Grocery shopping in France is a little bit different to other countries I’ve lived in.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Living in France was a bit of a culture shock, to say the least.
But like most things, once you know what you’re doing and how things work, it’s a lot easier.
What you need to know about grocery shopping in France
Before we dive in there are a few things you should know upfront about food shopping in France. And the first is that the French generally go shopping if not every day then every other day.
And there are a few reasons for this. But the first is definitely about the local produce.
Groceries are seasonal in France
Fruit and veg in a French supermarket is generally seasonal.
You don’t have the array of choices you have in other countries and you won’t find things available all year around.
But what you will find, or you certainly do in my local Leclerc, is the option to buy from the local farmers.
You’ll see baskets full of wonderful seasonal items that have quite literally come from the fields down the road.
From green beans and carrots to pumpkins and potatoes. It’s such a lovely idea to be able to support the locals. And trust me when I say, their produce tastes ridiculously good. It’s so much fresher than anything else you can buy.
Bread only lasts for a day in France
The other thing is the bread. Generally it needs to be eaten the day you buy it. The French make the daily trip to the boulangerie to get their fresh baguette, boule de pain, or whatever their bread of choice is.
And this in itself is just a wonderful part of French life.
I love nothing more than seeing people walking through the village with a baguette tucked under their arm.
And it wouldn’t be unusual to see them nibbling the end as they walk. I mean who can blame them when they smell and taste so good.
The French shop in speciality stores
Part of the fun of grocery shopping in France is that you get to enjoy the different speciality stores.
From the boulangerie (bakery), patisserie (pastry) and boucherie (butcher) to the fromagerie (cheese shop), charcuterie (delicatessen), and caviste (wine merchants) stores, it’s food heaven.
Of course, you can just get everything in the supermarket, but that isn’t the French way.
The main supermarkets in France
Just like in most countries there are a variety of supermarkets to choose from.
Carrefour. Probably the biggest and most recognisable as you’ll find them around Europe. You’ll often find these in the big retail shopping areas outside of the main towns.
Leclerc. I shop here regularly and they have over 700 hypermarkets around France. Often they’re inside a shopping centre alongisde cosmetic stores, opticians and cafes.
SuperU. My favourite store for a quick shop. You don’t see as many large stores with this brand and they’re usually found in the smaller towns. We have one locally to us which is great for a ‘top up’ shop during the week. Their own brands are really good too, especially their version of Magnums.
Monoprix. Just like many of the UK supermarkets they have their own range of homeware and tend to be big hypermarkets. Usually they’re found in big cities rather than smaller towns.
Intermarche. The size of the stores in the more rural areas aren’t very large, so I don’t tend to shop here. But they have a range of larger stores in the bigger cities.
Auchan. This store is popular was founded in 1961 and tends to focus more on larger shops and hypermarkets.
You’ll also find Aldi and Lidl in most places if you’re looking for a budget alternative.
Organic grocery shopping in France
You’ll find an organic aisle in the bigger supermarkets in France but if you’re looking for an organic store then the three main ones are:
Although not an organic store another one to look out for, which is a fresh fruit and veg chain, is Grand Frais.
I love a trip to this store as they have literally every type of fruit and veg you can imagine, and some you didn’t know existed.
If I’m cooking anything that requires something a little exotic I’ll usually go to Grand Frais.
Are groceries cheaper in France?
I have to be honest here and say unfortunately not. My grocery bill on average is about 20% more than it was in the UK.
However, the other benefits of living in France outweigh this.
I’ve also found that the cost of living crisis has seen things swing in France’s favour a little.
Grocery shopping in France compared to the UK or US
Grocery or food shopping in France compared to the UK or US is a little bit different.
Whether it’s in your local SuperU or a bigger Carrefour or LeClerc, it can be a wee bit confusing.
So if you want to avoid looking like a complete tourist I have some quick tips to help you navigate.
French grocery store opening hours
There is no such thing as 24 hour supermarkets here. In fact, it’s not uncommon for supermarkets to close at 7.30pm and not open again until 9am the following morning. Especially here in the Charente region.
And as for Sundays this is not really a day for shopping of any type. Most shops don’t open on a Sunday, period. But some supermarkets open until 12.30pm and then that’s it till Monday.
So you need to plan your grocery shopping accordingly.
Cigarettes aren’t available in French supermarkets
In France, it’s not possible to purchase tobacco products from supermarkets. Only tobacco shops are authorised to sell cigarettes and other tobacco items.
There is nobody to pack your groceries for you
Although this is normal for us Brits in Australia and the US the checkout person would normally pack your groceries for you, but that’s not the case here in France.
Cheque books are still a thing in France
Don’t be surprised if you see people paying for their grocery shopping by cheque. Yep, cheque books are still a thing here in France.
