An insider’s guide to German grocery stores…

I’ve had the idea to write this post for… I don’t know… three years, maybe?  I actually remember when I got this idea.  I was in the city of Calw and Bill and I were at a Kaufland.  I started thinking of all the grocery stores on the economy where a non-German might find themselves shopping.  I thought to myself, “It might be useful to have a guide to some of these stores…”  But at that time, I didn’t have quite enough experience to write the post and it got pushed to the back burner as I toured beer spas and wrote restaurant reviews.

In about 24 days, Bill and I will be moving to Wiesbaden.  It will technically be our third German tour together, and his fourth in total (he was in Bavaria in the 80s, when he was a young lieutenant).  I’ve seen a lot of German grocery stores now.  Since today I was too lazy to do anything (because November is going to be a very hectic month), I’ve decided that today’s post will be about grocery stores, at least here in the Stuttgart area.

Here’s my usual disclaimer.  This post is more or less meant for newcomers.  It will consist of basic information, and does not represent all of the stores where you could be shopping.  I am posting this with the hope that readers will use German supermarkets over the commissary.  You will find that the food quality is mostly better and the cost of food is generally less expensive.  We do use the commissary for convenience and when we want items that are strictly American.  When we lived in Germany the first time, I will admit that we used the commissary more than we did our awesome local supermarket.  This time, we shop a lot more on the economy and are better off for it.

First thing’s first.  Grocery shopping in Germany is somewhat different than it is in the United States. When you shop at a German market, you either need to bring your own bags or buy bags at the store. Bill and I use RedOxx market tote bags.  I like the RedOxx bags because they are very sturdy, made in the USA (Montana, to be exact), have a lifetime guarantee, and the business is owned by a veteran.  They also sell their bags in a dozen pretty colors and will ship to APO.  We also have a bunch of their other bags, too.  Bill likes them because their design is very military and they are extremely well made.

Of course, you don’t need to use fancy bags.  The cheap, reusable bags you can get at the commissary will also do the trick quite nicely.  You will also have to do your own bagging, so after your stuff is rung up, prepare to pack your stuff.  If you do need to buy a bag, the German word is “Tüte” (tooti).

Grocery stores in Germany don’t sell medications.  If you want to buy over-the-counter drugs, you will need to visit an Apotheke (drug store).  You will often, but not always, find Apothekes near grocery stores.

In German grocery stores, you can find things like shampoo, soap, toilet paper, and detergents.  In some stores you can also find housewares, electronics, clothing, toys, and in many places, you can buy booze.  Germany also has “drink markets”, which sell all kinds of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as a limited array of shelf stable groceries and other goods.

When you buy produce, in some stores you may have to weigh it and get a price tag sticker, which you’ll put on your produce so it can be scanned.  The commissary has a similar system, so you’ll get used to it quickly.

Grocery stores in Germany are mostly closed on Sundays, with a few exceptions.  In the Stuttgart area, the Edeka supermarket at the airport is open on Sunday.  Although dogs are welcome in a lot of places, including restaurants, you can’t bring your dog to the grocery store.  And, at many stores, you will need to use a euro coin to get a cart from the cart corral.  They are chained together.  When you return your cart to its proper place, you get your euro back.  If you have ever shopped at Aldi in the United States, you know of what I write.

Many grocery stores have areas where you can drop off your empty bottles.  If your store has a drink market, you can bring back the plastic bottles and crates of glass bottles (say, a case of beer), feed them into the handy machine, and it will spit out a receipt, which you can present to the cashier and get money off your order.  Speaking of cashiers… do not be surprised, especially here in Swabia, if the person ahead of you counts out exact change, even if it holds you up.  More than once, Bill and I have been behind someone who pays for groceries with a lot of coins.  Remember that in Germany, some coins are worth more than two dollars!  Be patient.  Others will be patient for you.  Also, some stores have shopper’s cards you can collect stamps on and redeem.  Frankly, I never bother with them, but some people do.  Don’t be surprised if the cashier asks you if you want one.

