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In Italy there are the Mini Markets, Supermarkets and Hypermarkets. They are somewhat similar to the Wawa, Giant and Wegmans of the United States. In the historic part of any city or town in Italy, mini markets are the most common. The supermarkets are found in the “newer” part of the cities and towns and the hypermarkets are typically found in the suburbs. You can spend a couple of weeks in Italy as a tourist and never come across a supermarket or hypermarket!
The main supermarket chains in Italy are Conad, Selex, Coop, VeGe Group and Carrefour. Please refer to my article about the important supermarket chains of Italy for additional information. In this article I want to focus on things you should keep in mind when grocery shopping in a supermarket or hypermarket in Italy.
Bring Coins If You Want To Use A Shopping Cart.
When you’re shopping in an Italian supermarket you need to pay a deposit to use one of the store’s carts. Usually, you’ll need to put a 0.50 Euro or 1 Euro coin into the lock of the cart to release its chain. Once you’ve finished doing your shopping you simply return your cart, put the chain lock back into the cart and you’ll get your coin back again.
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This may seem a little strange but the system is designed to stop people from leaving their shopping carts in the car park or from just wheeling it home with their shopping!
If you don’t need a cart you can use one of the handheld baskets without first paying a deposit. In many cases, you can get a plastic handheld basket that has wheels on the bottom so if you forget your coins you won’t have to worry about carrying all your groceries around with you in the shop.
Use A Plastic Glove When Handling Fresh Produce.
When you’re selecting which loose fruits and vegetables you want from the shelves it’s polite to use a plastic glove to cover your hand as you do so. You can find these gloves in dispensers around the fruit and vegetable isles and use them for free.
As well as using the free plastic gloves to handle the fresh produce, it’s worth having a few in your car which you can use while refilling the petrol tank. This will stop you from getting petrol on your hands while refueling your car.
You Have To Weigh The Fresh Produce Yourself.
Once you’ve selected your fresh produce, tomatoes, for example, you need to put them in one of the free bags provided and weigh it on the scales. To weigh the items you need to key in the product number that you’ll see on the sign above the items into the scales. In other cases, there may be pictures of the products to choose from. The scales will then weigh the fresh produce and print out a small sticker which you can attach to the bag and then scan through at the checkout.
You don’t need to weigh all the fresh products. For instance, if they are already in a bag or have a barcode sticker on them, then you don’t need to worry about weighing them yourself. You only need to weigh the loose items, such as tomatoes, onions, potatoes and so on which haven’t already got a barcode on them.
Get Your Meats And Cheeses From The Deli Counter.
Although you can find meats and cheeses in the refrigerated isles of Italian supermarkets it’s a better idea to buy them from the store’s deli counter. At the deli counter, you’ll find the higher quality items and you’ll also be able to choose exactly how much you want to buy.
To order your own meats and cheeses from the deli counter you’ll usually need to collect a ticket from the machine and wait until your number is called forward. Meats and cheeses are sold in grams, so you might, for example, ask for 500 grams of a specific ham or cheese.
Then the deli counter assistant will cut up your items, weigh them and bag them with a printed out barcode stuck on the outside. When you’re checking out just scan the barcode through as you would any other item.
For reference, if you’re not used to using grams, you would normally have around 100 grams of meat in a sandwich. If you keep this in mind then you can just round up the grams to buy approximately the amount that you need! Therefore, if you want to make 4 sandwiches, you should order 400 grams of meat.
You Have To Pay For Plastic Bags At The Checkout.
In an effort to reduce waste, Italian supermarkets charge their customers between 0.05-0.50 Euros for a plastic bag. The cheaper plastic bags are usually very flimsy and are prone to splitting open whereas the more expensive ones are strong enough to reuse over and over again.
If you want to save a little money and be environmentally friendly then you can bring your own bags with you. In fact, most Italians bring their own bags which they reuse each week for their groceries.
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This is slowing becoming the norm in American cities also. These days I carry a thin plastic bag in my pant pocket when I go for a walk in Center City Philadelphia. This way I don’t have to pay for a bag if I order a take out or decide to buy something. This is highly inconvenient, a tax on the poor and will not reduce “waste”.
Grocery Stores In Italy Are Different From Those In The United States.
The main difference between the grocery stores of Italy and that of the United States are two fold: the size of the stores and the options that are available. Even small grocery stores in the congested part of American cities like in downtown Philadelphia, have more choices of meat, cheese, soups and other types of food when compared to supermarkets in Italy. You will also find less “international” food in Italian stores. In the past couple of years, grocery stores in America have started carrying a wide variety of frozen, pre-cooked means that you can pop into a microwave and consume. This is not very common in Italy.