I’ve always loved grocery shopping. In the US, I delighted in clipping my coupons from the newspaper over the weekend and going to the store to see what was on sale and what new products there were to try. In France, nothing’s changed except my surroundings (and there are no coupons to clip). And the fact I go to the French grocery store like 4 or 5 times a week (it’s a 5-min walk!). I love checking out all the products and packaging and really do enjoy my trips to the supermarket. So to be useful today, I’ve put together 9 handy tips for grocery shopping in France.
9 Must-know French grocery store tips
From Auchan to Super U to Intermarché to Géant to Monoprix to Carrefour to LeClerc… OK I’ll stop there, over the years I’ve been to French grocery stores all over the country. I’ve seen them all and have rounded up my best tips for grocery shopping in France. How do you say go grocery shopping in French? It’s faire les courses. So I’m doing my grocery shopping is “je fais mes courses.”
Whether you just moved to France or are going to be stocking the fridge for your next apartment rental, here are my tips on how to grocery shop in France.
1. Avoid shopping on Saturday afternoons at all costs.
Unless you like lines at the register and jam-packed parking lots, avoid heading out on Saturday afternoon. Supermarkets get busy in the USA as well on Saturday afternoons but it is absolutely nuts in France. It always seems like there aren’t enough registers open as well.
The big hypermarkets that are in big shopping centers tend to be the worst, so if you do find yourself needing to hit up the French grocery store on a Saturday afternoon, try to go to a smaller store or get ready for the crowds! Maybe it’s so crowded because the shopping hours are limited? Which leads me to…
2. Know your local stores’ hours (and plan accordingly).
Forget 24-hour Walmarts! Most French grocery stores open at 8:30 or 9 a.m. and close by 7:30 or 8 p.m — and they are closed on Sundays. Some stores are open on Sunday mornings and some of the bigger stores stay open until 9 p.m. during the week, but that’s not the norm especially in smaller towns or villages. Be aware that stores in smaller towns sometimes close from noon until 2 p.m. So plan your food shopping in France accordingly!
3. Bring your bags.
Aside from stores in Paris and maybe a few big cities, grocery bags at French supermarkets are not free. Most shoppers come ready for action with several canvas or plastic reusable bags in which to haul their groceries in France home. It’s just what you do! If you show up to the store empty handed, you can always buy a bag or two but it’s better to come prepared with your own bags. Plus it’s good for the environment to bring reusable bags. Most of them fold up into nice squares or fold into a pouch so they aren’t bulky at all. Or you can go French style and get a little granny cart like me. They’re totally hip, promise!
4. Bring a 1-euro coin (or token) for a shopping cart.
If you plan on using a shopping cart, make sure you bring a 1-euro coin or a little token to release a cart from the chain of locked carts. You get your coin or token back when you return the cart and lock it back up, but you’ll need a coin to unlock it in the first place.
5. Get a loyalty card.
If you are in France for more than just a week or two, sign up for your local stores’ loyalty cards. Since I’m always keeping an eye out for a deal, this is one of my favorite French grocery shopping habits. Sometimes you’ll get a discount on the spot but most cards work in terms of points or accumulating discounts as a credit on the card to be used later.
For example, certain promo items of the week may cost 5 euros with a special discount of 50 cents that goes as a credit on the card. So you pay 5 euros at the time of purchase but get to use the 50 cents next time around when you redeem your carte de fidelité balance. Or you accumulate points when you buy certain items that can be redeemed for store credit or other merchandise later on.
6. Make sure you have a chip card or cash.
Don’t get stuck like I did at the cashier without cash or a chipped card unable to pay. American credit/debit cards (without a chip) may work in larger cities but usually card readers in less touristy places won’t recognize the strip on an American card — even when swiped! Always have some extra cash on you if you don’t have a chipped card.
7. Don’t forget to weigh your produce before you go to the register.
In many French grocery stores, you have to weigh your produce and print the little price sticker to slap on the bag before you get to the register. Otherwise, you’ll do what I’ve had to do a bunch of times and leave all your things things to run back to the produce section and weigh your veggies. The cashier cannot do it for you and the people behind you will give you the stink eye.
Not all grocery stores in France are this way so just keep your eyes open and see what shoppers around you are doing. Some stores do weigh and price your produce at the register. If there are little stations to weigh your produce and print a sticker in the produce section, it’s not optional!
Do it so you don’t embarrass yourself at the register. French grocery shopping is always an adventure but it’s always best to know as much as you can before you go.
8. Remember milk and eggs are room temperature.
Looking for milk and eggs? You’ll find them in a regular old aisle and not in the refrigerated section. That’s because eggs in France are processed differently than they are in the USA and it’s completely safe to leave them at room temperature. The protective coating that’s washed off in the USA is left on in France keeping bacteria out.
As for the milk, unopened UHT milk (ultra-high temperature) can be kept at room temperature due to the way it’s processed and packaged.
In my local supermarket, the eggs are right next to the milk although sometimes you can find certain types of milk in the refrigerated section. So when in search of eggs and milk, stay where it’s warm and you’ll find both.
9. The good bread is at the boulangerie.
While many grocery stores have a bakery section, pop into your local boulangerie for top-notch baguettes. The grocery store baguettes are great in a pinch (and trust me, most are better than the ones you’d find in the US) but aren’t usually made from scratch at the store. They dough is made elsewhere and then baked at the store and there’s no shame in grocery store bread.
If you want truly spectacular bread, steer clear of the baguettes you find in the French supermarket and make the trip to an actual bakery. Once you’re at the boulangerie, make sure you know how to buy a baguette!
There you have it, my tips for grocery shopping in France for all your food shopping needs. What are grocery stores in France like? Watch my live video below where I take you shopping in my local Intermarché, one of my favorite French supermarkets.
Have any French grocery store tips to add? What food stores in France do you regularly visit?