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Apr 24

Grocery shopping: US vs. UK

IMG_0525The overwhelming winner from Friday’s poll was to hear about differences in grocery shopping, so here are my observation based on my favorite daily grocery store in the US (Publix), and my current local grocery store (Sainsbury’s). Grocery shopping is not one of my favorite pastimes, but it’s necessary, so I go when I must. I’ve noticed this has changed a lot since moving to England. In the US, I would usually do one big grocery shop a week, and that was it. In the UK, I go a lot more often, usually two to three times a week. I have to; most meats have sell by dates only a couple of days in the future. Plus, our refrigerator is quite small, so there’s not room to stock up on a lot of goods, and my pantry is just a small kitchen cupboard. The good news is the local grocery store is less than half a mile away, and it’s easy to walk or drive to.

So what are the big differences between the US and UK? I mean, a grocery store is a grocery store. However, there are some things about UK grocery stores that I find odd/different from my prior experiences.

  1. IMG_0526UK shopping carts come in two sizes. I usually get the smaller size. All of the carts are really hard to maneuver, as they move forward, backwards, and side-to-side at will. The thing that throws me off the most though, is that it’s missing the storage space underneath the main part of the cart. Now, I rarely used that space for storage, but I was constantly resting my foot on the bar. I miss that. (Silly; I know.)
  2. The stores are either really big (think Super Target/Super Walmart scale including the range of merchandise), or medium sized. I haven’t been to a store that is similar in size to the standard US grocery store.
  3. All of the cold food is together in aisles in the UK. There are some pictures in the gallery below to show what it’s like. In the US, the cold areas usually line the perimeter of the store, and aren’t all grouped together in the middle.
  4. Eggs aren’t refrigerated in England, and are on a normal grocery shelf. That’s just so weird to me. In the US, eggs are refrigerated. Apparently the difference comes down to how the eggs are prepared for sale. In England, the eggs are not washed, so they retain their protective coating which allows them to stay at room temperature. In the US, regulations state that eggs must be washed before sale and the refrigerated.
  5. The check-out experience is significantly different. At Publix where I primarily shopped in the US, I often had help unloading my groceries from the cart to the conveyer belt. Once they started scanning your items, there were baggers, usually teens, who would bag your groceries, and load up your cart. Then once you had payed the bill, they would push the cart to your car for you, and load the bags into your car. What amazing service! And it made a difficult task a little bit easier and enjoyable. In the UK, you have to unload your groceries yourself (which I would expect), but you also have to bag your groceries yourself! Not only that, but you have to bring your own bags. If you forget your bags, you can buy some, but they cost 5 p per bag. It’s a great way to encourage people to use reusable bags.
  6. Microwave meals: in the US, we eat lots of microwavable meals at times, but ours are usually found in the frozen aisle. In the UK, most microwavable meals are found in the refrigerated section.
  7. In Publix, there is a small English section on the ethnic food aisle. In the UK, there is a small US section in the ethnic food aisle. At least that’s the same. However, there isn’t anything in the US section I would actually it!

These are the main differences I noticed on my everyday shops. Another difference however, is the lack of speciality grocery stores. In the US, there are a lot of specialty grocery stores that focus on more upmarket products or organic foods like Trader Joes, Sprouts, Whole Foods Market, and Fresh Market. I haven’t seen anything like this in the UK. However, there are a couple of Whole Foods Markets in London. I’ll have to go visit one and see if it’s anything like the US stores. Watch the slide show below to see a few more differences in photos, and don’t forget the next post will be on Wednesday.

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