Tuesday 28 October 2014

Supermarket Shopping in France

Posted by Rosie

If you have never travelled to France before you may be surprised at some things with regard to supermarket shopping in this land of cheese, wine and escargots! Read on to make sure you don’t get caught out.

1. Opening Hours

Many food shops close at lunchtime, often from 12 - 2 although these hours do vary slightly from shop to shop. Slowly more of the larger super and hypermarkets are staying open “Sans interruption” ie all day and those that do will mark this prominently at the front. Closing hours are around 7 - 8pm with smaller shops open until 9 - 10pm.

2. Sunday Opening

Large supermarkets are closed all day on Sunday but smaller ones, often in the centre of towns, will usually be open in the morning from 9 - 12 . After that some bakers are open but nothing else, so if you are arriving in France late on a Saturday or on a Sunday make sure you have supplies in.

3. Bags 

French supermarkets do not supply throw away plastic carrier bags. You may get a very flimsy bag if your flour is leaking slightly or you buy clothes but otherwise you must supply your own. All supermarkets sell 3 types of bags at very cheap prices. There are large shopping bags made from a very durable material which can be replaced for free when they become too old, although I have never done this and do not know if people do! They cost less than a euro and last for ages. They also sell tough re-useable plastic bags and large insulated freezer bags. Some also have cardboard boxes you can take from near the tills. 

4. Use your own shopping bag/basket

When shopping, it is perfectly acceptable to take in your shopping bag/basket and use it for your goods before paying. No-one will think you are trying to shop lift. I just have to remember NOT to do this when I go back to the UK! You may however be asked to show the inside of your bags at the till just to confirm you don’t have any extras in there!

5. Special offers- Offres spéciales or promos

Most large supermarkets have the aisle nearest the door full of their offers of the week and usually imply a reduced price when buying in bulk. Be careful though as these are not always as good as the look as they often pick the higher priced brands and the even with the reduction, other cheaper brands may still be less money.

6. Larger product sizes

In the UK I would always assume that the larger the product the cheaper the price per kilo/litre. That is often not the case here in France and larger packs may actually cost more than smaller ones. It is always worth checking the shelf edge label for the price per kg/l.

7. Les Foires

Supermarkets do however run various “Foires”. At this time of year it is Le Foire aux Vins but throughout the year there will be others. For a  Foire aux Vins the shop will stock a much larger range but for Un Foire de Porc for example they will stock pork at reduced prices and in large economy packs that often are cheaper per kilo than normal.

Foire aux Vins at Super U

8. Tea Bags

If you are coming to France and hoping to buy some decent strong tea bags you may want to think again and bring in your own supplies. On the tea aisle you may well see “English Tea” (quite possibly Yellow Label) but do not be fooled. This is an extremely weak cousin of anything sold in the UK and fairly horrible!

9. International Products

Larger supermarkets generally have an international aisle stocking products from various countries including the UK. You may well be able to get PG Tips or Yorkshire tea here but you will pay way over the UK price. Other UK products the French think we cannot live without include cheesecake mix, lime marmalade, lemon barley water and tinned steak and kidney pies!

10. Organic products

In the larger supermarkets the organic goods will generally be grouped together on one aisle. There are however a growing number of small organic supermarkets which stock a very impressive range of goods. Look for products marked Bio or AB (agriculture biologique)

Shopping in a French supermarket is often something holiday makers look forward to.  Children will love the extensive sweet aisle as well as an impressive range of chocolate cereals and adults may drool over the cheeses and almost faint at the cheapness of the wines.  Hopefully now  with this little guide to the oddities of French supermarkets you will not get caught out by their varying closing hours, bargains that are not what they seem and the weakest tea bags in the world!  Oh and there are several of the reusable shopping bags including a cool bag in the gite if you don't want to buy bags for yourself.

Can you think of any more points of note regarding French supermarkets that I have missed out?  And what do you most enjoy about French supermarkets?

Lou Messugo


  1. Don't forget the children's sized trollies available - my kids always love them! Also weigh your own - they do not automatically do this at the till. We learned the hard way...

    1. I must shop in the only supermarket that does weigh at the till and I always forget when I go to different ones!

  2. Even after years of living in France I still get excited by French supermarets, especially all the cheeses and Bonne Maman jams and biscuits! Popping by from #allaboutfrance

  3. I love supermarkets and grocery shopping in general and now that I'm in France, I am there about 5 times/week. I'd rather go and get a small bag of things several times per week than spend 200 euros on a cart full of stuff. I love discovering all the products and even the surprises you sometimes find in the international aisle. No idea what a kidney pie is though -- maybe that's a good thing!

