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EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Switzerland’s supermarkets

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Daniel Wighton - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Switzerland’s supermarkets
Switzerland's supermarkets are everywhere, but which are the best, the cheapest and have good quality? Here's what you need to know. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Are they cheap? Are they easy to find? And do they sell booze? Here’s what you need to know about Switzerland’s famous supermarkets.

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That Switzerland is an expensive country should come as no surprise to anyone who has set foot in the country - or even read about it on The Local (yep, we write about it a lot). 

EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

One weapon to slay the expensive Swiss demon however is the country’s supermarkets. 

The difference between supermarket prices and those in restaurants, bars and cafes is dramatic in Switzerland. 

And while the prices might be cheaper, the quality is by and large the same (although the quality of the end product is however ultimately dependent on your cooking skills). 

But for new arrivals to Switzerland - or even a few old timers - navigating the country’s omnipotent supermarkets can be a little challenging. 

From which ones are cheap to which ones are good - and whether or not you can get booze - here’s an overview of supermarkets in Switzerland. 

What should I know about Switzerland’s supermarkets?

The main thing to know that whether you are visiting a large, out-of-town discounter or a supermarket-branded kiosk in a busy city train station, you are likely to pay much less than in bars or restaurants. 

This includes for alcoholic drinks, as well as for typically expensive products like meat, cheese and speciality items. 

The reasons for this are too extensive to go into here, but wages, import taxes and rents play a big role. 

This guide will focus largely on the differences between the major supermarkets. 

If you want to know how to save money while buying groceries, then this following link is for you. 

Cost of living: How to save on groceries in Switzerland

The list will also focus only on supermarkets in Switzerland, i.e. not those frequented by cross-border shoppers. 

One thing which may surprise newcomers to Switzerland is how loyal some Swiss can be when it comes to their choice of supermarket. 

While in some cases this might be due to cost which is understandable, in other cases people become either a Migros or a Coop person like they’re supporting their local football team. 

Another thing which can be surprising is opening hours, with Swiss supermarkets usually closed on Sundays and closing early during the week. 

This varies greatly depending on where you are in Switzerland - urban area supermarkets will stay open later - so make sure to check the opening hours before you set off with your reusable bags (oh, and bring reusable bags unless you want to pay for each bag you take from the supermarket). 

Which is the cheapest - and which is the most expensive? 

While it is a controversial topic and we are sure to get plenty of angry comments, the broad ranking from cheapest to most expensive goes as follows. 

  • Lidl
  • Aldi Suisse
  • Denner
  • Migros
  • Coop
  • Manor
  • Globus

At the expensive end are luxury supermarkets like Manor and Globus – which are high end and resemble a top-class farmers market (both in terms of quality and cost). 

In the middle are Migros, Denner and Coop (although Coop tends slightly more expensive than Migros and Denner is the cheaper of the three). 

The familiar orange lettering of Swiss supermarket chain Migros

The familiar orange lettering of Swiss supermarket chain Migros. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

At the cheaper end are Germany’s Lidl and Aldi, which is known here as Aldi Suisse. 

This list doesn’t include chains like Spar and Volg which usually have smaller stores and kiosks (often in tourist areas) with slightly higher prices than big brands like Migros and Coop. 

However, one important thing to remember is that while some supermarkets will be cheaper than others, it is not impossible to shop cheap at the more expensive supermarkets (leaving aside Manor and Globus, of course). 

Independent studies have shown that the cheap options in Migros and Coop often rival those at Lidl and Aldi Suisse - but you have to stick to supermarket brands (which is easier at Migros than Coop, as Migros has an extensive array of products under their M-Budget own brand). 

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What is the major difference between Switzerland’s supermarkets and what they offer? 

The difference is cost therefore leads to a difference in quality and in clientele. 

Both Coop and Migros are owned under a cooperative structure. Lidl and Aldi are German-owned, while Denner is owned by Migros. 

