“Austrian supermarkets aren’t very exciting,” I heard a traveller remark the other day. I guess that depends on what you’re used to at home. Visiting the local supermarkets is one of my favourite things to do when travelling. In Austria, a crash course is needed to survive a trip to the supermarket. This beginner’s guide is written with 7 years experience to back it up.
Reasons to visit an Austrian supermarket
1). Buying groceries to cook your own food
If you are one of the increasing numbers of tourists who prefer to stay in a self-catering apartment and cook your own meals, you will want to be near a supermarket.
2). Austrian supermarkets sell cheap meals
Buying lunch or even breakfast from an Austrian supermarket is much cheaper than sitting down in a restaurant. Not all hotels include breakfast in the room price. Fresh bread with cheeses and spreads plus a coffee or cappuccino can be bought for under €5 in the bakery department of a supermarket.
3). Buying Austrian souvenirs for less
Some of the best Austrian souvenirs are sold in supermarkets. Have you noticed the Mozart Kugel in almost every souvenir shop? Chances are the supermarket around the corner has a bigger variety for half the price.
List of Austrian supermarkets
Maybe it’s true that Austrian supermarkets are not very exciting or interesting in terms of the range of products they sell. It comes down to what the locals eat – after all, they make up the majority of the supermarket customers. And Austrians are not known as adventurous eaters.
As a South African expat in Austria, I must literally visit each of the different supermarkets at least once a month to find products we love. Fortunately, short-term travellers don’t have to worry about variety that much. This overview will help you to know what to expect from the different supermarket chains in Austria.
The big international supermarket chain that was founded in the Netherlands in the 1930s is well represented in Austria. Spar Österreich is made up of 5 different kinds of Spar supermarkets in Austria, totalling around 1,600 stores.
Interspar – The biggest Spar, often with its own restaurant. Mostly found in shopping centres and retail areas.
Eurospar – The second biggest Spar supermarket in Austria, often scattered throughout cities.
Spar – Your ordinary neighbourhood Spar, which should more than suffice for travellers looking for basic products.
Spar Express – Small supermarkets attached to gas filling stations. They can be a lifesaver when other supermarkets are closed on Sundays.
Spar Gourmet – Specialist Spar supermarkets selling exclusive, quality products. They are often found in the historic centres of Austrian cities and therefore cater for takeaway meals like gourmet sandwiches for tourists.
Why I like Spar
The Interspar is probably the Austrian supermarket with the biggest product variety – from groceries and toiletries to clothes, toys, and electronics. It’s almost a one-stop-shop.
Spar’s store brands are good quality and include a Budget as well as a Premium series.
Merkur is comparable to Interspar, also mostly with its own restaurant attached. However, they are not that plentiful. In Innsbruck, for example, I know of only four Merkur supermarkets.
Merkur is one of the more innovative supermarket chains, catering quite well for non-conventional (for Austria) diets such as LCHF and veganism. I even saw a low-carb pizza base the other day. Merkur also cates for budget shoppers with their no-name brand called clever.
Why I like Merkur
They sell fresh oxtail! A big plus for a meat-loving South African. They also sell sweetened condensed milk and caramel condensed milk in cans – another big plus for someone from South-Africa where this is an ingredient in many dessert and tart recipes.
Tip: The Merkur in Neu-Rum is where you will find the best rotisserie chicken in Innsbruck. You can’t miss the independently run rotisserie stand at the edge of the parking area just outside the supermarket. A whole chicken costs only €7,98. For a great meal, simply add a big mixed salad.
MPreis is a Tyrolean supermarket chain which has expanded to South Tyrol, Carinthia, Salzburg, and Vorarlberg in the past 20 years or so. Although it’s not an option in Vienna, I mention it because it’s probably the most visible supermarket chain in Tyrol.
The MPreis fits into the “upmarket” supermarket category with Spar and Merkur and also has a Mini MPreis version. Their no-name brand is Jeden Tag (every day). A Baguette bakery is often attached to an MPreis supermarket.
Why I like MPreis
For one, our closest Mini MPreis is walking distance from home. Their buy-one-get-one-free specials are great. They also have the best unseasoned, vacuum-packed spare ribs in Tyrol. And I like their focus on regional products and support of local organic products.