  4. Great post on navigating French supermarkets! I had no idea that those durable plastic bags can be replaced for free. I'm curious about that now, and if people do it. The throw away plastic bag situation varies in Paris - some supermarkets charge a few centimes per plastic bag and other places still offer them for free (though will usually only give one or two bags per person unless you ask for more). Though I bring my reusable bag everywhere so it's generally not an issue for me.

  5. Some good tips here! I find supermarket shopping a bit of a chore but I'm pretty good with my meal planning so can get in and out pretty fast. The kids have always loved the mini trollies though last time we went Reuben seemed to want to cart around a basket instead (at 5 he's obviously getting too big for a trolley!)

  6. Very helpful, thanks :). I rely on public transport and so am limited in the amount that I can buy, which is probably a good thing. Like Chrissie above, I'm pretty excited by the cheese and chacuterie. Also being able to buy wine in the supermarket - we can't do this in Australia. What I REALLY want now is one of those 'old lady' trolleys so I can take it on the bus / tram. I have seen a lot of them around.

  7. Rosie, I totally remember commenting on this when you published it in October and as there's nothing from me it must have been at that time when my comments weren't showing up onyour blog. Sorry! I know I really enjoyed it first time and love that you've lnked it up to my linky now. You know, it's never occurred to me that I shouldn't use my own bag in UK or else I'd be suspected of shop lifting! I guess most times I shop in ENgland I'm doing a huge one so I hav a trolley, but I'm sure otherwise I'd just use me bag like I do here, so thanks for the inverse advice! I always think it's bizzare that the bigger you buy the more expensive it is, it's totally illogical! But definitely a true point about French supermarkets. I remember I added another observation back in October, but I can't think what it was! If I remember I'll pop back!! As for weighing at the till, perhaps it's an Intermarché thing because my local Inter does that but nowhere else that I know of does.....still haven't seen those ugly veg though that Inter is supposed to sell! Thanks for linking up again.

  8. Typical, just as I press publish I remember what I want to say! Another tip is to check sell by dates. French supermarkets can be slack on removing/discounting out of date stock and you'll always find produce with longer dates at the back of the shelves. When buying yogurt for example I always scurry around at the back making a mess of the shelves, because then I find pots that last 2-3 weeks longer than the ones at the front!!! My local Inter has finally starting discounting produce that's just about to go out-of-date, but only a few things.

  9. Brilliant post, I often wonder who buys the tinned pies in the UK/international aisle, but I have been tempted by a packet of custard creams once or twice. They may have an extensive biscuit and sweet selection, but proper biscuits are hard to come by!

  10. You are totally on point with this post! We moved to the Picardy region this year, though, and strangely, a lot of the large and small supermarkets are open on Sundays! We have been shocked, and it won't bode well for if/when we move somewhere else next year! Tweeting your link out because it's full of great info for expats and tourists alike. Good to find you on the link-up!

  11. This is an excellent post about supermarket shopping in France. As for the bags, that is a (relatively) recent development -- I think, say, 10 years ago most places were still providing shopping bags.

    Another observation, after living here for nearly 25 years, would be the absolutely HUGE variety of food available, including a lot of ready-made food, contrary to popular belief. My parents were always amazed at the variety in just, say, the yoghurt section.

  12. My husband and I are French. We used to live in Sydney Australia for 12 years and missed french supermarkets so much! Especially Hypermarkets, the huge ones with 20 aisles x 2 plus a middle aisle all on one floor.
    Now some of them offer a scanning gun so no more queue at check out, just scan the Barcode, put the items in your own bags, pay at a automatic station and go.
    oooh these 10 meter walls of yoghurt or cheese or ham! So much choice!
    Thanks #allaboutfrance for bringing me here

  13. I love supermarket shopping when I'm overseas (I'm Australian), and particularly love French supermarkets- I've done a few posts on shopping in France. The wall of cheese, the wall of champagne. It's like heaven in there. Another thing I would mention as being different is that supermarkets don't always have things that you might assume they would have, sometimes I can't find toothpaste at all- and you have to go to the pharmacie. And champagne is often easier to find than milk- but that's not such a bad thing....


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