they’d provided this 8 years ago. We spent a lot ordering from Azure for dry goods.

        Reply

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