I actually have one myself from Credit Agricole, my French bank. But I literally only use it to pay the wood man for our wood delivery once a year.
At all other times my French cheque book sits in a cupboard gathering dust.
There is no pharmacy aisle in a French supermarket
As a born and bred Brit I’ve always been used to being able to get literally everything from the supermarket. And that includes my stash of nurofen, aspirin, paracetamol etc.
And as I’ve also lived in Australia and the US, I know it’s the same there too. Not the case in a French supermarket.
So plan a trip to the ‘Pharmacie’ if you want to stock up on painkillers.
And be prepared to queue because you can’t just pick them up off the shelf. They are over the counter only.
You need to weigh your own fruit & veg
In many of the supermarkets you’re required to weigh everything yourself before going to the checkout. Now this can be problematic if you don’t know the French name for the items you’ve picked up.
If you’re like me and carry an extensive shopping list with each meal for the week planned out, you’re in luck.
Try writing the french word for each of the fruit and veg on your list before setting off. Write them down next to the English word and you’ll be all set.
Now like I said not all supermarkets require you to do this. For example, in my local SuperU in Mansle they do it for you. But in pretty much every other supermarket I’ve ever been to you have to do it yourself.
Look out for the little weighing machines in the fruit & veg areas. There are usually a few of them dotted around in the general fruit and veg area.
Oh, and don’t forget to check if the price is per item or per kilo. I’ve been caught out like this before with kiwis.
Often they are priced per kiwi so don’t need to be weighed. If that’s the case you’ll see something like ‘à prix unitaires’ next to the price.
Trust me there’s nothing worse than standing at the weighing machine trying to find something that just isn’t there. You feel like a right idiot and you’ll likely start to flap.
Refrigerated milk isn’t popular in French grocery stores
The French buy UHT milk and it’s found on the shelves along with other grocery items. Not in the refrigerated section.
So if you’re looking for the huge array of milk options you see in ASDA, you’ll be disappointed.
As someone who always bought skimmed red milk in the UK I’ve had to make a change to ‘demi-écrémé’ in France (semi-skimmed).
For reference, blue top is semi-skimmed. Red top here is ‘entier’ and that’s whole milk. There is no readily available skimmed option.
Loyalty cards at grocery stores in France
Be prepared for the question “La carte du magasin?”
Every cashier will ask you this question as standard. Do you have a loyalty card? A simple ‘oui’ or ‘non’ will suffice here.
But in all honesty, if you’re starting the adventure that is living in France, then it’s definitely worth getting one.
My purse is full of them. From the cardboard loyalty cards for the English Fish & Chip van to the plastic variety issued by SuperU, Laclerc and Carrefour.
The latter will sometimes give you discounts on the spot but more often it’s likely to be an accumulation of points. A bit like a Boots Advantage card.
A 6 pack isn’t sold only as a 6 pack
This one had me stumped for quite a while when I first moved to France. In fact, it actually used to really wind me up. I’d see people ripping open a 6 pack of coke, taking one bottle, and walking off.
Why would you do that? Why not just take the 6 bottles? Or take one bottle from the stacks of single bottles sitting there waiting to be picked up.
It was absolutely beyond me, and still is if I’m honest. I just don’t get it.
I’m always reminded of that scene from Father of the Bride where Steve Martin’s character goes into a supermarket and breaks open a packet of hotdog buns. He then completely loses it at the shop assistant because he only wanted eight buns not the twelve that came in the packet.
I guess it made sense to his character in the same way it makes sense to the French.
Do French grocery stores do home delivery?
If you prefer not to do the whole supermarket thing then you can order your groceries online.
It’s definitely not as common as in the UK or US but it is possible.
I’ve not done this myself but you can order online in some of the larger stores and either collect or have them delivered.
This isn’t something that is readily available in the rural areas so you’d need to check with each store.
The best way to do your grocery shopping in France
Food markets are a way of life here in France. And in the Charente we have an abundance of them.
The produce is usually local and just the experience itself is worth it. I’d always pick the food market over the supermarket any day of the week.
One of my favourite things to do on a Sunday morning is to go to my local food market in Verteuil.
With a view of the fairytale chateau it’s like being in a French fantasy dreamworld.
The market is held in the square till around 1pm. I get my cheese and pate fix, visit the Brit shop for my English treats, and do the rounds of the fruit and veg stalls. After it’s a glass of rose in the square enjoying the sun and surroundings.
“Fun fact. I bet you didn’t know that the most popular colour of toilet paper in France is pink.”
A little piece of completely useless French trivia to keep life interesting.
If you’re looking to attempt a little French cooking then don’t forget to check out my top French recipes. Here’s some of my favourites: