Foods For Barter


Many of us know that grocery stores operate on ‘just in time’ inventory management; meaning that there is basically no back room storage. Everything that they have is out on the shelves and is replaced with deliveries to restock ‘just in time’ — all of which enables cost savings from essentially having zero back-room inventory.

If there is ever a major disruption to this (JIT) system, some say that within 3 days most grocery store shelves would be empty. Others argue that it may take a bit longer, depending – maybe a week.

With that in mind, imagine if the system was disrupted for not just weeks or even a month or two… but years… What are some of the foods that may be particularly good for barter?

Here is an updated list from your comments/suggestions through 10/6/2013
Continue to add your own though…

Our absolute dependence upon food being on our grocery store shelves is an amazing thing… the assumption that it will always be there.

It is an assumption that quite literally is life dependent. We cannot survive without it. Period.

There are more and more people ‘waking up’ and mitigating that risk by growing more of their own food and storing/preserving it, and more people are building a food storage inventory of their own.

Rather than listing every food substance known to mankind, what foods do you believe would be particularly good for barter? To trade? Which foods might be of more value after TSHTF?


Canned meats
People will be craving for meat. I dare say 99% of meat that is consumed is sourced from ‘fresh’. Who is thinking about storing canned meat? This will be a very valuable barter item.

Canned vegetables
Although not packed with calories like other foods, it will provide a much needed source of fiber and nutritional balance.

Inexpensive. Easy to store. Simple to make a meal. If you can heat water, you can eat. Good barter.

Dog food
Lots of people won’t think to store much extra dog food. Your pet will thank you. Great barter value.

Peanut butter
Packed with calories and protein. Regarding calories per ounce, this one is high.

Powdered milk
Few ‘non preppers’ will be thinking about stocking up on this item. Most people don’t like the taste, but if milk disappeared, this would be a treat.

Dried beans
They are packed with protein. Taste can be altered with whatever creativity you can imagine with the spices and sauces on hand. They do require a fair amount of cook time though, but provided you can heat water, you’re good to go. A ‘staple’ barter item. They do begin to get hard after ~5 years (soak and cook longer).

White Rice
You need something to go with those beans. If packed properly, it will last for decades. Not as much cooking time required. Entire cultures survive on this stuff. Another ‘staple’ barter item.

Cooking oil
Oil will go rancid however, so limited shelf life.

No expiration. Many uses.

No expiration.

Best to buy coffee already vacuum sealed in cans which will stay fresh longer (or vacuum seal it yourself). Consider Instant coffee. Green coffee beans last for decades, however they will need to be roasted for coffee (and then ground).

Honey, Maple syrup
These will last ‘forever’

Sinful sweet-tooth treats…

This will be in high demand, as it always has been throughout human history.

Powdered milk and butter
Will last for decades in professionally packed vacuum sealed containers.

Various spices
This will become in high demand, as bland (and aging) foods will benefit greatly from spices.


What do you think?
What are some other FOOD items that may be particularly good for barter?


  1. What about coffee? I am new to the prepper world so I am not sure of the shelf life of coffee, canned, bagged, instant or otherwise. But the fact that so many westerners are “addicted” to caffeine, it might be in high demand.
    I am not sure what intrinsic value coffee has nutritionally, so the space it takes up in your storage area may offset its barter value.


    1. Maddog, you’d be surprised how little space coffee can take up if you organize your food storage efficiently. I have more than 200 pounds of coffee (vacuum-sealed in about 350 10-ounce cans and/or foil packages) and it takes up only about a 5-by-6-by-3-foot corner in my proverbial bunker. My current stash of coffee would last me more than six years if I were the only one drinking it, but I’m also thinking of coffee’s value for both barter and, if necessary, bribery.

      1. One more note with regard to coffee maintaining its freshness, the coffee I prefer, Cafe Bustelo, comes in vacuum-sealed metal cans and foil pouches, so the vacuum seal will keep the coffee fresh until the seal is broken. As long as the vacuum seal remains intact, I don’t think the “best by” date on the package really matters–you’ve already eliminated exposure to air, moisture and light, so just keep it in a cool area and the coffee should be good for a very long time.

  2. Not so sure I’d want to barter food unless I desperately needed whatever item I was offered for barter. It would be a sign that I had “extra” food. News travels fast. I’d much rather barter away something I did not really need or could get by without. Like nails, car parts for an old non-running car, or whatever.

    Same goes for ammo. You’ll need all you can get.

