If you have just arrived in Switzerland or are just plain confused about the supermarkets you have come to the right place.
I have been living in Switzerland for over 20 years as an Expat and can tell you all about Swiss supermarkets.
What is the difference between all the supermarket options?
How do things work when you go shopping in the supermarket?
And a whole lot of other useful tips and tricks.
Table of Contents
Supermarket Chains In Switzerland
The major Swiss supermarket chains are as follows:
- Coop – They are the largest Swiss supermarket and originate as a cooperative
- Migros – They are also a cooperative and the second largest chain in Switzerland
- Denner – A discount Swiss supermarket that is owned by Migros
- Volg – Usually found in small towns and more rural locations.
- Spar – A Dutch supermarket chain that is often found where the others are not
Let’s go into a little more details on Swiss supermarkets. It will help you get a feel of what each offers and whether it works for you.
From the biggest to the lesser known, these are the Swiss supermarkets you will see as you travel around the country.
Coop has been around since 1890 when a variety of cooperatives in the country formed the Verband Schweizerischer Konsumvereine. It was later renamed Coop, but as you can see, this supermarket has deep Swiss roots.
Coop is one of the most common supermarkets you will encounter, along with Migros. It is also one of the more expensive supermarkets in Switzerland, however, that also means it has the biggest range of brand name products and some other “fancier” foods you may not find in the cheaper alternatives. Also, Coop sells alcohol of almost every variety from wine and beer to spirits. Which is super convenient if you come from a country where that is not the case.
They have a range of sizes too from the extremely large ones in my former neighborhood, so the corner store and gas station sized, which have the same kinds of products only a way smaller range and the prices are higher at the smaller stores – the price of convenience.
Migros is the other big Swiss supermarket that is almost everywhere in Switzerland. And, if you want to save some money, this is your better bet.
It is also a cooperative and very much behaves like one. Promoting itself as the people’s supermarket and members’ opinions into account too.
Both Migros and Coop also tend to be heavily invested in shopping malls, sometimes the majority of the shops in the smaller malls are even owned by them. So, you will also tend to find these bigger supermarket chains in the malls too.
Coop vs Migros
The major difference between Migros and Coop is that Migros has fewer brand name products and more of its own cheaper versions of common everyday items. Also, they do not sell alcohol of any kind. Something they recently reviewed as a coop and voted to continue doing.
Denner is another reasonably common supermarket you will see around and it is marketed as a cheaper alternative to Migros. Although perhaps ironically, they are also owned by Migros.
This means they do have a lot lower priced products but also less variety too. However, unlike Migros, they do sell alcohol.
They can be a great place to stock up on bulk or cheap items like drinks or washing powder and the like.
Volg is the chain of supermarkets you will find in almost every Swiss village. They are convenient, have a decent range of products, and are not overly expensive. However, unless you are staying in a small town or live in one, you won’t have a lot of reason to pop into one – unless you need something for a day trip or hike.
Aldi & Lidl
You may be familiar with the even cheaper alternatives that originated in Germany and have since spread around the globe – Aldi and Lidl. They are no-frills supermarkets that again have far less variety but what they do have is a lot cheaper.
It is worth going to one or both to see how things work as it is not quite like a standard supermarket. They have larger packaging in some cases. Rarely unpack boxes completely or at all. And, at checkout, the emphasis is on speed. So, you better be ready to pack fast because the products come flying down the belt!
Spar is another brand from outside of Switzerland that you may have seen. They are a Dutch company and are a mid-range supermarket in my opinion. A mix of Coop and Migros, but rarely as big. They are often in places where the others are not, so can be convenient. However, I would not search for one specifically to do my weekly shopping as I have never found anything there to be cheaper or their range to be better.
Ottos is not exactly a supermarket, but more of a mixture between supermarket and discount store. However, if you want to grab a bunch of staples and bargains in the food department, this is not a bad place to start.
