What are the first things you try to figure out when you arrive in a new place?
I don’t know about you but for me, it goes something like this:
- What’s the ATM situation like around here?
- How do I get from one place to another?
In that order.
Even if your approach is different, sooner or later you’ll have to address the food question. At the latest when Mr. Hunger comes breathing down your neck.
In order to prepare you for that moment, I’m giving you a brief introduction to the supermarket situation in Switzerland.
1. The big names to look out for
Lidl / Aldi
Lidl and Aldi, two discount supermarkets, are the cheapest places to get your groceries. They’re great if you want to go very low budget.
Migros is the largest supermarket chain in Switzerland. They sell everything from packaged food to fresh produce, staple foods, drinks, pre-cooked meals, desserts, toiletries, confectionery and clothes… You name it.
However, if you're looking for alcohol or cigarettes, your endeavours will fail. When Migros was established back in 1925, its founder set an example to support public health by banning alcohol and cigarettes from his stores. Over 90 years later, his legacy still lives on.
If you’re trying to save money, look for M-Budget, the Migros low-price home brand. They create their own version of pretty much every product imaginable. Be that spaghetti, cheese, chocolate, desserts, gummy bears, canned food, tomato sauce, meat, shampoo, potato peelers or even cotton buds.
And you'd be surprised at how tasty the 0.50 CHF M-Budget chocolate actually is 🙂
Coop is the second largest supermarket chain in Switzerland. It’s very similar to Migros, with the difference that they do sell alcohol and cigarettes.
Like Migros, Coop hast its own budget home brand. It's called Prix Garantie.
In my opinion, Coop and Migros are so similar that it doesn’t really matter where you get your groceries. However, a lot of Swiss are going to disagree with me here for two reasons.
- Coop is slightly more expensive than Migros. The difference isn’t huge, but it’s there.
- In Switzerland, there’s this running joke that you’re either a Migros-child or a Coop-child. Depending on where your parents went shopping when you were a kid. If you ever want to strike up a random conversation with a Swiss person, ask them whether they’re a Coop-child or a Migros-child. It’ll make you look like you really did your homework before coming here.
Denner is Switzerland’s third largest supermarket and was taken over by Migros in 2007. Not that you’d notice anything, though. From its beginnings in 1860 until 2007, Denner didn’t have anything to do with Migros. Their products are different too and they also sell alcohol and cigarettes.
Spar / Volg
Spar and Volg are your typical village grocery stores. No matter how remote a place is, you’re likely to bump into one of the two. They sell basic goods for your daily needs as well as a wide range of local produce.
Btw, I used to work at one of these during my time as a student. 🙂
If you’re looking for premium quality food or something a bit more exotic, head to Manor. Alongside the basics you find in other supermarkets, they sell a wide range of unusual products.
Even though Manor is a bit pricier, I love checking out what they have that Migros and Coop don’t.
Granadillas from South America, anyone?
By the way, Manor is a great place to grab some lunch as well. They sell a wide range of delicious sandwiches, pizzas, salads, sushi, muesli bowls and snacks to take away for pretty reasonable prices. Well, reasonable for Swiss standards...
I’ll choose a fresh Manor sandwich over a pre-packed sandwich from Coop or Migros any day.
The food section at Globus is amazing. But honestly, it’s everything you try to avoid as a backpacker.
Why? Because it’s fancy and expensive.
Globus sells specialities from all over the world. It’s fascinating to take a look at their seemingly endless variety of products. But if you’re trying to do your bank account a favour, don’t go to Globus to get your groceries. Unless you find a good offer on too good to go.
2. Opening hours
Apart form a few exceptions, like for instance at train stations or in very touristy places, shops in Switzerland are generally closed on Sundays. Except for a few selected days throughout the year, which usually happen in December to boost Christmas sales.
Apart from that, as a rule of thumb, opening hours are usually as follows: (I say usually because as with everything, one rule does not fit all. So please don't hold me to it.)
- Weekdays: open around 8:00 or 9:00 am, close at 6:30 or 7:00 pm (8:00 pm in bigger cities). Sometimes, smaller stores like Volg and Spar in remote places take a lunch break from 12:00 pm until 2:00 pm.
- Once a week: late-night shopping until 9:00 pm (mostly Thursday or Friday)
- Saturdays: open around 8:00 or 9:00 am, close anywhere between 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm
At train and gas stations, you'll find convenience stores like Migrolino, Avec or Aperto that are open late every day. Those are more expensive than supermakets but they come in handy in an emergency.
Most train stations also have a Coop or Migros that's open late 365 days of the year.
3. Some final (random) information
Now that you know what types of supermarkets there are and when they’re open, here are some final things you might find helpful.
- Unless you shop at Aldi, you need to weigh your fruit and veg yourself. Remember the number from the price plate, put your fruit or veg on the scale in the veggie section, press the number and grab the sticker.
- In Switzerland, organic is called Bio.
- Nobody’s going to pack your bag for you at checkout.
- Speaking of bags: a big paper bag at checkout costs 0.30 CHF, while a small, wrinkly plastic bag is 0.05 CHF. The ones in the veggie section are free. For now.
- If you go shopping around two hours before closing time, your chances of finding discounted food are looking pretty good. Those chances are even higher on a Saturday.
- I'm a Coop-child 🙂