8 Nov 2013

Food shopping in Germany

Food shopping in Germany is not the most fun adventure. Germans are not a nation keen on shopping. And while shopping is not my favourite past time, far from it, I like to have choice and quality products. I really do not like German supermarkets (with one exception). Here are my reasons.

1. Poor quality food

German supermarkets tend to be like Walmart, Asda or Inter Marché, cheap stuff but poor quality for the most part. Ok, maybe I am a bit of a snob when it comes to food shopping. But we are a family of foodies, we love to cook and eat so quality ingredients are key.
We tend to shop in a supermarket called Real because it is near, large and has a lot of things under one roof (handy for a pressed for time mum). However, the fruits and vegs there are very poor quality. A lot are damaged or tasteless. A little tip for expats in Germany (Scheck-in/Edeka is much better quality for fruits and vegetables).
We know a lot of people who actually live near the big supermarkets and have never set foot in it. Never! Granted, most don't have a family to feed. A supermarket is a practical thing for basic essentials even if you like quality products and small shops. I am told shopping in small shops and markets is a very middle-class activity. So maybe these supermarkets are not geared towards middle-class families. There are no Sainsbury's or Waitrose here (not that I would shop there every week either). 

2. Lack of variety

Most importantly for us, the choice and varitey is poor. As soon as you want something beyond spaetzle or bretzels, you will have a hard time finding it. Spices are a no go. Some canned fish or shelfish (like crab) is impossible to find. I mean who doesn't like a spicy crab pasta dish? Few biscuits or cookies, and don't even think of buying fresh fish and meat beyond a piece of salmon or a sausage. Even an average piece of beef is hard to come by. For a country with such a large Turkish minority, I can't understand why there is so little of everything else but pork.

3. Time-consuming affair

What makes a trip to a German supermarket even longer than in some other European countries is that you need to return all glass, plastic bottles and jars as well as cans. Luckily, we don't buy that many bottled drinks.
When you buy bottles, the price includes a refundable deposit for it. When you return them, you get your money back. While I think this is a great initiative for recycling, it is really annoying too. You need to queue up in front of 1 or 2 machines for ages while the very orderly Germans return 50 bottles one by one. Me and my 2 fizzy-drink-cans stand no chance! Also, you are better off buying everything always in the same place. As returning a glass bottle bought in X may not work in Y. Also some shops only take back plastic ones.
these 3 glass bottles need to be returned to 2 different shops

These are some of the reasons why I hate shopping in German supermarkets. It is not all bad news though. Living on the border also means we shop in France once in a while. It allows me to buy my daughter some of the things I grew up eating (Barquettes?). But also P finds the selection of meats and fish much better. No need to bring back your bottles or cans, just stick them in the recycling bin. Some people also claim food is cheaper there (but I am biased, so I won't make that claim). A lot of expat families around here shop in France once in a while. You should see the car park of the nearest French supermarket on saturday mornings. It is filled with about 90% German cars! And what do they fill their trolley with? You've guessed it ... bottles and a few baguettes for good measure!

It seems as though middle-class Germans do prefer to shop in small shops and we have resorted to shopping in small shops. I have to say it is a much more civilised way of shopping for so many reasons.

We love the markets and this is definitely one of the good things about living in Germany. There is always a market happening in town and a few large ones over the weekend with excellent quality meats, breads, cheeses, etc.

There are also some excellent all-organic supermarkets (big name chains and independent ones). And that, I love. I don't buy everything there as the bill goes up quickly when you do a full weekly shop there. Yet you can find everything there: from delicious local fruits and vegs to toilet paper, meat, fruit juice, etc. This is something we never had in England and is lacking. Tesco and the few others have too big a stronghold over people's shopping habits there. The small independent shops die too quickly. Here, these are growing and multiplying. I love it!

I may be a typical middle-class mum who likes to buy organic bananas for my family but I really hate most german supermarkets.


  1. Wow! Shopping in Germany is quite an adventure! Now I'm not sure how I'd deal with returning the bottles, as it seems its quite a hassle! LOL

