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.
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.
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. 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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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.
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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.’ 🙂
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 😀
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
In Ireland they are called supermarkets. If you ask for market you will not be shown the nearest grocery type store
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.
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We would try to translate signs while we were riding in a bus or train! It never really worked that great!
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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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!
Here’s an update for anyone maybe reading now…
I am what I’d like to class as European, I live in the UK but my family is Italian and most of my holidays have been in Western European countries. I frequently also visit the US, particularly California/Arizona.
Food generally is the same as what you can buy in the states but with less “interference”. American style food and brands is considered “junk” and a foods to be eaten sparingly. Versions of it exist, usually that is much healthier although you can pay a premium for American foods like lucky charms, Hershey’s etc etc.
Bread and baked goods tends to contain less sugar and salt and preservatives and as correctly stated, it doesn’t last as long. However bakeries are open pretty much every day from early on and the bread tastes so much better and forms part of your daily routine!this happens less in the UK but fresh bread is readily available in nearly every supermarket (except Aldi… Lidl bakes everyday in store).
Shop opening times-a 24hour supermarket in the UK is only 24h on weekdays and some Saturdays. Shops, by law, over 3000sq.ft can only open for 6 continuous hours on a Sunday between 10am and 6pm. Many open at 10 and close at 4 and some will open at 10 for browsing and open for transactions at 11, closing at 5. If desperate for food your best bet is one of the smaller supermarket chain outlets such as “Sainsbury’s local, Tesco metro, Tesco express, spar, budgens, little Waitrose” etc which are like small mini supermarkets with all the essentials, just less choice on products. These are easily found online but petrol (gas) stations and service stations are likely to have these. On the point of gas stations, fuel is sold by the litre and is gegerally pricey but it is higher octane by standard for unleaded petrol (gas) usually 97/99 octane. Diesel is a very popular fuel too and slightly more expensive in general. Motorway fuel can expect an extra 20-30p/l premium so time refuels carefully. UK cars tend to be smaller and more efficient! There are also a lot of electric charging points in the cities (and in Western European countries too) . Also, the colour of the hoses is the other way round in Europe (as well as the roads in the UK!) green is for gas (unleaded petrol) and black is for diesel.
Back to food. Fresh fruit and veg can last a while, just be careful on picking dates. Some places you may find a code as opposed to a useby or BBE which relates to the week of the year it was packed and which day of that week. It’s then for the consumer to decide when it’s gone. This help reduces food waste.
Everywhere charges for plastic bags now usually between 5 and 15p/bag so get used to buying and bringing bags (you can buy bigger more robust ones too) and trolley bags for the shops where you can scan and pack as you go (usually you need a loyalty card and to be registered to use this facility-it can take a little time to set up but does save time and frustrating checkouts usually)
If you forget your bags, you could look for a few empty product boxes such as vegetable/fruit boxes or wine bottle boxes that are often at the end of tills or ask a cashier/store assistant for one.
Big UK supermarkets (hyper markets similar to Walmart)
Asda (partner with Walmart)
Medium to large
Morrison’s M Local
The cooperative (Co-op)
On the continent popular supermarkets in Italy and France are:
But you will find a lot of local shops selling great quality produce which are fantastic to walk around.
Remember that Europeans use metric (Kg/litres etc and not lbs/ gals/ fl oz etc and that a gallon has a different volume in Europe!)
Many supermarkets are putting healthy snacks by the checkouts now as opposed to chocolate bars.
As mentioned sizes will be metric but often have an imperial measurement on packaging too.
Containers tend to be smaller. Portions tend to be smaller.
If you want large quantity packets as is often available in a Walmart, you’ll seldom find it with the exception of the world food sections where you may find larger size packs of things like chopped tomatoes, beans, lentils, rice, flour and oil which are for cultures where those are staples in nearly all their dishes. Pasta can often be found in 3kg bags too. For larger packs you’ll to go to makro or Costco or other catering / commercial endeavour shops (although also open to general public as we all need to go get bulk buys of somethings at times-think big parties, work events etc!)
You’ll find nutritional info on most things as it’s an EU requirement-be careful what they label up as often you’llbhave data per serving and there will be a random 2.154 servings per container or something!
There’s also a sugar tax in the UK with talk of a pudding tax too. Most companies like coca-cola either increased the cost of full sugar coke / litre in comparison to the diet versions. A lot of brands have reduced their sugar content to not increase costs or made smaller bottles! Certain chin brands are limited to serving sizes they can serve and sugar content; it’s the law to help reduce childhood obesity mostl, but adult too. I hardly notice the difference.
Most foods are designed to be cooked up from scratch but quick ready meals and food exists, usually in the freezer aisle (like pizzas, single serve meals etc) there is a great company in the UK called “cook” which does really high quality versions of ready meals and are available as a multi person serving but they’re usually available at more independent retailers such as at farm shops and some smaller supermarkets.
