9 Shocking Differences Between American and British Grocery Stores

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Whether you’re coming to the UK as an expat, study abroad student, or just for a visit, one of the must-do experiences is to visit one of the grocery stores in England to check out the differences between American and British grocery stores.

I mean, firstly, they don’t even call them “grocery stores,” they call them supermarkets, so there’s your first example already.

What do Americans call supermarkets?

As you might have guessed already, we call them “grocery stores”!

If you want to learn more about England and why they do the things they do, I highly recommend Watching the English – a must-read for anyone living in England or visiting.

Anyway, British grocery stores are completely different to our American ones in name and brand, so don’t come over here looking to find Publix in the UK or Kroger in the UK or Giant or your local favorite.

Instead, you’ll find ones like Waitrose (which is for fancy people), Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Asda.

I know some people buy their groceries at Target, so check out this article I wrote about Target in the UK to find out if your favorite store has made it across the pond.

There are even more brands in the UK like the Co-op which tend to be smaller stores instead of massive ones.

These are meant to be the place you drop in when you forgot the milk rather than somewhere you go to do your shopping for the barbecue you decided to hold for 17 people tomorrow and now regret.

Girl in peach knitted sweater opening a fridge

That brings me to another point, actually, in that British fridges and freezers are smaller than American ones, and many people who live in flats only have a half-size one that would more closely resemble what we would have in an American college dorm.

Add to this the list of things that help contribute to culture shock for expats.

This means that people tend to make more frequent trips to the grocery store instead of the bulk buying process many of us in the States do.

It also cuts down on food waste.

Now, British food in general has a bad reputation for being, how should I say, horrible.

I’m not qualified to speak on this, as I’m a picky eater and think a lot of food is horrible.

To stick up for the UK, though, I have learned to enjoy quite a few ‘proper’ meals like fish and chips and roast dinners.

person holding plate of breakfast with baked beans eggs sausage hash brown and bacon

‘English breakfast’ is very good, and I have gotten into the habit of eating baked beans with things I never would have eaten baked beans with before.

I have had even had lasagna with baked beans and LIKED IT.

There are also breakfast buffets in the UK should you need endless amounts of hashbrowns.

Anyway, join me on this journey through British grocery stores so we can experience the highs and lows of American supermarkets vs UK supermarkets.

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A Guide to UK vs US Supermarkets

Image: Life in Hastings – October 21st 2009 (King of the Aisle). drew_anywhere. [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

As I take you on this journey of grocery shopping in the UK, let’s start in the produce section, where I see the word “salad” and instantly feel at home.

What could be so different about a bunch of vegetables?

In fact, there aren’t too many differences here, though it’s helpful to remember that zucchinis are “courgettes,” eggplant is “aubergine,” and rutabaga is “swede” (though who even knows what a rutabaga is to begin with?).

Image: Courgette – 2013-177. Frederique Voisin-Demery. [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr
Image: Swede (The Vegetable). pin add. [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr
Image: Aubergine. Frederique Voisin-Demery. [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

Swede is actually a really popular vegetable to have with a Sunday roast dinner, so my completely unfounded guess is that swede/rutabaga is much more highly consumed in the UK than it is in the US.

The next stop is the refrigerated section, which is relatively standard, but holds some secrets of its own.


(I literally just posted a picture of cheese. Am I doing this blogging thing right?)

Cheese is called grated cheese, not shredded cheese, but it means the same thing.

Also, British Cheddar cheese is white, not orange, and while there are a few places that stock what we think of as “American cheese,” they are few and far between because most British people like to make fun of Americans for eating what they assume to be fake, floppy cheese.

I can’t really argue, but there you go.

One of the similarities between American and British grocery stores is that orange juice is readily available in British grocery stores, which is heaven to my ears for a Florida girl.

However, “pulp” is referred to as “juicy bits,” and honestly the jokes just write themselves.


Navigating your way through grocery stores in England starts to get even more exciting when you start to look for the eggs in the fridge.

Oh, no. The eggs are not in the fridge.

They are stored casually, on the dry shelves, next to the bread like it’s NO BIG DEAL.

British pringles
One of the major differences between American and British Grocery Stores as evidenced by its Pringles.

This is jarring for an American who is used to the “eggs must be refrigerated” mantra, but it really isn’t a big deal since the eggs are processed differently than in America.

My British husband does prefer to store our eggs in the fridge at home, but I think that’s just for storage purposes and has nothing to do with food safety.

If you’re incredibly interested in the egg in fridge/eggs on shelves debate, here’s an article.

If you’re not, let’s carry on (isn’t this the most fun you’ve had all day? I BET!)

The snack aisle is one of my best friends, which is very apparent to anyone who sees me in a bathing suit. I can’t help it, I’m an emotional eater!

You should see my luggage when I’m coming back to the UK from the US.

It’s basically filled to the brim with all things oatmeal creme pie and Goldfish.


Thankfully, the UK has Oreos, but they’re sold in single sleeves instead of the 3 sleeved approach in America.


Sometimes I think they sell them in single sleeves here because British people control themselves and don’t want 46 Oreos at once, but that’s just not something I can commit to so I am pro-3 sleeved American Oreos all the way.

You can find both Original, Double Stuffed, and the Golden (vanilla cookie) ones, but British grocery stores don’t stock the crazier American flavors like Red Velvet Cake and Birthday Cake because they obviously don’t like fun.

You also might stumble across one of the favorite British chocolates, Freddos (Chocolate in the shape of a frog. IS THAT WHERE JK ROWLING GOT HER CHOCOLATE FROG IDEA FROM? This is blowing my mind).

Freddos are made by Cadbury, which you may think you have in America, but you actually don’t because Cadbury in America uses different recipes than Cadbury in England.

Cadbury in England is a national treasure, and while people do like to get angry about the decreasing chocolate sizes while still paying the same price, there is an entire theme park called Cadbury World so the brand is doing just fine.


Okay, still with me here?

Brits like to make fun of Hershey’s for tasting like, IN THEIR WORDS, ‘vomit.’ I would not agree to this necessarily, but Cadbury is definitely amazing and melts in your mouth.

However, you always must have Hershey’s for s’mores, I will not budge on that one.

Once you head into the snack aisle, the comparison of British and American grocery stores starts to get weird.

Like, really weird. I don’t even know how to bring up the next picture because it makes my stomach so uncomfortable.


Okay, yes, America has pizza Pringles and so I can hardly judge the UK for following their paprika-loving hearts, but roast chicken?

How does that even work?

If the chicken isn’t enough to tide you over, you can always follow it up with some flame grilled steak.


Or some bacon.

Now that we’ve eaten an entire week’s worth of meat in the snack aisle, we’ll continue our journey of UK food versus US food and take this competition to the breakfast aisle.

The cereals are pretty standard, though noticeably lacking in sugar. You won’t find Froot Loops, Captain Crunch, Cookies n Creme or any of the cereal I grew up stuffing my face with.

No, British grocery stores are the land of the sensible, the bran flakes, the plain cheerios, the breakfast options that are good for your cholesterol but not so much for your happiness.


What the UK lacks in sugary cereals, however, it certainly makes up for in beans. Need some beans with your toast?

Don’t worry, the UK takes its baked beans very seriously. Don’t be expecting BBQ flavored baked beans though.

Beans here come without the BBQ flavor, and are more…bean flavored.

We’ll go with that. And that makes sense because as mentioned above, beans go on everything here and no one wants a smoky BBQ flavor with every meal.

Here’s my guide on how to make beans on toast if you’re interested in following along as I almost burn my apartment down.


One of the saddest examples of the differences between British and American grocery stores is the Poptart section, which isn’t so much a “section” as a small sampling of the wonders that Poptarts can bring you.


Only strawberry and chocolate?

WHERE IS MY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE DOUGH flavor? Brown sugar cinnamon? S’MORES?!?

Lately, I’ve started to find a few different flavors of Poptarts in the International Section of a few mega grocery stores and the American food stores in London, but these are imported and thus cost like 5 pounds a box which is far too much to pay for my fix of breakfast sugar rush.