They have everything from chips, coke and beer to pasta and tuna. You probably won’t find everything you need here, but a visit once a month might be worthwhile.
Department Store Supermarkets
Just a quick mention of some other options you have just in case you wish to explore them.
- Globus – this is an upmarket department store that sells expensive and niche foods you probably won’t find anywhere else. They are usually in the center of big cities and the food section is often in the basement.
- Manor – This is the quintessential Swiss department store in every major city and they usually have a decent supermarket in their basement. They might be slightly more expensive than say Coop, but often they have a slightly different selection. Worth checking out if you live near one.
Swiss Supermarket Tips & Tricks
Every country operates its supermarkets a little bit differently and supermarkets in Switzerland are no different. So, here are a few tips and tricks to help you learn the ropes.
Weigh Your Own Fruit & Vegetables
This can be quite a strange one for many foreigners, but in Switzerland, you have to weigh your fruit and vegetables in the majority of cases.
There are a few exceptions like packaged fruit and vegetables or items that you pay for by the piece. The way to figure it out is to see if there is a code on the price tag (in Coop at least). Fruit like kiwis and limes are usually per piece for example.
The way this is done is to note the number on the price display (see the image above – the number 7). Then go to the weighing machine and use that number to price your vegetables or fruit. The machines generally require you to type the number in and then hit a button to print the sticker which you then stick to the bag or product for scanning when you check out.
Pack Your Groceries Yourself
Another one that people from many English-speaking countries might be surprised at – you have to pack your groceries yourself. So, put them all on the belt, and get ready at the other end with your bags. Items can come down fast and start piling up before you know it.
Pay For Bags
Personally, I always bring my backpack or my own bags. However, if you don’t, or you want to buy some you have a few options. In Coop and Migros you can buy large paper or plastic bags at the checkout. They usually cost around 30 rappen. Just throw them at the beginning of your items to get scanned and then you can start using them to pack. Or, if you forget, just hand them to the cashier quickly while they are scanning. They are used to it.
At the self-checkout, there are also smaller plastic bags that are around 10 rappen (you have to add them on the screen).
This may differ slightly from the other supermarkets. But in general, you have to pay for the bags.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following are some common questions I have found that people have about Swiss supermarkets.
Are Supermarkets Expensive in Switzerland?
Compared to other European countries, supermarkets are quite expensive in Switzerland, like just about everything else. There are some cheaper options available like Aldi, Lidl, and Denner, but on the whole, it is far more expensive to buy groceries than just about anywhere else except perhaps Norway.
Is Aldi Cheap in Switzerland?
Compared to other supermarkets in Switzerland, Aldi is certainly cheap. They have less variety, but the products they do have are high quality and quite affordable by Swiss standards.
Is Migros Cheaper Than Coop?
In general, it is cheaper to buy groceries at Migros than at Coop. Their fresh produce is cheaper and they have a lot of their own brand staples that help to lower the cost of your everyday grocery purchases.
Which Are The Biggest Supermarkets in Switzerland?
Coop is the biggest supermarket in Switzerland in terms of the number of stores with 955 stores as of 2021. Migros is the second biggest with over 600 stores. In terms of the size of stores and selection, both of these retailers are fairly comparable.
Is there a Costco in Switzerland?
No, there are no Costco stores in Switzerland. There are two in France and one in Spain, however, they are too far to drive to.
The best alternative to Cosco in Switzerland is Aligro. They service the Gastronomy sector so only sell food in larger quantities. I have also found that Lidl has some food in larger quantities at cheaper prices too.
How can I save on groceries in Switzerland?
There are a variety of ways to save money on groceries in Switzerland, such as:
- Shopping at lower-cost stores like Aldi, Lidl and Denner
- Watching out for weekly specials by subscribing to supermarket newsletters
- Buying almost out-of-date products late in the day
- Avoiding high-cost items like meat, alcohol and organic fruit and vegetables
- Buy products in bulk, especially at the lower-cost stores
Note: header image courtesy of Chad Davis on Flickr