    Barter is fine, to be sure. I would be very careful though.

    1. Honestly, anything you give away in a barter is a sign that you have supplies to a certain degree. Being known as the guy with enough ammo for an army is just as dangerous as being the guy with extra food. The trick would be to barter with trusted neighbors or set up some kind of anonymous market.

      Diversification is important.

    2. I’ve read several articles about bartering. I agree that bartering food is kind of a sign that you have a lot. In a SHTF situation, that’s like painting a bullseye on your back. In theory bartering is a good idea but you’d have to be very careful.

  3. Powdered gatorade mix – keeps sugar, sodium and electrolyte levels up in your body. Vitamin supplements and glucosamine. A basil or mint plant where you could give away sprigs. Dried fruit can make oatmeal more tasty.

    Pure olive oil (the stuff a notch above extra virgin) is pretty expensive but can last 3-4 years in storage. It also has a lot of uses other than cooking. You can use it to grease metal tools, treat diaper rash on babies, treat chapped lips, and keep your fingernails from turning brittle. It’s also safe to put in pet food so their skin makes proper oils.

    Powdered eggs last years in storage and can easily be bartered to those who don’t have any protein. Don’t discount powdered cocoa, either. Mix it with some dried oats and peanut butter, you got no-bake cookies to make the kids happy.

    I’d also look at food people can eat when they have to travel or stay outside all day. Things like beef jerky and energy bars will be first to go when the perishables are gone.

      1. Honey may be a bulky item, but it is another product that lasts indefinitely. Excellent on the shelf for you or to barter.

  4. What would I barter?
    Nothing probably.
    And these are my reasons – if it goes on for years, I probably won’t be around.
    Partially that depends on the reason why the JIT ended.
    I have already said here, that I will not survive marauding hoards of zombies.

    I already lost the Homestead in the 80’s to a SHTF event in my life and now live on a modest piece of property in a small-medium community surrounded by sustainable agriculture farmers and acres of food. I have a 10×28 foot green house that serves me with a lot of year round digging in the dirt – that is the thing that brings me the most Joy.

    I have ALWAYS bought my food in bulk as it is cheaper that way. Been doing it for decades. I actually cook food and do not eat over processed junk. I did over buy brown rice according to all web sites that proclaim it goes bad in six months. I personally have had it last fine for two years and not taste or smell rancid nor make me sick. Learning recently that all of our brown rice has high levels of arsenic I almost wonder if that was intentional. I may be donating my surplus to the food bank, and not because of the arsenic, because I have too much!

    I will not be around for any ‘re-building’ after a total collapse. I only want to be comfortable on my way out. And I believe that in a total grid down scenario – that it’s over anyway, as it will be just a matter of time, until the worlds Nuclear Power Poison Plants melt and or explode contaminating the Soils, Air and Water of the Earth Forever.

    Some of the food I have I will save for the grandchildren. But it won’t be enough.
    I have decided I am neither Survivalist Nor Prepper. Just an old women that is prepared for inconvenient emergencies.

    What will I do now? Continue adding to my camping gear, and then pick up a good Fantasy Novel to forget the horrors of this planet for a time. I think I will re-read the Hobbit. And then I will spend some fiat money as you call it, and go see the movie in our new Imax theater.

    Go Forth and Do Good Will.

  5. i would say lots of extra stores of different kinds of chocolate, alcohol (I always hear people say the small bottles, and that’s good idea). I have loads of medicinal plants in my backyard, and I make lots of my own medicines with them. I think THAT will come in mighty handy for bartering. If a person knows how to treat some small (or large, even) sicknesses, I’ll bet lots of people will be willing to barter for that.

  6. Chocolate, sugar (brown/white) rice, beans, garden seeds, peanut butter, coffee, cocoa, pet foods, powdered eggs.

    I have a list of things to stock up on specifically for bartering purposes, just in case :)

  7. Good suggestions everybody… especially the ‘vices’ like chocolate, alcohol, coffee, etc.

    One generalization is that whatever the other party is looking for is what’s valuable at the time… Just wondering what the odds are regarding this or that.

    Keep ’em coming…

  8. Milk (dehydrated and canned evaporated), butter (powdered and canned), and eggs (fresh or powdered). Expensive by comparison to most storage foods, and a shorter shelf life, but called for in just about every recipe and most dry packaged mixes. Wish I had more and the S hasn’t even HTF yet.