Each will have everything you need (other than booze, but we go into that below). 

Some regular, basic items like laundry liquid or flour and butter will largely be the same, but its the variety and the quality which is better and far more extensive at the more expensive markets. 

The cheaper discounters like Aldi Suisse and Lidl will generally not have as many brand name or boutique items as the others, although some surprisingly good quality produce can be found - particularly if it comes from Switzerland. 

Places like Manor and Globus will have fancy, inner city, designer locations with boutique and craft-style offerings where you can shake the hand of the cow that produced the cheese, but prices will be challenging, particularly for families or anyone on an average income.  

Cost of living in Switzerland: How to save money if you live in Zurich

Another major advantage of the more expensive chains is a wide array of pre-made meals, which is great for anyone who finds themselves travelling, single or lazy. 

Most of them have some kind of bonus point program and all offer regular discounts and offers. 

These loyalty schemes will usually be available at all retail outlets operated by the same company, i.e. Coop’s Supercard program is available at Coop Pronto (gas stations and convenience stores) and Coop City, while Migros’ Cumulus program is also available at Migrolino and Migrol (gas stations). 

What don’t they sell (and do they sell booze and smokes)?

New arrivals, particularly from English-speaking countries, can often be surprised with what is available - and what isn’t - in Switzerland’s supermarkets. 

Basic pharmaceuticals like painkillers or cold and flu tablets cannot be sold in Swiss supermarkets, so you will need to go to your pharmacist. 

As for alcohol and cigarettes, well it’s complicated. 

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In most Swiss supermarkets, you can not only buy cigarettes, beer and wine, but a wide selection of spirits will be on offer. 

In Migros on the other hand, there is at present no booze or smokes to be found - although that is set to gradually change in the future. 

Throughout its 100-year history, Switzerland’s largest supermarket has not sold alcoholic drinks. 

While this has been chalked up to uphold the health of its customers, the reality is a little more complicated - and a little more capitalist, as we outlined in the following report. 

EXPLAINED: The real reason Swiss supermarket Migros doesn’t sell alcohol

The promise is also full of loopholes, with company subsidiaries Migrolino and Denner - which is often right next to Migros - selling alcohol for some time. 

It also seems that even Switzerland’s largest supermarket is not immune to changing times - with Migros in November 2021 saying it would allow supermarkets to sell alcohol from June 2022 if they wanted to do so. 

Which ones have restaurants? 

Ahh, the Swiss supermarket restaurant. While it may not be the nicest location for a first date, Switzerland’s supermarket restaurants offer great quality food at low prices. 

Many are self serve and will let you load up your plate with as many sides and salad as you can fit - a cut-price way to feel rich in Switzerland. 

READ MORE: Ten ways to save on car insurance in Switzerland

Coop and Migros both have restaurants (although not at all locations), while Manor department stores will also have cheap(ish) ones named Manora. 

A meal will usually be around CHF15, although be careful at the ones which charge by weight, which can be more expensive. 

For anyone who hasn’t been, these resemble Ikea cafeterias in cost and demeanour. So while they may not be the most romantic, you’ll get a good, hot, hearty meal for relatively few francs. 

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What about niche and speciality options? 

Lidl and Aldi Suisse tend to have the basics - whether from Switzerland or abroad - and will not have a lot else, but you can occasionally be surprised.

Migros and Coop usually have a great range of niche and speciality options, particularly the larger stores. 

Denner also has a good range and will often stock Swiss specialities from all corners of the country, meaning they’re a great way to take a cheap culinary journey through Switzerland. 

EXPLAINED: The everyday items getting more expensive in Switzerland

If you really want to impress your partner or your friends with speciality options, then visit Globus and Manor, where all of the world’s treasures wait in store. 

If you want to look fancy while saving money, you can buy the basics elsewhere - like pasta, produce and spices - but visit Globus or Manor for the centrepiece to your dish, for instance a speciality lamb fillet ordered in from Zanzibar. 

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