Oh, also I’m pretty sure even the strawberry and chocolate flavors that you can find in most grocery stores here are only for the expats as well, as most British people I’ve spoken with still react in shock when I tell them we eat them for breakfast.

After we finish wiping our tears and texting all of our friends to send us cookie dough Poptarts ASAP, we’ll hit the frozen section.  

Of course they’ve got the staple frozen items—ice cream, pizza, vegetables.

In British grocery stores, you can buy things like frozen yorkshire puddings, which is something we don’t see in the US.

A Yorkshire pudding isn’t actually pudding (go figure), but instead a doughy pile of goodness that is served with gravy and a “roast dinner.”

You can make them yourself, or you can buy them pre-made (shout out to all the lazy cooks out there like me), but either way, this is one joy of discovering the grocery stores in England that you won’t want to miss.

And now that we’re coming to the end of our culinary tour, I’d like to make up for the British food jokes I’ve made along the way and present to you one of the greatest achievements to have ever come out of the British empire: the potato waffle.


Is it a potato? Is it a waffle?

I was obsessed with these when I first moved to the UK, and my roommates and I spent hours discussing what we thought it would taste like.

We should have known from the box that specifically states it’s “made from real mashed potato,” but we had only ever experienced waffles made from dough and served with generous helpings of syrup and possibly some whipped cream.

We had a whole event dedicating to trying them and I believe we even had some friends over for the reveal.

Turns out, it’s literally a potato product shaped like a waffle.

Like a french fry, but in a waffle shape. Two of my favorite things in one.

Nice, move, England. Almost enough to make me forget about your roast chicken Pringles. Almost.

Can You Buy Potato Waffles in the USA?

Sadly, you can’t buy potato waffles in the US or find them anywhere that I know of in the US, which is a real shame for Brits who miss potato waffles while they’re traveling overseas or Americans who have gotten used to them and now want them day and night. 

The Final Difference Between American and British Grocery Stores

Oh, and one final thing to mention that marks a major difference between American and British grocery stores: in British grocery stores, you often have to bag your own items.

This is one of the things that took getting used to when I first moved here, not because I wasn’t willing to do it myself, but because I sat there awkwardly staring at the cashier as she threw food down at the end while I should have been bagging it, which left me with a giant pile of food to bag after I had paid.

Woman holding shopping basket with food in it

Oops. You’re supposed to greet the cashier, then take your spot at the end of the belt and start piling your own items into bags.

This can sometimes be super stressful because the expert cashiers are just flinging food down at you and you’re all, “Hold on two seconds while I catch my breath, the bacon got caught on the bananas!” and they’re like “No time! This is Britain, do as we do!” and the rest of the people in line are looking at you all huffy.

Also, one of the final differences between UK grocery stores and US grocery stores is that plastic bags in England cost 5 pence each, which is a minimal amount but everyone now tries to bring their own lifetime bags to avoid the 5p charge.

This in turn saves the environment and is part of why the charge was introduced in the first place, so hooray!

Have you been to grocery stores in England as an American?

What did you think?

Did you get lost in a sea of strange flavors or did you sail those culinary ships with ease? Let me know down below!

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35 thoughts on “9 Shocking Differences Between American and British Grocery Stores”

    1. If you come back to the US for a visit, try the waffle fries at Chickfla. These are made from fresh potatoes cut into waffle shapes, then fried and serve piping hot. They are crispy on the outside and soft (like a mashed potato) on the inside. Just may be an American answer to Brits who come here looking for frozen mashed potato waffles!

  1. Thanks for the tour down memory lane! I remember shopping in England as a child! We even had a van that came to the village we lived in and brought the market to us!

  2. This is hilarious and SO relatable. I literally went “I didn’t know that one, but who knows what a rutabaga is anyway” and then read your next sentence which said almost exactly that.

    The eggs things is also so weird. My boyfriend just walked in as I was reading your article and I told him “this is why I took so long in the co-op the other day, I couldn’t find eggs.” And he said, “I wondered what you were doing in there all that time.”

