Kendra Morrice isn’t about to pay $4.53 for a box of cereal at the grocery store, not when she can order a dozen at $3.75 a pop through her food-buying club.

“In the long run, you’re saving oodles,” said Morrice of Des Plaines, who estimates she salts away hundreds of dollars a year through membership in a club in Chicago’s Oriole Park neighborhood. “But you want to be sure you’re going to be using 12 boxes of cereal.”

Spurred by the sluggish economy, there is welling demand for such clubs, which allow consumers to band together-neighbors, friends, co-workers-and pay wholesale prices for large food orders, experts say.

Always a “well-kept secret,” food clubs have experienced on-again, off-again success. Now they are ripe for a new surge of interest during the economic downturn, said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, a non-profit based in Minnesota. “I think we’re going to see a whole new wave of buying clubs, just like we saw during the Great Depression,” Cummins said. “People have to cope with the fact that their living expenses are going up.”

Buying clubs, considered a type of consumers’ cooperative, aim to provide members with food at the lowest price rather than turn a profit. The clubs often evolve into storefront co-ops that sell to the public.

Statistics on the number of food-buying clubs aren’t readily available, but the recent growth of co-op stores likely is a good indicator of their burgeoning strength, said Adam Schwartz, spokesman for the National Cooperative Business Association.

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