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5 Things You Should Know About European Grocery Stores

5 Things You Should Know About European Grocery Stores

Wondering what European grocery stores are like? When traveling to Europe for the first time, we were excited when we remembered that Aldi was a German company and it would be everywhere! Little did we know that Aldi is just one of a bajillion different types of grocery stores in Europe.

In the United States, we have a few giant name brands that dominate cities and small towns alike. Although European countries have a few of their own name brand stores, it is nowhere near the commercialization we have come to know in the United States. There is Lidil Grocery, Eurospar, Aldi and more, but it isn’t nearly as large as in the USA. Before shopping for European food, there are a few things to know so you will be prepared for the experience!

5 Things You Should Know About European Grocery Stores

#1 Grocery Stores In Europe Aren’t Even Called “Grocery Stores”

Those places to buy European food? They are called markets! Don’t even ask us how many times we have asked a stranger on the street or one of our Airbnb hosts where the closest grocery store was and they looked at us like we had three eyes. The proper name is “market.” When asking for directions, just ask for the market and you will be golden. Some places to buy European food may be outdoors so if you want an indoor store ask for a “food shop” instead of a market for more focused results.

5 Things You Should Know About European Grocery Stores

2. Beware Of Extra Costs When Shopping At A European Grocery

If you shop at Aldi in the USA, you may remember that you have to bring your own shopping bags. The same thing happens at European grocery stores [and is where Aldi originated]. When grocery shopping in Europe, don’t forget to bring your own bags. If you don’t, you will either have to carry everything or pay for each bag as you leave the European grocery. Similarly, countries tack on an average of 15-20 cents per bottle you buy, which forces you to come back to the store and recycle [totally cool!] Keep this in mind if you are buying in bulk. If you stay in a city for a few days, be sure to head back to the European supermarket where you bought your drinks to recycle the bottles! Saving the earth is cool!

We created this handy post so you can see how far $20 USD stretches across a ton of European cities!

3. Consistent Brand Names Virtually Don’t Exist At Many Supermarkets In Europe

We love our snacks. If we find a delicious snack brand in one city in Italy, one would think we would find it in the next town over. Not so with European food! Not only do brands in different countries differ [makes sense, right?], brands from store to store within the same country differ as well! Whether you are taking an epic 8-country road trip or hitting a few cities in the same nation, brands at European grocery stores will not remain the same! If you find European food that you love, it is best to stock up because another supermarket in Europe or even in the same country may not supply the same product.

This can make for a confusing experience because we are basically gambling with each $1.50 we spend on Europe’s version of cheese puffs. Although we did notice a few brands that were slightly consistent, the snack aisle was diverse in practically every city with a European supermarket. We can’t speak for every single section of the store, but snacks and desserts were where we found the most prevalence.

5 Things You Should Know About European Grocery Stores

4. When Shopping At European Grocery Stores, Nothing Will Be In Your Language

Unless you are from the home country or are a mystical human who speaks multiple languages, you are going to be stuck navigating European grocery stores on your own. This may come as a “duh” point to many people, but you really have no idea what the impact will be until you are staring blindly at the frozen food section wondering if you are getting steak or liver. Many European food options, especially in the meat department, may look similar so if you don’t speak the language you will be at a disadvantage.

Take it from us. Download the Google Translate app. Although the app is far from perfect, it will save the day during your shopping trip. The app will be able to at least translate a few words so you get the gist on what you are buying and the cooking instructions. This part of the European shopping experience was particularly stressful so if you want to scream and cry internally, we totally feel you! If you plan to head to some supermarkets in Europe, Googl translate some staples so you can learn the words for popular products ahead of time!

5 Things You Should Know About European Grocery Stores

5. You Can Always Find Fresh Baked Goods At European Grocery Stores

One of the best parts about shopping at grocery stores in Europe is tasting all the delicious fresh baked European food! Local grocery store? Local fresh baked goods. Aldi? Larger grocery stores actually have a section where you can press a button and a machine makes fresh bread/rolls/pretzels etc. for you while you shop! If that isn’t the coolest thing, we don’t know what is! European food is fresh and baked right in the store while you wait so you know you are getting a healthy option!

Keep in mind that Europeans use far fewer preservatives/pesticides in their perishables than Americans. This means that the carton of strawberries you just bought will literally last overnight before they start to get mushy/mildew. Don’t overbuy on fruit and eat your baked goods/bread quickly [or store in the fridge] to keep everything as fresh as possible. Some supermarkets in Europe may even offer a discount section for fruit that is past its prime or day-old baked goods.

READ NEXT: What $20 Worth Of Groceries Looks Like In Cities Around Europe

Been to grocery stores in Europe? Did you have a similar experience? We would love to chat and hear about your thoughts on visiting supermarkets in Europe! 

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5 Things You Should Know About European Grocery Stores

19 thoughts on “5 Things You Should Know About European Grocery Stores

  1. Bridget

    I wouldn’t agree with the first point. In Poland we call it supermarket or shop, in England is either supermarket or grocery story. Market is more like stalls with some goods, for example farmers market that we have in Gloucester (UK) once a week. Same in Poland, market is the place with stalls that usually happens once a week, can provide multiple goods. I think generalisation and saying that the whole Europe is the same is misleading.

    1. Follow Me Away Post author

      This is a great comment! We did 11 countries and noticed this was a trend but you are right we shouldn’t have gernalized every county in Europe. When we have wifi we will update to ‘many’ or ‘some.’ 🙂

      1. Martha

        I have not ever heard it being referred to a a market either. Supermarket probably, yes. I think most European non English speakers wouldn’t know the word ‘groceries’. Maybe that’s where the confusion came from. That being said, I have no idea why they told you it was called a market in Dublin 😀

    2. Christine

      I’m from Germany and there a grocery store is called “Supermarkt.” If you were to ask for just “Markt” you would be directed to the local farmers market (or the spot where that market typically happens once or twice a week because Markt refers also to a literal place within a town or village, it’s the town square so to speak.)

    3. marianne

      I agree, supermarket is used in most of europe or the name of the shop like Aldi, Tesco, Migros, Netto to name a few from different countries. I also want to point out that if you use a bit of common sense you’ll be able to figure out what things are. When I lives in Istanbul I didn’t speak Turkish but was still able to find my Lactose free milk, by using a bit of common sense when in the milk isle. If in doubt ask a local, if they haven’t already offered to help when they see you struggle !
      I also think my veggies and fruit last as long in Europe as they do here in the US ! Of
      course things wont be in your language, and NO you can’t pay in US$ you’re not in the US! The number of times I was asked if American Tourists could pay in US$ is nauseating.

    4. Gillian

      I totally agree with Bridget. I am from London and live in the US. The food/ grocery stores are called supermarkets. There are many fresh produce markets in London ( just like here and in Germany and other European countries) and if you ask for a market, that is probably what and where you will get directed to. The smaller and/or independently owned type stores are called shops. London has a few chain stores like Marks and Spencer, ( M and S) Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco, but they are referred to as supermarkets.

  2. Elise

    Fruits should not go bad that quickly. Try lidl for fruits next time. At least they have an award for best fruits or something in the netherlands. And its just a little more expensive.

  3. Iau

    Interesting read from a European who has also traveled around the US several times.

    Low price “supermarkets” in Europe tend to have their own brand. Over time they have squeezed out the real brand names (who are forced to sell their stuff through the same stores). The products are usually made at the same factories, by the same companies, that have the original brand we tend to know.

    Personally I tend to stay away from own brands. Some say chips are chips, but they aren’t.

    Oh, and we do say grocery stores here, but I have hardly heard “markets” before (but I believe it comes from supermarket). Usually in our native languages we just call them food stores or something like that, but they are very different from country to country regarding sizes and what they offer. In some countries is all about prices (and they only have the very cheapest products or fewer to chose from) while others have a richer spread across various brands and products. I usually find the grocery stores in the US quite good and a personal favorite is Whole Food Market.

  4. Chelsea

    So agree with having google translate app.. We just went to europe and having it made everything so much easier and hassle free. Was actually strangly fun to use as well… I would be typing random french or italian words in and seeing what they mean.

    1. Follow Me Away Post author

      We would try to translate signs while we were riding in a bus or train! It never really worked that great!

  5. Sofi

    Supermarket in England but definitely not grocery story! I’m sure a tourist asking for a grocery store in England would be directed to a supermarket but we definitely do not use the term here.

  6. Evelien

    Bad fruits/vegetables: not in the netherlands. It depends on wich country you’re in. I know france, germany, spain have good fruits, but in some europian countries like croatia it isn”t really good. It is a little bit generelasion. Europe has a lot of different countries, with different people, norms, shops and languages. It is what makes europe beautifull.

    1. Cami

      They actually meant to say your fruits are better, the fact that they rot faster is a sign of pureness, a sign that the produce has not too many preservatives. Don’t be angry 🙂

  7. Mary Ann Grant

    Our shopping with grandkids and kids while in England or in France hold some of our best memories! We cooked every night and shopped nearly every day, my husband found Formage Blanc, I found creme-in-a-can that made great Alfredo, and didn’t taste like our (‘Carnation) . We loved the deli, and got hooked on fresh anchovies! our cheese budget was out of control when we realized our choices were not, as in U.S., ‘white or yellow’ only. Oh how we miss the cheese store, not to mention the Boulangerie,
    But many a frozen food case left us stymied. Absolute zero! Coffee was also a head scratcher: dark? Lite? Drip? Espresso? Yikes
    We used the heck out of the shopping cart in the apartments because bulk and walking five blocks can be tough! Thank you for every moment, and every delicious bite.

  8. Gail

    In a European “grocery” store, we were required to put on plastic gloves to handle the produce. And at a small store with produce out in beautiful displays, we were chastised for touching the produce. The store owner alone was allowed to pick out the fruit for you depending on when you were going to use it.

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  10. Kate

    The thing with the plastic bags is a big one – I’m originally from the UK, and go back to visit family often. Every time I forget about having to pay for bags (which is a totally cool concept, it should absolutely come to the US!) and either have to fork over 5p a bag or attempt to balance a whole bunch of groceries in my arms! I think this concept would be brand new to Americans traveling within Europe for the first time, so it’s a great thing to mention.

    1. Follow Me Away Post author

      Thanks Kate!! Yes!! Americans need this! Some stores such as Aldi or cities such as Portland do this but the majority of places don’t!

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