    I also cannot believe they have chip flavours like Prawn Cocktail, Roast Chicken, Marmite Yeast, Steak (which all taste exactly the same) and they don’t have the bloody best flavours like Dill Pickle and Ketchup!

    Reading this article was like reading my own thoughts only funnier. Have you ever thought about writing a book? You should!

    1. That’s so funny that you had the same problem with eggs. And then British people look at you funny when you ask because it’s just normal to them! I’ve been with my boyfriend for two years and sometimes we still have cultural misunderstandings like this and I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m an idiot half of the time.

      Ketchup chips and dill pickle chips?! Even those sound weird to me, must be a Canadian thing! I do love ketchup though…

      I would love to write a book, actually. One day! So glad you can relate and I’m not the only one who thinks these things! 🙂

  3. This British-American Life

    Freddos were popular in the 60’s or 70’s, I think, and Cadbury brought them back for the nostalgia crowd. Cheese and onion crisps! Those are the best! Although the Walkers Roast Chicken is worth trying too. Open your mind.

    I lived in England from 1992 to 1996. The mega-supermarket was still a fairly new thing, so I could not understand why people were dawdling so much in the aisles and so overwhelmed by the choices, when I was just the American tornado of activity of “get in, get my stuff, get out”. It wasn’t until my English/naturalized American husband and I were watching Back in Time for Dinner that I finally understood why people were just standing and staring at the shelves a lot.

    In other words, yes, get used to being puzzled the rest of your life.

    1. I have to admit that as much I as like to tease my British friends about their crisps flavors, I do enjoy most of them! Cheese and onion are amazing.

      Really interesting to hear about your experience with mega-supermarkets in England. I didn’t realize they only started to become popular in the 90s.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Love this. So funny! I love posts like these because it makes me feel like I myself had just gone on a little journey through a foreign supermarket in a far-away land!

  5. From what I understand, it’s not that eggs are “processed differently” they come out of a chicken’s butt everywhere in the world; but the hens are vaccinated with the salmonella vaccine, while in the States they are not. So technically in the States you can leave your eggs to room temperature too, but it’s a bigger risk since the hens aren’t vaccinated.

    1. Charlie Taylor

      The other difference is that eggs get washed in the US which destroys the coating on the outside that stops bacteria getting into the egg.

    2. I had a friend that worked at a chicken farm in Florida here in the US, he would bring eggs home straight from the farm, he told me the difference is, ONCE they have been put into the fridge, they have to stay there, but if you leave them room temp, they can stay that way till you eat them. I got eggs from him for years and didn’t ever put them in the fridge, they seem to last longer and keep the freshness at foom temp in my opinion.

  6. I enjoyed this post! I embraced the change for a but because I love the abundance of veggies and fruit but now that I am pregnant I sorely miss all the American snack and fast food classics. Missing Chick fil A, Chipotle and Mexican food. The Latin America section is pitiful here and turns my Mexican blood cold. So there is a love/hate relationship with the food here. I hardly go to any restaurants which helps my waistline. But I live in Bath so London has probably a way better restaurant selection!

  7. I have been here 14 years. You don’t know how much easier it is to find American food now. Things that werent here back then: Oreos, Reeses, Mt. Dew, Peanut Butter (that was edible), Hersheys, Papa Johns. Sadly, hot pockets came and went. There are several Chipotles. One near Liverpool Street.

    1. Super interesting, Greg!! Sad to here hot pockets came and went! I’ve been to one of the Chipotles, I think the Soho one, and thought it wasn’t quite the same as back home for some reason, but I couldn’t put my finger on it…

  8. I really want to try American waffles! Lol! As a Brit who loves all things american, I have noticed more American food in the shops in my area, lots of Hersheys varieties and I have seen fruit loops in Morrison’s but it was about £4 – £5 for an average size box so I havent been able to give them a try! We miss out on a lot of American food because of the sugar content, for example the starbucks unicorn frapichino wasn’t available in the UK because of the sugar, I don’t understand why they couldn’t of made a similar one with less sugar! So unfair!