Google translate is fine and all but usually there’s ikea like diagrams such as a pic of a microwave and a number (no. Of minutes) an oven or fan oven and the temp and time or a pan and the time.
There are a lot of popular brands available across Europe that you get in the US but you may find the formula/recipe to differ or have a slightly different name – lays in US and w European countries is walkers in the UK. Uk’s Ice cream Walls is ALGiDA in Europe and sometimes good humour / gildat Strauss in the US.
You still have the popular international drinks like Coca Cola Pepsi etc where you’ll find the most variation in taste.
In terms of fast food outlets; they exist but less of them and more expensive generally. There are less adverts for them on tv too especially during kids tv times. Starbucks is popular but so is Costa Coffee and cafe Nero in the UK. On the continent coffee to go isn’t really done. Italians will order espresso and have it in the shop/cafe from a ceramic cup. It’s usally served at a slightly lower temperature to be drunk straight away.
Variation in a macchiato and disgruntled customers comes from the customers’ lack of understanding of the word. Macchiato means stained, so a latte macchiato is stained milk (with coffee) so a long milky drink, whereas a cafe macchiato is a stained coffee (with milk) so usually a shorter drink. A cortado is a smallish milky coffee.
If you want genuine types of regional foods be careful with labelling. Italian style hard cheese is not Parmesan nor Grano padano, Greek style yoghurt is not Greek yoghurt, Icelandic style yoghurt is not skyr (the giveaway with that one perhaps is that skyr isn’t yoghurt!)
Interestingly I came across this post because I’m in the states and struggling with the food and Google’s where to buy European style food in America; I’ve got some ok things feom the supermarket but if it’s not entirely fresh and comes in a tin or packet I generally find it has been interfered with or had additives (like tin of tomatoes I thought would just be tomatoes) and I’ve not found any good bread (I’m in El Centro but been to Yuma, Borrego Springs, Palm Springs-hoping to have my mind changed in San D over the weekend as only given that half a days chance before!) I do however love some of the genuine fresh tacos out here! I learned quickly to go for the unsweetened drinks option in places like Starbucks, a lot are naturally sweet anyway!
Any questions, hit reply here and I’ll try and respond!
We are from Utah but lived in Italy (near Milan) for 18 months and shopped at several large supermarkets, which were called supermercati. If you asked someone on the street where the mercato was, you were told about a part of town where there were street vendors–their veggies and fruits were always more expensive and not as good as what we bought at the large supermercati. Our favorite, and closest to our apartment, was Coop. (Pronounced cope.) They had an in house bakery that had the best bread in the area. There were several mom and pop bakeries on our street and we tried them all, but the Coop bakery was the best, and cost the least. We felt guilty for not supporting the small bakers, but their bread was not as good as Coop’s. We frequently provided lunch for sometimes up to 80 young adults and Coop would make us custom rolls, called panini, the size and shape we wanted in both white and whole wheat. (Their baguettes were wonderful, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, and cost .79–at Smith’s in Utah a much worse one cost $2) Coop actually had quite a few gluten free products, including bread and pasta, but they didn’t taste very good. Coop would also custom cut our lunch meats and cheeses, but we saved money just buying packages of already cut meats and cheeses, and they were wonderful. The tomatoes and lettuce, etc., we bought for the panini seemed fresher and tasted better than what we buy in the US, although they had mold by two or three days; the carrots and celery lasted a little longer, but tasted better than what we get in the US. The apples we liked best, looked like red delicious, were from northern Italy and were the best we have ever had anywhere. I wish we could get them in the US. The only thing we didn’t like best in Italy was the fresh milk. They also sold boxed milk, which did not need refrigeration. Many people bought it, but it tasted terrible–very processed. Near our apartment was a 24/7 kiosk on the street that sold unpasturized milk, you had to either take or buy a bottle, and we saw a lot of people buying it, but we were never that brave. We occasionally shopped at Lidl, another European chain, but it was in a poorer section of the city and was always dirty and crowded, and their bread was not as good as Coop. Sometimes we went to Carrefour, another European chain, we also went to one in Spain–we knew exactly where the chocolate was!. Their bread was okay, but not as good as Coop’s. (But you could buy 3 baguettes for one Euro.) I wish American supermarkets could make bread like they did at Coop in Italy. We miss it a lot. Yes, most people took large plastic shopping bags rather than pay 15 cents for a plastic bag. You also put a Euro in your shopping basket, like at Aldi, and you could get it back if you returned it. However, there were generally always beggars, like sad looking young pregnant girls, willing to return your basket so they could get the Euro.
MARIANNE Elaine Frederick
Your article was very helpful…looking forward to our trip….Next July-August
Thank you for this article, I am in Germany presently and shopping for groceries has been challenging. I literally bought a shower cream thinking it was a moisturizer.. everything is in deustch. I had to install the Google translator to guide me choose better in my next purchase