Also, a lot of stores will have restaurants or snack bars within them.  In fact, even some hardware stores have food available.  Our local Toom (hardware big box store) has a snackbar, of all things.  Shopping in Germany is very civilized.  Many stores also have restrooms and most don’t have a Klofrau looking for change, although that’s not always the case.

You might even find a CoinStar at your local store.  Our Real now has a CoinStar, which I think appeared somewhat recently.  After you’ve been here awhile and have collected a huge trove of coins, you’ll see how awesome that is!  My husband’s first boss dumped his collection of coins on Bill and his co-workers before he left, with the direction that they should all go out to dinner.  Someone took the time to count the coins and it added up to over 800 euros.  Bill and his former co-workers had dinner, including family members, and only spent 500 euros!  There’s still 300 euros left to use!  You will collect a lot of coins while you’re here!

Okay… now here’s a very brief guide.

General grocery stores– hypermarkets

Edeka–  I’ll start with Edeka, which is a very well-known German grocery store chain.  Many towns have an Edeka, and they are pretty much my favorite of all the usual German grocery chains.  It’s kind of a posh market, very clean, with really nice lighting and high quality products.  As of 2017, Edeka is Germany’s largest grocery store chain and holds a market share of 20.3%.  Chances are, your town has an Edeka.  If it doesn’t, chances are the next town has one.  We live in Unterjettingen and there is no Edeka in our town, but there are in Herrenberg and Nagold, both of which are less than a few miles away.  Frankly, of all of the grocery stores in Germany, Edeka is my pick.  It has everything I love about a grocery store.

Real in Jettingen.

Real– Jettingen does have a Real, which is a “hypermarket”.  Real is basically Germany’s version of Walmart.  Indeed, Real stores were originally Walmarts before Walmart was driven out of Germany.  I don’t know for certain, but I think Walmart didn’t survive here because Walmart is famously anti-union and Germans weren’t down with that.  Anyway, Real operates a number of stores in Germany and they’re a lot like Walmart, minus over the counter drugs.  You can find almost anything there, but I hate going in there because it’s usually very crowded and hectic and I experience sensory overload with every visit.  Still, lots of people love their Real, and I will admit we shop there often.  Parking at our Jettingen store is free, which is more than I can say for the Edeka in either Nagold or Herrenberg (but some Edekas do have free parking).

Kaufland– Germany’s fourth largest grocery store chain is Kaufland, which was founded in Germany back in 1984.  Kaufland now operates almost 1,300 stores in seven countries across Europe.  It reminds me a lot of Real, only with a slightly more upscale look and nicer lighting.  You will find groceries there, but you can also find housewares, electronics, and clothing.  Many locations also have drink markets.

REWE– REWE is a Cologne based grocery store chain with locations around Germany.  To be honest, I haven’t spent a lot of time shopping at REWE, but our new home has one very nearby.  There are also several locations in the Stuttgart area.  The last REWE I visited was in Wiesbaden and it reminded me a bit of Edeka, only with harsher lighting.

The actual experience of shopping at any of these grocery stores is very similar.  You typically enter through a “gate” and you have to pass through a cashier stand to exit, even if you don’t buy anything.

Discount grocery stores–

Aldi– A lot of Americans know about Aldi, because Aldi is slowly infiltrating U.S. culture.  If you’ve shopped at an American Aldi, you are probably already familiar with having to use a quarter to get a cart.  You also know that this store is no frills and has low prices.  Our town has an Aldi, but I don’t go in there very often.  It has basic stuff– frozen foods, bakery items, some beverages, ice cream, and some non food items.  It’s the kind of place you go when you need to pick up a few items.  Actually, according to Wikipedia, Aldi is Germany’s largest wine retailer.  Who knew?

