Supermarkets 101 – How to get your groceries in Switzerland

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:

  1. What’s the ATM situation like around here?
  2. How do I get from one place to another?
  3. FOOD!!!

In that order.

Now 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 situation, I’m giving you a brief introduction to the supermarket situation in Switzerland.

Supermarkets 101 – the big names to look out for

Lidl / Aldi

Lidl and Aldi, two German discount supermarkets, are the cheapest places to get your groceries. They’re great if you want to go very low budget and they sell everything you need for a full stomach.

Migros

Migros is the biggest 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, they have it.

However, if you happen to roam the aisles looking for alcohol or cigarettes, don’t be disappointed if your endeavours 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.

On another note, if you’re trying to save money on your groceries, look for M-Budget, their low-price home brand. Migros creates its 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 believe it or not, the 0.50 CHF M-Budget milk chocolate is better than you’d expect!

By the way, the number of M’s on the Migros building states how big the store is. M is the smallest, MM is a lot bigger and MMM is the biggest it gets.

Migros is Switzerland's biggest supermarket chain.

Migros is Switzerland’s biggest supermarket chain.

Coop

Coop is the second biggest supermarket chain in Switzerland. It’s very similar to Migros and their range of goods is just as wide. They do sell alcohol and cigarettes, though.

Like Migros, Coop came up with its own home brand 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.

  1. Coop is slightly more expensive than Migros. There’s no denying it. The difference isn’t huge but it’s there.
  2. 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, that’s the camp you belong to. So for some, it obviously DOES matter where you get your groceries 😃 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 to Switzerland.
Prix Garantie products save you money.

Look out for Prix Garantie products to save money on your groceries.

Denner

Denner is Switzerland’s third biggest supermarket and was taken over by Migros roughly ten years ago. 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 do sell alcohol and cigarettes. Along with everything else you need.

Denner discount supermarket

Denner is a discount supermarket that was taken over by Migros in 2007.

Spar / Volg

Spar and Volg are your typical village grocery stores. No matter how remote a place is, you’re very 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 like eggs, apple juice or meat from the farmer from around the corner.

Manor

If you’re looking for premium quality food or something special like Granadillas (a type of fruit I fell in love with in South America and haven’t been able to find anywhere else), Welsh cheddar or fresh salmon to make sushi, head to Manor. Alongside with the basic products you find in every supermarket, they also have a wide range of unusual products.

Although Manor is on the pricier side, I love checking out what they have that Migros and Coop don’t.

By the way, Manor is a great place to grab some lunch. They sell a wide range of delicious sandwiches, pizza, salads and snacks to take away for pretty reasonable prices. I’ll choose a fresh Manor sandwich over a pre-packed sandwich from Coop or Migros any day.

Manor cheese section

The Manor cheese section doesn’t leave much room for imagination.

Globus

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 crazy expensive.

Globus sells specialities from all over the world and only has the finest of the finest products. 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.

What if you’re hungry 24/7?

Shops in Switzerland are closed on Sundays. Except for a few selected days throughout the year. Yes, this may come as a shock but that’s the way it is. We like our Sundays off 😃

Apart from that, opening hours are as follows:

  • Weekdays: open around 8:00 or 9:00 am, close at 6:30 or 7:00 pm (8:00 pm in bigger cities is the exception)
  • Once a week: late-night shopping until 8:30 or 9:00 pm (usually Thursday or Friday)
  • Saturdays: open around 8:00 or 9:00 am, close at 4:00 or 5:00 pm

If you’re slightly overwhelmed by those restricted opening hours, there’s a silver lining on the horizon. Train and petrol stations have convenience stores like Migrolino, Avec or Aperto that are open late every day of the year. Needless to say that those are more expensive than supermakets but they do the trick in an emergency.

Migrolino supermarket

Migrolino is open longer than other supermarkets.

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.

Or weird.

  1. When you buy vegetables or fruit, you need to weigh them at one of the scales in the veggie section. Every product has a (usually red) number on the price plate. Remember that number, put your fruit or veg on the scale, press the applicable number and put the resulting sticker on it. Failing to do this will inevitably earn you some evil looks from the people behind you at checkout.
  2. Organic is called “Bio”.
  3. Nobody’s going to pack your bag for you at checkout. I always thought that was normal, until I started travelling. It’s great to have the cashier place your groceries in a bag but unfortunately, you won’t encounter such luxury in Switzerland.
  4. Speaking of bags: a big paper bag at check-out costs 0.30 CHF, while a small, wrinkly plastic bag is 0.05 CHF. The ones in the veggie section are free. For now.
  5. If you go shopping around two hours before closing time, your chances of finding discounted food are highly increased.

Swiss Supermarkets: cheap to expensive

And that’s the Swiss supermarket situation summed up. Oh, and in case you were wondering:

I’m a Coop-child. 😃

Leave a Reply 1 comment