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Time to hit the grocery store: Supermarkets & Food shopping in Switzerland

Time to hit the grocery store: Supermarkets & Food shopping in Switzerland

As a country bordered by five different nations, and with a large and diverse expat population, food in Switzerland is quite the mixture of traditional and modern delicacies. At the heart of this eating culture is the local supermarket and grocery store. Here is an introduction to Swiss supermarket chains like Migros and Coop, as well as local grocery and convenience stores, and some top tips about shopping in Switzerland.

Swiss supermarkets

Along with a significant number of smaller independent stores and farm shops (Hofladen), large Swiss supermarkets can be found across the country. These will look similar to those found in other European nations, with a large number of foodstuffs and beverages on offer, and occasionally home, kitchen and clothing sections.

How to find your local supermarket

Finding a supermarket near you can be tricky, especially if you are a new arrival in the country. To help, here are links to how to find your nearest branch of each of the seven supermarket chains.

If there aren’t any major chains in the near vicinity, look up where your nearest train station is. Most railway stations will have a small convenience store attached to the building, often with more flexible opening hours than supermarkets.

Online supermarkets

A growing number of companies in Switzerland now offer the convenience of online grocery shopping, allowing you to fill your basket and have your items delivered to your home at a date and time chosen by you. These include:

Grocery stores in Switzerland

Along with the larger supermarkets, all the major brands run a number of smaller grocery stores dotted across Switzerland. It is very uncommon to find a village in the alpine nation without at least a small shop.

These stores provide all the basics you need on a day-to-day basis without the hassle of driving or having to take public transport to your nearest larger supermarket. However, for the very reason that they are convenient, smaller stores may not have as wide a selection of products, especially home and kitchenware.

The convenience store

Along with the larger brands, convenience stores are often closer and, well, more convenient. In Switzerland, these smaller shops may have less of a selection than their competitors but are often open later and on Sundays. These can usually be found in petrol and rail stations. 

Supermarket chains in Switzerland

As of 2023, there are seven major supermarket chains in Switzerland. In chronological order to when they first opened in Switzerland, these are Denner, Volg, Coop, Migros, Spar, Aldi and Lidl. Here is a brief introduction to the most commonly found supermarkets in the alpine nation:

Migros in Switzerland

Perhaps the most recognisable of all the Swiss supermarkets is the so-called “Orange giant”: Migros. Founded by Gottlieb Duttweiler in 1925, the company remains a cooperative association, meaning that decisions are taken not by an executive board but by its more than 2 million members.

The name Migros comes from the fusion of Mi (French for halfway) and Gros (meaning wholesale). Today, the supermarket has hundreds of stores across the country and owns a number of other top Swiss firms like Migros Bank, online tech shop Digitec Galaxus, the Glattzentrum shopping centre in Canton Zurich, Ex Libris book stores, Obi DIY stores, Denner, and language course provider and skills training firm Migros Klubschule.

Migros rules: Why can’t they sell alcohol?

Unlike the other supermarkets, Migros has a couple of quirky rules which include:

  • They do not sell any alcohol or tobacco (although smaller Migros stores like Migrolinos do).
  • They do not pay any dividends to their shareholders.
  • If their annual profits reach 5 percent of their market value, the supermarket is forced to lower prices.
  • Every adult in Switzerland can join the cooperative and vote on Migros' policies.
  • 0,5 percent of profit is spent on social and cultural schemes.

Many of these rules have remained unchanged since Duttweiler first enacted the policies as part of his “responsible philosophy”.

Migros Cumulus Card

Another key feature of Migros is the Cumulus system, with the Cumulus Card as its centrepiece. Much like other loyalty cards, the Culumus Card allows you to collect points on every purchase you make in-store. They also offer a credit card which can be used to accumulate points when the card is used. At certain times of the year, Migros will allow you to use your accumulated points to pay for your shopping. 

You also get access to other benefits:

  • Get “Cumulus Blue” vouchers to save money on shopping.
  • Access to the subito self-scanning system using the in-house scanners or the app on your mobile phone.
  • A selection of Migros magazines, which include some discounts for families.

To register for Cumulus, visit the official website.

Coop stores in Switzerland

Migros’ main rival, and arguably the largest single supermarket chain in Switzerland, is Coop. The supermarket is also a cooperative society, which at the last count in 2019 had 2,5 million members. However, unlike Migros, Coop does allow the sale of alcohol and tobacco. It's important to bear in mind that Coop is independent of all other supermarkets with the same name overseas.

Founded in 1890, the Coop in Switzerland is a union of various cooperative societies. It took its current name in 1969 and has experienced large growth until this day. Today, there are over 2.500 Coop stores in Switzerland, employing around 90.000 workers.

Coop Supercard (Coop Karte

Like the Cumulus Card, the Coop Supercard (Coop Karte) is a loyalty programme that can be used in-store. Customers are able to collect points and access the self-checkout system in all stores, and these points can either be used to pay for shopping (at certain times of the year) or used to buy items on the dedicated Supercard store online.