Lidl– Lidl is another discount store that is slowly gaining a footprint in the American market.  Like Aldi, Lidl is very no frills, but it does have an interesting line of “American” products, which I blogged about last year.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Lidl versions of American products unless you need a laugh.  However, given a choice between Aldi and Lidl, I think I’d choose Lidl, mainly because the stores seem newer and cleaner to me.

A city version of Netto.

Netto– Another discount market.  Every Netto I’ve been in has been small and no frills, with an emphasis on frozen foods, a small array of beverages, and bakery products.

Penny Markt– Again, no frills supermarket.  Emphasis on frozen food, candy, ice cream, and low prices.

Specialty markets–

Denn’s Biomarkt…

Denn’s Biomarkt– This is a national chain that specializes in “bio” (organic) products.  The Denn’s chain is represented in several local communities, including Sindelfingen, Nagold, Ludwigsburg, Stuttgart, and Vaihingen.   You can find bio fruits, vegetables, wines, and cheeses, as well as other natural products.

The Nagold Mix Markt.

Mix-Markt– This is a European market that offers products from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.  It was founded in Germany, but there are now stores all over Europe.  It’s a great place to shop for exotic wines from countries like Georgia and Moldova, both excellent wine producing countries.  Also, if you like Russian products, you can find them there.

“Feinkost” is another term with which you should familiarize yourself.  A Feinkost is translated as “delicatessen”, but in my experience, Feinkosts also offer upmarket products.  One well-known Feinkost in Stuttgart is Feinkost Böhm, which is a super fancy and expensive market downtown.  It’s fun to shop there for special occasions and to see how much they’re selling Pepperidge Farm cookies for.  Stuttgart also has the Markthalle, which has a lot of ethnic markets, meats, cheeses, produce, and desserts.  Your town might also have a Feinkost, but it may or may not be as fancy as the one in Stuttgart.

Your local town may have its own specialty markets.  You may find Turkish, Asian, Italian, Spanish, or even Portuguese specialty markets, depending on where you live.  Keep your eyes peeled, because you can find some great stuff in the little ethnic markets.

Also, many towns have produce markets that happen several mornings a week and/or on Saturday mornings.  You can also buy specialty meats at Metzgereis (butchers) and baked goods at Backereis (bakeries).  Some local areas also have farms where you can buy fresh produce, eggs, and fresh milk.  See my post “Farm Fresh” for more information about buying fresh food at farms– it’s frequently done on the honor system.  You will also find vending machines that sell things like eggs, milk, noodles, and lentils, among other things.  My “Farm Fresh” post has a video showing how to get fresh milk (which should be pasteurized at home) and pictures of the vending machines you might find in your neighborhood.

Generally speaking, I find grocery shopping in Germany to be a pleasure.  There’s always something to see and German stores offer a lot of good products, some of which will be familiar to you and others you may come to love and will miss when you’re back in the USA.  Some stores are more pleasant for me than others.  Some people love the local Real, but give me an Edeka any day.  I suspect I’ll soon be very familiar with REWE, since I know my new neighborhood has one.  Once you’ve been here awhile, you’ll be able to find a store to your liking.  If you like very fresh food, I highly recommend shopping on the economy as opposed to at the commissary.  Hope this post is helpful for a few folks!


2 thoughts on “An insider’s guide to German grocery stores…

  1. I've become a huge fan of the Aldis in the DC area lately. Feeding three growing boys gets expensive! I've found that the produce lasts nearly as long as the stuff you find at Costco or Wegmans. However, Aldis meat prices are inconsistent for every day purchases. But when they have spiral sliced hams or frozen turkeys on clearance, I clear out my freezer to prepare. We recently got a Lidl near my work but I've only been there a couple of times. When we move to LoCo next summer, I'll check it out more regularly.

  2. I think if I were raising kids, I would appreciate Aldi and Lidl a lot more! When I was in the States, my favorite place to shop was Publix. I don't like huge stores with everything but the kitchen sink in it.

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