  9. Barter? You betcha. I love a good trade. Just one secret, don’t never barter a full can of anything. An almost empty can of coffee would be worth more than a full can. Just think, it may be the last coffee in town! One cup of this or one of that. And bye the way, Liquor is bartered by the shot. Never let on that you have any more. Never barter for jest, only if its something you can re-barter or are in need of.

    1. I never thought of the barter potential of “the last coffee in town,” but this is a brilliant approach. Now I just have to figure out how to make my 300+ packages of coffee appear to be the “last coffee” over and over again!

  10. Cheryl is right about looking for multi-tasker foods. Plants that double as medicine, whiskey that can sterilize medical equipment, etc. Satisfying vices will be the main benefit if your city loses power for a few weeks. If we are looking at a long-term collapse then those vices would eventually fade, and sustainability will be the priority.

    1. Great insight regarding the likelihood that some of these vices would eventually collapse. They won’t disappear, but the demand will lessen as people will need to work harder to survive, etc.

    2. Coffee may be a vice to some people but a medicine for others. There are compounds in coffee that can help alleviate asthma symptoms–I have a mild case of asthma, but I’m also a big-time coffee fan!

  11. I have well over 300 cans and vacuum-sealed foil packages of my favorite coffee–about a six-year supply if I were to drinking all of it myself, but I plan to buy even more so I will have ample coffee for barter as well. I’m thinking this will be a really hot item for barter post-SHTF.

  12. I made up some one-gallon Mylar “Care Packages” that include 2 pounds of rice, 2 pounds of pasta, and one pound of beans. If the person is NICE, I’ll give them a few bouillon cubes for flavor…..!

  13. We believe that Proteins will be in high demand so we have stored Powdered Whey Protein in Strawberry, Chocolate and Vanilla flavors (the type you can buy at GNC) for consumption as well as barter along with salt and spices. I pray that my wife and I will be able to maintain a charitable nature during a post SHTF situation. God Bless

  14. I won’t go into detail, but some of the cravings a person will have is just the taste of salt. Our fast food is loaded with salt & we take it all for granite. Eat the food in a nursing home a week or two, you will crave real spices, it taste like paper. Easy to get food fatique. I’ve paid $2 for a coke cola when they were .35 cents. A beer, a lot more. Chocolate, salt, alcohol, coffee, sugar I seen “Nick” say 300 pk of coffee, barter just enough for a pot, even if you have to pour it into the palm of their hand, if it is ground coffee. Just like eggs, may spare a couple showing the neighbor a 1/2 empty carton. Yes, you may have to use that same carton over & over. Never trade bullets to a stranger, they may be meant for you. And only 5-6 at a time. You may need them yourself, even if you don’t own a weapon. Never admit that in conversation. Never trade alcohol to someone that becomes obnoxious or unrully! I’m sorry, but you will need to learn to lie or keep your mouth shut. You instantly will have something worth getting killed for. If you have more stock than wal-mart, you better act & dress like a pauper, your life may depend on it! Facts are facts people!

  15. Definitely Tea and Sugar or Honey if we’re talking food and drink, but would add plenty of soap to my preps for barter if other products were going to be up for discussion.

    I just hope they’ve got something I want and will to trade, not raid!

  16. Not a food, but cigarettes may come in handy. I buy the brands I don’t like so I won’t smoke them. ;)

  17. I should think extra cans of tuna would make for some good barter. It could be mixed with something like pasta or just plain out of the can. And like alot of people I enjoy my coffee. I have about a years worth now. And I am still adding to it. The small 10oz cans I have are to barter away, but that would still be tuff to do because I enjoy my coffee so much.

  18. Since we are talking post-SHTF with lingering effects, I would throw in the suggestion of various spices. After days/weeks/months of living off rice and beans and oatmeal, who wouldn’t trade something to be able to give their whining kids a dash of cinnamon in the morning oatmeal, or a pinch of cumin or chili powder on the beans. Seems like that would go a long way towards those who have thought to store beans and rice but haven’t thought of what it would be like to actually live off that constantly. Salt, pepper, cinnamon, oregano, garlic/onion powder, hot sauce and anything else in your spice rack can be had for cheap at discount stores and keeps forever with your other preps.

  19. I think a 3 day supply of food at a grocery store is a reasonable assumption…under normal circumstances. But, as soon as people realize there is a problem, consumption rises with extreme geometric proportion. Before Sandy hit, roads were open and stores still ran out of many items within a day or 2. If there is any doubt of a food shortage, people would empty stores within hours, not days.
    I don’t see barter becoming as big and popular as thought until the event that drove us to a barter type system has calmed down significantly. By that time you might not have much left. Until then, whoever has the biggest stick holds all the marbles.

  20. I buy small jars of instant freeze dried coffee from the dollar store for bartering. They’re only a couple of ounces so it doesn’t look like you might have more, and they’re sealed so will stay good (as good as instant coffee can be anyways), and you only need heated water to use it, not a coffee pot. I’ve even used some when I ran out of my favorite ground beans.

  21. Not exactly a food, but how about some hard candy? People will still have kids, and those kids will have birthdays, etc. More a cheer-up item than a food,

  22. Chiller is totally right about how long a store’s inventory can really last. Stores have enough for 3-5 days based on normal sales activity. When a hurricane bears down on a town, the stores are wiped out in a day or two. If an unexpected disaster hits and people get really scared, they’ll resort to stealing from the stock rooms and the store will be empty in less than a day.

    Hard candy can be really useful to soothe a cough, and if someone has low blood sugar it can help keep them active.

    1. You’re right about hard candy and low blood sugar. I have chronically low sugar, so keep a bag of root beer barrels close by all the time. It can really help a lot when I start to get the shakes.
      I have quite a large stash of hard candy in my preps, and some are ones I can’t stand (like fire balls) so I can trade or give those away. I buy them in large plastic canisters from Smart & Final (restaurant supply store), they’re pretty inexpensive that way.

  23. Living here behind the Zion curtain (Utah) there’s not much value in stockpiling coffee, alcohol or cigarettes for barter. Salt is available from a big ol’ lake a couple miles away. Also, most prepared folks around here have basements bursting with wheat, beans, rice and honey. My decision for barter items to store has come down to 1.55oz Hershey’s chocolate bars bought in bulk from the local Sam’s Club/Costco, bars of soap at 3 for a dollar from the local dollar store and a few bags of calcium hypochlorite (pool shock) for water purification. Natural water sources are scarce here and purification will be on everybody’s minds. A one pound bag yeilds enough chemical to create nearly 100 gallons of ‘bleach’ solution which in turn will treat thousands of gallons of water.

    1. It really does depend on where you live. I live in a place that’s a “blue” voting district, mostly surrounded by middle-class professionals. Right before Sandy went over us, I remember talking to a really funny woman. She said she’d decided to get some extra bottled water and snacks, but the stores were all sold out. I said gee that’s too bad, but at my house we have a policy of keeping those things around all the time. She was like “wow that’s a really good idea.”

      Yeah… needless to say, our plan is to have enough here to bug in for a few weeks if there’s a storm but then quickly bug out when/if it turns bad.

      1. SonjaD – Just before Sandy, I was in BJ’s buying a couple random items. I saw a woman complaining that they were out of Poland Spring water. Practically yelling at the clerk….while standing right next to a pile of the BJ’s house brand water bottles…..I rolled my eyes, got what I needed and rode out the week without power with only a few tweaks needed to my plans.

    2. Wow! Had no idea..water will be the titanium item..thanks for sharing. Water has been the one thing in my mind. I am from a large metropolitan area so food as well as water would go fast..really’s hard for stores to keep much of anything on shelves as it is. Could you share the formula for the pool shock? I would not know where to start.

    3. Mr. Prov can you share the formula for the pool shock? Don’t know much about it..

      1. Liz, Pool Shock used for treating pools and with care useful for treating drinking water is sold at Wal-mart and many other fine stores.

        Not sure if Amazon sells it as it is a HAZMAT item but they might. Look up the drinking water instructions and that will tell you what you want to see in the ingredient list of that pool shock.

        Use MSB’s search for water purification.

  24. Ok, not a food item,and perhaps this has already been a topic here? But first aid supplies, those small tubes of antibiotic cream, antacids, diarhea medicine.

  25. Coconut oil has a very long shelf life when unopened, it can last for years, and even after opening, will last for a very long time. It also is good for you in ways that so many oils are not.

  26. One prep item I never see anyone mention is tobacco seeds. I see cigarettes but nothing else. Tobacco can also be used as a worming agent for farm animals. So it might be good to stock so you have something a farmer can use, after all, that is the one person you are more likely to want to trade for food.

  27. Red Mangroves leaves can be used for tea, and smoked, and the seed pod can be treated like a cigar and smoked.

    So not too shabby IF you live near their habitat.

  28. I would say any sort of candy is a win-win…especially hard candy…I’m betting the shelf life is better for hard candy than chocolate. I’m unsure of the shelf life of packets of condiments, but they could make for awesome trading items…small, sealed, easy to swap for something else. Plus,you can get them for free when you go to fast food joints!!!! What a bargain!

    1. We don’t go to fast food restaurants, but I do stock the packets of condiments. I buy them by the box at a restaurant supply store here.

      I grow a lot of herbs in my gardens, so I always have a lot of fresh herbs. But I also dry a lot of them that I can’t use up right away while they’re fresh. I think those will make pretty good barter items. I even have one kind of herb that makes better toilet paper than the stuff you buy at the store. ;)

      1. okay Tammy… I will bite…(grin)

        please tell us, what is the herb you can grown in your garden which is better toilet paper???????

        and is it still good after it is a “dried herb”?

        is it good for anything else?

        sounds pretty good gardening.

        1. The herb is Lamb’s Ear, and I have just submitted a guest article with more information about it, so watch for it.

    2. Kynase..have to agree, Candy would likely be great. Grin, as a chocolate lover, some of those hard candies with chocolate centre…mmm just the ticket..

      but seriously, I think hard candies great idea.

      and those condiment packs, sounds good too. don’t go often to those places, but when I do, have started to ask for “extras”.

  29. lately have read so much about Chia Seeds and Quinoa. Both supposed to be complete proteins/high in fats/and non gluten. both supposed to last long too. I think if one got a great sale on these, in smaller packs, there would be some (gluten folks), who would be keen to trade for these.

  30. I believe that when TSHTF and everything goes off grid my group is going to barter water and tobacco. Our water source is as clean and pure as you can get as it comes from three springs. This water needs no purification of any kind and is ready to drink. The tobacco will be a good seller also as once all the cigarettes are gone there will be a lot of people out there that will pay a lot just for something to smoke. The only problem with the barter system is coming into contact with others that may want what you have and willing to try and take it.

  31. I always love when this topic comes up. All the food items, alcohol and such are wonderful things to think about trading BUT two things you do not see often mentioned are: toilet paper and feminine hygiene products. People have to eat true, however, they are going to tear each other apart over a roll of Charmin. Also think about every 4 weeks or so and the wonders of Midol, tampons and other such simple items that make (your/the ones you are with) lives bearable or your life pleasant. They will hurt you for food but will kill for a few scraps of paper(probably even those green ones at that point).

  32. Not all of us drink coffee…. Add tea bags to the list….
    With white rice on the list- add…. instant mash potato’s, they are a must also….

  33. Vinegar is incredibly useful. And I for one will have individually wrapped packets of coffee (1 per cup) and mini bottles of all kinds of booze. You had better be damn careful… I know I wouldn’t think twice about using anything I have to infiltrate anybody’s preps and kill anybody for them. The only true survivors will be the Killers in what will undoubtededly be nothing short of a Kill or Be Killed reality. It’s simply how life works, people are not remotely excluded. Just the opposite. Look at any War torn nation now… Look at prison… It’s dog eat dog in our cozy “society” as it is, and you’re completely deluding yourself if you think it all won’t devolve in a new york minute. The more of you that don’t then the better, as you will be game. Best keep everything about your preps a secret and yourselves completely invisible.

  34. I am reading these comments with interest, and something came to my mind. If you are stocking items for survival, what could the unprepared have that you would be interested in trading for? The only thing that comes to my mind are stories I have heard about people in war areas and they were traveling and used items to bribe solders to give them save passage. I find these stories interesting, and wondered how many of the people in positions of power just took the food, etc. and stranded or killed the prepared people.

    1. “what could the unprepared have that you would be interested in trading for?”
      Really, any number of things. Even those who keep no food in their cupboards might have a spare bottle of aspirin that you need.

  35. Quick oats.


    Cakes of soap.

    Ladies toiletries.


    BBQ sauce for boiled rice or pasta with SPAM.

    All cheap, lost long, and easy to store.

    Put pasta, muesli, and oats in the freezer for 5 days to kill the weevil eggs.

    Trade in car parks away from home, NOT at your front door.

  36. MRE’s are a great item to store/trade. One can buy/order them in bulk at various sites or army surplus stores. Also, buy bulk seeds, lard (lasts forever; many uses), and dehydrated human grade dog food (Honest Kitchen brand)-may seem extreme, but, with a little salt…unfortunately, there is a 2-yr shelf life. With the proposed National ID card implementation, bartering may be the only way…

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