  2. I think you are just not used to this kind of life and probably the specific supermarkets in your area are less than what they should be. If you are going to the 'economical' oriented Lidl, Aldi or Penny, well, you can't really expect high quality fruit and veg. If you want good food, you have to spend appropriately good money. Supermarket meat is never as good as the one you get in any metzegerei, we have a couple of them in the neighbourhood and they are great. The ladies know the children by now, they get gelbwurst each time, a good chunky slice, and the ask for more. On this note, the gelbwurst eaten there near the counter is never as good as the one offered at home, even if it IS the same. Look for an Ökokiste that deliver seasonal bio veg and fruit at home - it is pricer, of course, but there is such a difference in taste you will not believe it. For fish and seafood, I go to Italian shops, and they almost never fail to deliver. I am also spoiled to have a fresh fish shop nearby, and the gentlemen there always suggests new fish and new methods of cooking - good way to practice my German and get to know local people.
    My point is - a supermarket is just a convenience store after all. You go there to get everything you might need, but you can't expect highest quality. Yes, French supermarkets are finer, but they are also loke two times pricer, so there is your sign. There is also not a wide range of the same product because the German mentality is not favourable to a wide range of the same thing, they know what they like and if it bears the Testsiger seal of approval, be sure to stop looking, there is nothing else better for them. If you want higher quality, go to the local small shops, metzegerei, bäckerei (although do not expect croissants to be the same, they won't, they don't even pronounce it as in french, they keep correcting me, while I insist on say it the french way - until I happened to have to speak in French with someone in there, and they recognised the language and they finally stopped correcting me :-)), local weekly markets. Even the cheese is different, at least here in Bayern we have a wide variety, especially in the diary dept.
    I find that different things are better in different places, for example the small cherry tomatoes are best from Aldi of all places, and bananas from Lidl are the same as the bio ones from Rewe, the best apples are the one from Hit, and Tengelmann has a good range of bio products. Edeka is overall better, and has the best service, but the bill shows this as well.
    There is no point in comparing, since every country offers a different experience in supermakert going, quite tightly linked to the local mentality.

    1. I agree with you that going to small shops and even different supermarkets is maybe the best way to do it. But it is quite time consuming. Also variety is a big thing for us as a multicultural family and the lack of it is really off-putting here.

  3. Ah, sounds like a pain! I love small shops as well but it is very time-consuming. Here in the US we have good supermarkets near us, but still we end up driving to four different stores to buy food, to find the best price and the items we like best. We have some great organic stores as well, but like you say, the price is definitely not right! I really love Trader Joe's, but unfortunately there is not one close to us, so we limit ourselves to a trip just once a month and try to stock up on our favorites.

  4. I almost never got to Real. Without a car, it's too much hassle. Getting the tram there is okay, but then I have to bring all the shopping back by myself... Usually I shop at REWE with occasional trips to Scheck-In. REWE fruit goes bad really quickly though, so I rarely buy it. I've never had a problem with their vegetables. I also occasionally shop at the food department in Karstadt - they have Cheddar cheese and have also started regularly stocking turkey mince.

    I don't have a problem with the variety in Germany... and I HATE eating the same things all the time. I manage to make different meals every night though, and the only time Spätzle appears on the menu is if we make it ourselves. Maybe English food is close enough to German food for it not to be a problem? I don't have to try and recreate French or Portuguese dishes. Also, I hate crab so I wouldn't even have thought to look for it in cans. The only thing that annoys me is how expensive beef and lamb are! We almost never eat pork though, except pork sausages... chicken and turkey are easy enough to find, and I usually buy beef mince rather than the mixed kind. If I make fish, it's the frozen kind. We rarely eat fish anyway. I would only buy fresh fish if we're having guests. Funny how people have such different experiences in the same place :-)

    1. I guess shopping with/for a child adds extra constraints. I agree with you on the prices of lamb and beef. It is crazy!

    2. Yup, Rewe is terrible here, too. I don't go there at all. I shop at the farmers markets and the Turkish shops but if I had a family I wouldn't be able to do this. I figure that it's the way it is because German people don't often demand more than they're given, unlike Brits.

  5. I always found I shopped at about 6 different stores in Germany: The supermarket for the bare basics (and agreed with you that German supermarkets totally lack variety), the farmer's markets for my veggies, fruits and cheese, the butcher for meats, the fish shop for fish, the bakery for bread, the Turkish shop for certain staples (spices, olives, hummus), the organic supermarket for certain other items. Luckily all these places were mostly in my neighborhood so I didn't have to go too far out of my way and usually went to one each day of the week! Frankfurt also has this amazing market Kleinmarkt Halle where they sell products from all over the world, but it was very pricey. It was also in Germany that I really learned how to cook all sorts of stuff since I frequently had cravings for things I couldn't find (I was also pregnant). Overall I actually came to appreciate the lack of good stuff you could buy off the shelf as it forced me to do so much from scratch. I think we ate better there than we do in the US where you can find everything but I have less time to cook good meals.

    1. This is pretty much what we are doing now. We love to cook from scratch but the variety is off-putting. We'll get used to it though, I am sure.

  6. Edeka has already been mentioned. If you look for quality-ingredients in a store you can also go to Kaufhof-Feinkost, they offer high quality - at a considerably higher price. Otherwise go to the market, fruits&vegetables, cheese and meat....


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