Lidl is one of two big discount supermarket chains in Austria. Their weekly specials are focused on specific countries, and their in-house Deluxe brand is pretty good, especially for Easter and Christmas. For a discount supermarket, they stock quite a variety of popular brands too.
Why I like Lidl
It’s the only supermarket that stocks proper breakfast bacon on a permanent basis. They also regularly have cheddar cheese in stock (especially during English week). Their pre-packaged soft sandwich loaves compare the best with what we are used to in South-Africa.
Known as Aldi in the rest of Europe, Hofer falls in the same class as Lidl. There is a marked difference between the interior of Hofer and Lidl and that of Spar, Merkur, and MPreis. The most obvious is that there are no fancy shop fittings or other frills and trimmings, and very little popular brand names.
Why I like Hofer
It’s the only supermarket in Austria where I could find butter that tastes almost exactly like South African butter. (In South Africa, unsalted butter is the exception rather than the rule while it’s the other way around in Austria.)
For a discount supermarket, Hofer has a large variety of good quality organic products.
I never buy from a Billa supermarket simply because there isn’t one near us or on any of our regular routes. However, they are worth a mention because there are more than 1,000 Billa supermarkets in Austria. They are not discount supermarkets in the sense of Lidl and Hofer, and have the same no-name brand, called clever, as Merkur.
The average price of common items in Austrian supermarkets
|1l organic milk||€ 1,29||Bio Milch|
|1kg sugar||€ 0,99||Zucker|
|Fresh bread roll||€ 0,35||Semmel|
|250g butter||€ 2,35||Teebutter|
|Sandwich ham||€ 2,99||Toast Schinken|
|250g organic Gouda cheese||€ 2,79||Gouda Käse|
|500g organic minced meat||€ 6,00||Faschiertes|
|500g spaghetti||€ 1,70||Spaghetti|
|1l orange juice in carton||€ 1,50||Orangensaft|
|250 ml cream||€ 1,50||Schlagobers|
|200g cherry tomatoes||€ 1,99||Cherrytomaten|
|Organic cucumber||€ 1,20||Bio Gurken|
|1kg organic potatoes||€ 1,49||Kartoffeln|
|Bottled pasta sauce||€ 2,50||Pasta Sauce|
|6 free-range eggs||€ 2,80||Freilandeier|
|Small flavoured yoghurt||€ 0,50||Yoghurt|
|2l brand name soft drink||€ 2,15||Limonade|
|6 x 500 ml beer||€ 6,00||Beer|
|1,5l mineral water||€ 0,49||Mineralwasser|
Austrian supermarket meal suggestions
From the bakery – Semmel, Croissants, Frühstuckskipferl or Krapfen.
Bread spreads – Nutella, Liptauer cheese spread.
Cakes – Yes, many Austrian’s eat cake for breakfast! The popular ones are Gugelhupf and Marmorkuchen, sold pre-baked and packaged in the cake department inside the supermarket.
Fleischkäse Semmel with mustard – Fleischkäse resembles a thick slice of polony. You can have a Fleischkäse Semmel made up for you at many supermarkets or buy the ingredients to make your own.
Schnitzel Semmel – Schnitzel in bread rolls with a little bit of garnish are popular over-the-counter lunchtime snacks from supermarkets and/or bakeries.
Butterbreze – A butter pretzel with fresh chives. Simply slice a fresh pretzel in half, spread lavish amounts of butter on, sprinkle with chopped up chives, close, and eat.
Schnitzel and potatoe salad – An all-time Austrian favourite. You can buy frozen Schnitzel and ready-made potatoe salad at your nearest supermarket. Follow the instructions on the Schnitzel packaging (normally you can either fry the frozen schnitzel in oil or bake them for around 20 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 200°C).
Sauerkraut and sausages – Sauerkraut is sold in heat and eat vacuum sealed packets. They are a good accompaniment to sausages such as Nürnberger Würstel or Berner Würstel.
Knödel – A variety of bread dumplings, from cheese (Kaspressknödel) and bacon (Speckknödel), to spinach (Spinat) and liver (Leber). You will find them vacuum packed in refrigerators. Brown some butter to pour over and enjoy with Parmesan cheese and a mixed salad on the side. Or buy beef broth or stock and heat with the dumpling for a Knödelsuppe.
