Supermarkets in Germany
Generally we are very privileged in Germany, as we can buy just about anything in a supermarket. Food can be incredibly cheap here, but also very expensive. Discount supermarket chains like Aldi and Lidl are selling food at incredibly low prices, whereas local deli’s and “Bio” stores sell high-quality, locally farmed or rare foodstuffs at the far upper end of the price scale. Here is a guide to supermarkets in Germany, the food they sell, and what to watch out for when going grocery shopping.
When it comes to food production, Germany is very industrialized. We “manufacture” food at the same, high-level efficiency as we produce cars. This isn’t always to the advantage of the foodstuffs. Many scandals in the food manufacturing industry in Germany give an insight into the problems of trying to produce food with the same efficiency as cars:
It doesn’t always have to be a scandal to show that some things in Germany are just a little too organized, to perfect, to allow for any sympathy with animals.
Supermarket chains in Germany
In Germany, you can separate the industry into four kinds of supermarket chains.
Aldi, Lidl, Netto, Penny and Norma all fall into the category of discount supermarkets in Germany. These supermarket chains own about 45% of the German market. And it isn’t just the low-income households which go shopping there. Even in rich communities you will always find a major supermarket chain with a discount right next to it. I have even seen a Rolls Royce parked outside an Aldi in Germany!
Combi, Edeka, Hit, Kaufland, Spar, Real and Rewe are considered to be normal supermarkets in Germany. While Edeke and Rewe are definately working hard to appear a little more nice, elite, clean and fancy, the others tend to compete at the lower end of the price- and lifestyle scale.
With the number of food scandals growing and the push in the health industry internationally, “Bio” supermarket chains have become more prevalent in Germany. Alnatura, Basic, Denn’s and VollCornerBio would be considered the biggest players in this segment.
As “Bio” is a legally defined label, buyers can rest assured, that all food stuffs sold here adhere to a certain standard. Generally, biologically grown fruits and vegetables contain 75% less pesticides as compared to conventionally grown fruit and vegetables. Meat generally contains a lot less antibiotics. As a result, food in these stores is typically a lot more expensive. Even discount supermarkets offer “Bio” food these days, as more awareness has resulted in higher demand for these foods in Germany.
In bigger cities around Germany, you will find a wealth of small specialty stored, typically selling food from different parts of the world. Depending on what immigration background is prevalent in the area, you will find small stores selling Turkish, Asian, South American or African food. These stores are typically well stocked and not as expensive as you might expect.
When grocery shopping…
Germany is trying to reduce the amount of garbage produced. One system in place to help with this is “Pfand”. We pay a small deposit, between 5 and 15 cent a bottle, for bottles and cans we buy in supermarkets. The idea behind this is that these bottles are returned by the consumer to be recycled or refilled. This reduces waste and stops people from throwing bottles and cans into nature or leaving them behind at parks, and so on. According to statistics, about 95% of bottles in Germany are recycled.
When it comes Pfand, there is a difference between “Einweg” and “Mehrweg”. Einweg basically means, that the bottles are recycled. Mehrweg means the bottles are washed and refilled. Generally, Mehrweg pertains to glass bottles. Mehrweg bottles have a higher deposit than Einweg does.
Stores in Germany have to adhere to stringent opening hours. Though some states in Germany have allowed for more relaxed opening hours, typically we do not have any shops open 24×7. Exceptions usually pertain to stores in airports or major train stations, but even those won’t be open 24 hours a day. Most commonly, stores will be open between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. from Monday to Saturday. In more rural areas, stores will close earlier on Saturdays. On Sundays, most stores are closed, including grocery stores. Bakeries are usually the only exception to the rule, but even those will only be open for a couple of hours on a Sunday.
Remember to always have a 1€ coin with you when you go grocery shopping. In most stores, if you want to use a cart, you need to unchain it. To unchain the cart you will need a 1€ coin as deposit. When you return the cart you get this coin back.
Some companies give out small key chains with shopping cart coins made of plastic, which you can add to your key chain. Supermarkets will often also have small plastic coins which you can ask for at the checkout, in case you don’t have any change on you.
Paying at a supermarket
In Germany, we still like to use cash. Supermarkets also accept debit cards and these are also commonly used. Most supermarkets accept credit cards, usually Visa or MasterCard with a lower acceptance of American Express cards. No one in Germany uses checks! Paying with your mobile phone or watch will work in the more modern stores, but not every store has updated their hardware accordingly.
Prices in Germany usually include taxes. Rare exceptions, like supermarkets catering to business customers, will show prices excluding (“netto”) and including (“brutto”) taxes. When you get the receipt, you will always see the total including taxes, the taxes you had to pay, and the total excluding taxes.
Germans are big on recycling and plastic reduction. As a result, customers are now charged for plastic and paper bags to pack your goods at the check out. This doesn’t only hold true in supermarkets, but all stores in Germany.
Generally, you are allowed to unpack products and leave the packaging, like paper and plastic wraps, at the supermarket. Usually there are small bins in the area after you have paid, where you can unwrap and deposit the packaging. Usually no one does this though.
Germany is not big on coupons. We sometimes get them in the newspapers, but typically German’s don’t pay much attention to these inlays and don’t bother to collect them.
When you go grocery shopping, be well prepared. Make sure you have your old bottles, a bag and a coin with you.
If you are buying food for your host family, make sure you know where you host family typically buys food and whether they like biologically grown food or not. Typically we have a large selection in supermarkets, so make a note of the brands your host family tends to buy.
If you are buying something for yourself, try to remember that cheap usually means that the quality of the food isn’t that great.
We are doing a lot for the environment in Germany, so really do try and integrate those thoughts and habits in your daily shopping life.
Last but not least, enjoy! German supermarkets offer a great variety of different foods so enjoy tasting what is on offer!