    1. That’s interesting on the Starbucks front, Alisha. I didn’t know that.

      My husband will say you’re not missing out on Hersheys. A vast generalization, but British people tend to seem not to like the flavor of it and generally prefer English Cadbury’s (not American Cadbury’s, as that, I believe, is a different recipe!).

  9. Iim from UK but have lived in America (still do) for 30yrs. I was recently back in England a few things I can’t stand: bagging my own groceries and supermarkets (Morrisons) comes to mind where they sell things pre-packed in 3’s or 4s or mushrooms and there’s no place to pick your own! BTW, you may not have noticed this but if you buy Gatorade or Oreos for example (the UK versions) and then go over to the US section in a large Tesco they taste very different! I think the only place you may find the UK version of Gatorade though is at a Subway sandwich or Etihad stadium in Manchester. Oh and I hate coins in UK, need less of them. Finding a good, thick marbled steak is a nightmare, usually have to go somewhere specialised and costs an arm and a leg and a hip..

    1. Hi Martyn,

      It’s funny how different countries do different things! My husband always says English and American versions of foods taste different, such as Heinz Ketchup, basic loaves of bread and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.

      I do rather think a mass Oreo tasting session is in order! Just for science….

  10. There are no standard American flavors of Doritos either. can not get Nacho flavor or Cool Ranch or even sour cream and onion flavors. and Walkers which is same ogo and same company as lays in America can not get american flavors but do have strange flavors like Prawn or Worcestershire Sauce flavored and again no sour cream and onion and the onion ones walkers has tastes a bit off. Even had BBQ Racoon walkers which really don’t even have words. And can not find any where to get tater tots in the UK. Cheers

    1. It was BBQ Squirrel and it wasn’t squirrel, it explained that on the pack lol, nacho doritos exist as nacho cheese flavour, cool ranch is cool original,

  11. I found your post after trying to search for potato waffles in the US! I am moving to Ireland (ROI) and while on my many house hunting journeys found potato waffles in the grocery store and had to try them. One bite and I was hooked LOL So while stuck back in the US for short time to start packing for the move I dream of those dang waffles 🙂 Thank you for the post!

    1. Forgot to mention – the salad dressing section! It is so tough to find salad dressings like in the US and I think I’ll have to start making my own ranch dressing. Oh the horrors LOL

  12. Myfiance is American and I went to visit him and he bought mini pizza rolls. I think they were called something like Toastitos or something like that. OMG, delicious!! They gotta bring them babys over here and dipped in ranch sauce….. heeeeaven!

  13. You actually CAN buy potato waffles in the US. Head over to a Lidl’s and search for a box of 12 Belgian potato waffles in the freezer section.
    Believe it or not, I just had some today for lunch with Chick-fil-A sandwiches! Not as good as their waffle fries, I might say, but the experiment was considered a success.
    Good luck, and enjoy!

  14. Well I just came across your blog by accident but it made me chuckle. As a brit who lived in the USA for six years I have had the exact same thoughts in reverse.

    Wierd things for me included the lack of products without copious amounts of sugar. I never found US cereals appealing and always longed for “proper” back bacon. And Milk confused me – I quickly realised that “Half and Half” is not “Semi Skimmed”. And bleach goes in toilets not washing machines…

    We found a supermarket chain called Kings that carried a lot of Marks and Spencer food products. I think M&S owned Kings for a while.

    But the differences go way beyond food… two countries separated by a common language indeed.

    I was in America several weeks before I realised a pint was smaller. Thought I was downing more beer haha

    Did you get the thing where people walk on the otrher side going into the tube / subway

  15. Our UK friends ask for Lawry’s Lemon Pepper, Kool Aid, Root Beer Candy and Oyster Crackers and Wheat Thins.

  16. Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes are called Frosties in the UK. Same Tony the Tiger on the box.
    American bread has lots more sugar in it than standard UK bread. For a sweet taste buy Brioche buns.
    Potato waffles? Cover in baked beans of course.

  17. What a fun article! One of the things you missed is that most English/British people don’t eat English food as much as they eat foreign food. We might not have the best home cuisine, but you can get most dishes from around the world here, especially in the cities.

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