To register, visit the official website.

Denner

The third largest supermarket with 860 different stores is the discount chain Denner. Founded in 1860, it is also one of the oldest supermarkets in Switzerland. Despite being owned by Migros since 2007, Denner still allows the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.

Aldi and Lidl in Switzerland

Competing with Denner for dominance in the discount market are the two German brands Aldi and Lidl. Much like in Germany and the Netherlands, these supermarkets are famous for offering cheap deals, even on local products.

Since opening in Switzerland in 2005, the southern branch of Aldi, Aldi Süd, has expanded and now offers 225 stores dotted across Swiss cities and cantons. Lidl opened its first store in the alpine nation in 2009 and boasts 170 stores as of 2023.

Volg

There’s an old saying that you can tell you are in the sticks in Switzerland if the only shop in town is a Volg. Indeed, of the over 580 Volg stores in Switzerland, the majority are in rural areas. These stores are usually quite small but have a pleasant range of both imported and local goods.

Globus

Finally, for the more affluent among us, the luxury brand Globus puts the fine in fine dining. With 13 branches dotted across Switzerland - its main branches are in Zurich, Geneva and Basel - the department store is famous for selling classy goods like clothing, cosmetics and jewellery. In addition, their Delicatessa sections are well stocked with delicious premade items like ravioli, pizzas, joints of premium meat, breads, imported foods and more.

Some of the larger stores also feature an extensive wine and spirits store and bar. While you’d be considered very rich if you do a full shop here, it is possible, as the shop also sells the basics.

A guide to grocery shopping in Switzerland

Like in most countries, there are plenty of “unwritten rules” when it comes to grocery shopping in Switzerland. To help newcomers, here are some top tips to get you started.

Cash vs card?

One of the first questions newcomers may ask themselves is whether they should bring cash to go shopping. For smaller independent shops and farm shops, it’s a good idea to bring cash, although many have recently branched out to use contactless apps like Twint instead.

Supermarkets in Switzerland accept both cash and card for transactions. However, if you do use a self-scanning station, there is a chance that it will be card only.

Bags for life

All the major supermarket stores will offer so-called bags for life. These bags are sturdier and larger than the standard plastic ones and are usually better for the environment as they reduce plastic waste by replacing plastic carrier bags.

Plus, most stores in Switzerland charge patrons if they want to buy new plastic bags, so it makes sense to make the investment and remember to take your bags for life with you when you go out shopping.

Buying local

One of the most popular things to do when shopping in Switzerland is to buy as locally as possible. Indeed, supermarkets run a number of different brands based on local Swiss products like Aus der Region for local foods, Pro Montagna for products made in the mountains and of course, the Bio ranges.

However, while these products do have a smaller carbon footprint, and are of splendid quality, they are often expensive. Therefore, if you do want to do your shopping on a budget, you will notice that the cheaper products will be imported from abroad.

Supermarkets on Sundays

In Switzerland, working on a Sunday is heavily restricted and even banned for some industries. All shops without prior permission must close on a Sunday, meaning that nearly all supermarkets and grocery stores will be shut.

If you really need to do some shopping on Sunday, the only places that will be reliably open are shops attached to railway stations and those in airports. However, while they will be open, expect them to be busy!

Shopping for Halal and Kosher foods in Switzerland

In Switzerland, there is no guarantee that foodstuffs will be prepared in a Halal or Kosher way. While most supermarkets will offer Kosher and Halal foods, their range will not be extensive.

When shopping, always make sure to check the label or with a member of staff whether a product fulfils your dietary needs. If not, there are a large number of stores dedicated to selling Halal and Kosher foods - most of them can generally be found in larger cities.

World groceries stores in Switzerland

Especially in cities like Zurich, Geneva, Basel and Lausanne, Switzerland hosts a large number of grocery stores dedicated to certain cultures and nationalities. Some of the most common include Chinese / Asian, Polish and Eastern European, Turkish and Anglo-American stores.

Do supermarkets in Switzerland sell non-Swiss food?

Especially in larger supermarkets, Swiss chains make an effort to tailor what they offer to the community they serve. In the cities, the majority of the larger stores will have an aisle dedicated to Turkish, Greek and other international foods which are imported from abroad.

In addition, the larger stores pay attention to what the demographics around their store are and prepare accordingly - for example, Coop and Migros stores in the centre of Zurich and Geneva are more likely to have British and American groceries on their shelves so that they can better cater to inner-city residents.

Indian supermarkets

To serve the approximately 24.000 Indian citizens that call Switzerland home, and anyone who wants to try Indian cooking, there are a large number of Indian supermarkets to choose from. The places with the most Indian supermarkets are Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Baden (Canton Aargau), Bern and Lausanne.

Navigate the Swiss grocery store like a local

Well there we have it, all you need to know and more about supermarkets in Switzerland. While it is a common part of daily life in the alpine nation, it is important to know where you can do your weekly shopping.

Thumb image credit: Sorbis / Shutterstock.com


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Jan de Boer

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Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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