What are Consumables?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Consumables are goods that require recurrent replacement because they are used up or transformed in their use. The market for these goods tends to be consistent and can be a strong place for investment, even during periods of economic uncertainty, as the need for such products cannot be put off by consumers. Individuals and businesses both buy consumables, in varying amounts, and a number of companies specializing in a range of consumable products provide goods to the public.

Shampoo and other personal care products are classified as consumables.
Shampoo and other personal care products are classified as consumables.

Office supplies like pens, pencils, paper, stables, toner and ink, paperclips, and so forth are classic examples of consumables. They are regularly used up or changed and an office must maintain a steady supply of these products in order to function. Groceries and personal care products are consumables seen in the home. Conversely, things like appliances are not placed in this class, but are considered durable goods. They are designed to be used for an extended period of time.

Paperclips are consmables.
Paperclips are consmables.

Many consumables are disposable in nature. Hospitals order huge volumes for patient care, including needles, gloves, bandages, and tubing. Examples of similar products can be seen in other industries where people want clean materials to work with or must use new products with each customer. Companies marketing consumables rely on a steady market. As long as a business or household is operational, the demand for consumables will remain the same.

Most hospitals place regular bulk orders for consumable items such as bed pads.
Most hospitals place regular bulk orders for consumable items such as bed pads.

In a hospital, for example, a budget crisis may put off major purchases of durable goods like next generation imaging machines and hospital beds. However, to function, the hospital still needs supplies to serve patients, and the medical supply companies used by the hospital can depend on the hospital's orders. This allows such companies to maintain steady growth and returns, even in a poor economy, making them very appealing to many investors.

The market for consumables may be tracked separately from other types of goods. Economists look at movement in this area of the market to make projections, learn more about the general health of the economy, and examine economic shifts. Companies that design and market these products also tend to innovate in order to expand their market. Many companies make disposable versions of reusable products, for example, in order to turn the market for these goods into a consumable one. These products are marketed as more convenient than reusable ones. They may even integrate marketing tactics such as being more environmentally friendly because they don't have to be cleaned between uses and can be made with biodegradeable, renewable materials.

Disposable medical supplies are common because of the difficulty of cleaning and sterilizing some items.
Disposable medical supplies are common because of the difficulty of cleaning and sterilizing some items.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Are soaps, shampoos and any other such detergents classified as consumables?


I am a nurse working for a pediatrician. We go through a lot of consumables every week, and we try to order enough to last us for a month. We get a discount by buying in bulk.

Some consumables we go through rather quickly are syringes, cotton balls, exam table covers, and disposable gloves. We also use a lot of things to keep kids happy, like flavored tongue depressors. These make it easier to get them to agree to open up and say, “Ah.”

We also keep a jar of lollipops that we hand out to each kid after an exam. I catch kids staring at the jar during their checkups, and I can tell they know they are going to get one.

I think that if we ran out of kid-friendly consumables, we would have some unhappy patients. That’s why we always order a little extra of these things.


I work as a lifeguard at the city pool, and our consumables include tons of pool chemicals. For a pool that big, you have to put in a lot of things to maintain the correct chemistry.

When I get off duty, I often have to stick around and help with the maintenance. The guys in charge of testing and adjusting the pool chemistry check the levels of chlorine, alkalinity, pH, and stabilizer. If the chlorine is low, they must add the correct amount of shock. If the stabilizer is low, they add more chlorinating tabs. If pH or alkalinity are either low or high, we have products to increase or decrease them.

Every few days, something will always need adjusting. We keep the local pool store in business by purchasing all of our many consumables from them.


Restaurants go through pounds of consumables every day.

I used to maintain inventory for a restaurant, and it was definitely a full-time job. When I first started, I was amazed at the amount of consumables used on a daily basis. Now, I’ve come to expect it.

In addition to food, restaurants that don’t keep cloth napkins and real silverware, like the one where I worked, have to supply customers with plastic utensils and paper napkins. Also, we have to keep ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard packets around. Salt and pepper shakers must be refilled regularly, and sugar and creamer packet baskets need to be restocked.


A hair salon has to have many different consumables to stay open. My friend owns one, and she goes through lots of supplies in a day.

She has to use those little slips of thin paper between strands of hair and a roller as she winds it up. Those are one-time use products.

She uses bottles of hair dye, bleach, and permanent solution, and these have to be replaced steadily for her to stay in business. She also has to keep a stock of artificial nails and nail polish for her nail technician to be able to perform her job.


@nony - I just refill my ink cartridges rather than buy new ones. I can do this far more cheaply than buying a new cartridge.

You have to make sure that the cartridges are in good condition however. If you break their seams in any way (as I did once) you won’t be able to fill them again.


@miriam98 - I think the highest markups are in printer ink. It’s amazing how companies market bubble jet printers. They sell the printers at prices where they’re almost giving the printers away. Then they force you to buy the ink, which they sell at nearly the same price as they sold the printer.

It’s almost as if every six months or so, whenever you need new ink, you’re buying another printer. I actually know a guy who caught on to this, and instead of buying new ink he just buys a new printer, from a different manufacturer or something with better features.

It’s all marketing in my opinion; but printer ink is definitely a high demand consumable.


I happen to believe that consumables should be the bread and butter for any computer store. People usually look at the computers that a store sells and think that’s where they make their money.

I happen to believe however that the profit margin on the supplies is much higher. They stock the store with cables, printer consumables, discs, printer paper and so forth. These things go out the door on a much more frequent basis while the larger purchases take a longer time to sell.

You need to focus on these smaller items in my opinion if you’re in this business. Computer cables are an industry in themselves. There are places online that do nothing but sell cables of all kinds, at ridiculous markups. But guess what? Everyone needs cables, good times or bad.

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