9 Shocking Differences Between American and British Grocery Stores

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Whether you’re coming to the UK as an expat 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!

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 Krogers 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.

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.

‘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.

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

 

A Guide to UK vs US Supermarkets

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?
IMG_0359In 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?).

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

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(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.

Another difference 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.

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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.

You might also enjoy  How to Overcome Culture Shock Like a Pro: Understanding the 5 Stages of Culture Shock

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.

Anyway.

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

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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 British favorite 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.

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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.
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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.

IMG_0375Or some bacon.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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, 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.

IMG_0392Is 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.

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: at 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.

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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Hong Kong-a teacher abroad

3 years ago

Very witty post!! Made me giggle!

kalynfranke

3 years ago

🙂 Glad you enjoyed! Thanks for reading!

RunTroyRun

3 years ago

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!

ldr13

3 years ago

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!

girlgonelondon

3 years ago

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! 🙂

This British-American Life

3 years ago

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.

girlgonelondon

3 years ago

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!

Charlie Taylor

3 years ago

Did you know in Australia you can get giant Freddo bars
http://www.sanza.co.uk/Cadbury_Freddo_Giant.asp

girlgonelondon

3 years ago

This is amazing, I had no idea. Can’t believe these haven’t made their way to the UK yet…

Charlie Taylor

3 years ago

In London you can get them at Cybercandy in Garrick Street, Covent Garden or in Camden

girlgonelondon

3 years ago

THANK YOU! You’ve just made my day.

Anastasia

3 years ago

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!

TheGirl

2 years ago

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.

Charlie Taylor

2 years ago

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.

Ari

5 months ago

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!

Greg P

4 months ago

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.

girlgonelondon

4 months ago

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…

Alisha Thomson

3 months ago

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!

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