One of my favorite things to do in Geneva is take advantage of all the fresh and local fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses, whether I’m at the farmers markets or in the grocery stores. Luckily, we’re spoiled for choice, although grocery shopping was its own sort of culture shock for me when we first moved to Geneva. I learned my way around the grocery stores here by trial and error, but that doesn’t mean you have to! I want to tell you about some of Geneva’s grocery stores, and then pass along some tips and tricks I’ve learned for grocery shopping in my time here.
Here’s where most people buy their groceries in Geneva:
Migros and Coop
The two main Swiss grocery chains, Migros and Coop, have several locations around the city. The two chains differ in a few ways. Coop sells cigarettes and alcohol, whereas Migros does not. Coop sells more name brand items than Migros, although I’ve always thought the Migros store brand items are high quality. Larger “Coop City” and Migros “MMM” stores sell clothing, household goods, and beauty products. You can find Migros locations here and Coop locations here.
One of my favorite grocery stores in Geneva is Manor Food, located on the ground level of the Manor department store. The store has an extensive selection of fresh produce. The cheese, meat, poultry, and fish counters are always well-staffed and fully stocked, and there’s a take-away area for meals on the go. Plus, the store carries a good variety of foreign foods, Swiss chocolates, and local wines. There are two Manor Food locations in the Geneva area, one on Rue Cornavin in Geneva and one in Vesenaz. Find out more here.
Geneva has one of five Aligro stores in the country. It sells food, beverages, and household items both in regular size and in bulk (although items sold in bulk are priced where they aren’t always significantly cheaper than buying the same quantity in regular size). Aligro has a wide variety of meats, cheeses, dry goods, and wine/spirits. A store map is available here; the store’s website is here.
Globus delicatessa is the specialty food market of the Globus department stores. There are two locations in Geneva: rue du Rhone, and at the Balexert shopping center. The store has a limited range of products and is one of the most expensive places to shop for food in town (which is saying something for Geneva!), but the food is always of excellent quality. They have a large wine section as well as foreign foods, fresh meats and seafood, and prepared foods like fresh pastas and salads. Find more information about Globus delicatessa here.
Denner, PAM, and Aldi
These discount grocery chains have locations throughout Geneva. Denner is a discount grocery chain owned by Migros that sells brand name goods, particularly wine and liquor, at low prices. There are 17 locations in the Geneva area; find them on Denner’s website, www.denner.ch. German discount chain Aldi is relatively new to Switzerland; its first location opened in 2005. You can search for locations in Geneva here. There are nine Pam locations in Geneva, listed here.
Now that I’ve described some of the major grocery store chains, I want to share a few tips and tricks I’ve learned about Geneva’s stores.
Tip #1: Plan ahead
Learning any new store takes time, from finding the items you’re looking for to navigating the check-out line. Especially at first, if you are not fluent in French (like me), your trips to the grocery store might take twice as long as you’re used to. In the weeks after we moved to Geneva, I spent a good amount of time wandering the aisles of a few different grocery stores locating familiar items, trying to identify new-to-me products, and deciphering different labels. If there was something particular I was looking for (a baking ingredient, for example), I’d google its name in French before starting my shopping trip. Other times, confronted with some mystery food, I’d snap a picture of it with my cell phone and look it up later. It took some time to figure it all out, but now I know my regular stores well – and can make trips that take no more time than I would’ve spent back home.
Tip #2: Bring a CHF 2 coin if you need a shopping cart
Hand-held baskets are free of charge and available near the entrance of all stores, but if you’re planning on buying more than you feel comfortable carrying around the store, you will need to bring a CHF 2 coin to unlock a shopping cart. Similar to trolleys at the airport, shopping carts lock together with a key. Place your coin in the slot, free your cart from the one in front of it, and shop away. When you’re done, bring your cart back to the cart area, lock it into one of the other carts, and you’ll be able to remove your coin.
In place of store-supplied shopping carts, I’ve seen customers wheeling around their own carts (like this one). They fill their personal cart with items as they walk through the store, unload everything onto the belt at the checkout lane, and then repack their carts after paying. Buying your own shopping cart can be an investment, but one that can save you a lot of time if you frequently buy heavy items and/or plan on staying in Geneva for some time.
- Tip: You don’t need to have a coin to unlock a grocery cart at Manor or Globus.
- Tip: You don’t need a coin to use the carts at some Coop stores; the location I go to for its unlocked carts is the Coop City grocery store (lower level of the store) in Plainpalais.
- Tip: Not all stores allow you to bring your own shopping cart into the aisles. Take a peek at the front of the store during one of its peak hours – if people have left their personal carts near the checkout lanes, you should, too.
Tip #3: Weigh your own produce
Most fruit and vegetable sections of Geneva’s grocery stores are self-service, but they require a few more steps than you may be used to. You select and bag your own produce, and you also need to weigh and tag your items before the checkout lane.
In my home country, scales are integrated into checkout lanes and I never had to weigh my produce – everything was calculated for me by the cashier. I had an awkward interaction in the local Migros my first month here when I brought a bunch of bananas to the checkout lane. The cashier asked me to go weigh them, and I didn’t have the slightest clue what she meant, although on my next trip I figured it out quickly enough.
When bagging your fruits or vegetables, look closely at the bin label. If the word Pièce is displayed, the price is fixed by item, and you don’t need to weigh the items. If there is a number displayed prominently on the bin label, you need to remember that number, take the items to the scale (usually centrally located in the produce section), punch in the number and affix the label that prints out of the machine to the bag.
- Tip: Attendants in the Globus food hall will bag and weigh your produce for you.
Tip #4: Bring your own bags
Plastic and/or paper bags are not provided free of charge in Switzerland. Most people bring their own; I’ve collected a few large bags I keep on hand at home, and I also try to keep a folded, reusable bag like this in my purse or knapsack at all times just in case I pop into a store.
If you find yourself at the checkout without your own bags, don’t worry. Many stores offer free, small plastic sacks (you might have to ask the cashier if none are set at the end of the checkout lane). These bags are usually very thin and tear easily, though, so you probably want a better bag if you’re buying more than a couple of items. You can buy paper grocery bags for 20-30 centimes each at the checkout lane, or reusable vinyl or coated canvas bags for 2-5 CHF. Your cashier will typically scan these bags first because you also need to …
Tip #5: Bag your own groceries
Unlike what I was used to before moving to Geneva, there are no store employees waiting near the cashier to bag your groceries for you; every customer, young or old, bags their own purchases. Most grocery lanes have a divider so that if you aren’t quick enough to bag everything before it is time to pay, the cashier will simply slide your items to one side and send items for the person after you down the other side. I’ve worked out a system of arranging my things on the checkout belt by how I want to bag them. The first few times at the store I had to remember to stay organized in this way at the checkout lane, but now it’s second nature.
Tip #6: Shop for Sunday on Saturday
Most all shops and stores close in Geneva on Sundays, so Saturdays are when many people shop for Sunday groceries. Stores tend to get busier and more crowded as the day goes on, so it’s good to know when your store of choice closes on Saturday afternoon (some close at 5 p.m., some at 6 p.m.). I try to beat the crowds by doing any Saturday grocery shopping before the lunch hour.
If you forget to buy groceries on Saturday, that doesn’t mean you’ll starve – a few convenience stores and restaurants are open on Sundays.
- Tip: The Migros Airport grocery store location is open seven days a week. Some farmers markets are held on Sundays, too, if you don’t feel like driving out to the airport.
Where are your favorite places to shop for groceries in Geneva? Do you have any tips or tricks of your own?
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