Snacks for your daypack
Supermarkets are great places to buy snacks to keep the hunger at bay during a busy day of travelling and sightseeing. Things to look out for in Austrian supermarkets include traditional smoked sausages (Boxerl, Kaminwürstchen, Knabernossi), Studentenfutter (nuts and raisins), little cheeses, smoked bacon bits (Speckwürfel) and pretzels (Breze).
Austrian supermarket drinks
Austrian supermarkets are licensed to sell all kinds of alcohol, from beer and wine to liqueurs and spirits. Most of them stock international beer brands such as Heineken and Corona, but when in Austria… try one of the excellent Austrian beers. Our favourite is Zillertal, while other well-known brands include Zipfer, Stiegl, Fohrenburger, and Ottakringer.
The well-known Austrian white wine that goes with pretty much anything is called Grüner Veltliner. They also make a good Welchsriesling. On the red side, you can look out for Blauburgunder and Zweigelt.
Aaah, and let’s not forget the bubbly. Sparkling wine from Austria and Germany is called Sekt, while that from Italy is called Prosecco.
On the soft drink side, Almdudler is an Austrian drink said to be made from Alpine herbs. It tastes refreshingly different.
What you won’t find in an Austrian supermarket
- Over-the-counter medication such as painkillers, antacids or ointments for common ailments. These are only available from pharmacies.
- Milk in containers bigger than 1 liter.
Souvenirs to buy in Austrian supermarkets
- Locally brewed Schnapps
- Manner Schnitten (wafer biscuits)
- Mozartkugel (chocolate balls with a marzipan filling)
- Styrian pumpkin seed oil
10 tips to make your Austrian supermarket visit stress-free
Now that you know what to buy and where to buy it, you need a survival guide for your Austrian supermarket trip.
Why a survival guide? It’s shopping, and shopping should be fun, right? Wrong. Anyway, if you’re a South African in Austria.
In South Africa, trolleys are free to take. Most importantly, they steer like racing cars compared to Austrian trolleys. Here, if you want it to go left, it goes right or continues straight. The fuller it gets, the harder it gets not to crash into the shelves. It’s impossible to stay behind it when going around a corner.
The part of the South African grocery shopping experience I like best, is the end. Once you’ve unloaded your goods onto the checkout counter, your “work” is done. A professional packer waits at the end of the counter to pack your stuff in bags and put it back in the trolley.
When you arrive at your car, a friendly guard races to help you unload your trolley before taking it off your hands. All this for a mere R2 or R5 (less than half a Euro).
Even if you come from a country where you aren’t as spoiled as a South African, you need some tips to help you find your way through the aisles and past the checkout counters of Austrian supermarkets.
Your 10 tips
1) Have a €1 or €2 coin ready to free a trolley. Some also take 50 cents, but not all.
2) Practice steering your trolley while it’s still empty. Getting through the doors and around the first corner is already a big accomplishment.
3) At the Spar and Merkur, you must weigh your own fruit and vegetables. There is a number on the product description for you to enter on the scale at Spar. At Merkur, it’s only the product description.
4) Don’t be offended when the cashier leans over the counter to check if your trolley is empty, or even if she asks to take a peak in your rucksack to make sure you didn’t accidentally leave or drop something in there with no intention of paying.
Yes, Thank You!
5) “Ja, danke.” Unless you forgot something, this should be your answer when the cashier asks “Alles?” after ringing your stuff up. She is asking whether that is everything you have.
6) In the discount supermarkets, Hofer and Lidl, there is no room on the counter for your groceries to pile up after they have been rung up. Pack quickly!
7) There is no time to pack everything in bags at the checkout counter (unless you can cope with the impatient looks of the customers behind you). Just drop them in your trolley and pack properly at the counters provided after checkout.
8) “Sehr geehrte Kunden, wir öffnen Kasse 2 für Sie.“ If you hear this announcement over the PA system when you are standing in a long checkout queue in Hofer or Lidl, make a dash for counter number 2 because it will be opening shortly.
9) “Ich zahle mit Karte,” is what you say if you want to pay with a credit or debit card. Sometimes they ask you to specify which. A debit card is called a Bankomatkarte and a credit card a Kreditkarte.
10) Almost all supermarkets are closed on Sundays and public holidays. If you really need to buy something on one of these days, the supermarkets at the train stations are always open (normal business hours, not 24/7). So are the ones attached to filling stations or for example the small Spars in historic centres.
PS: “Service with a smile” is no guarantee in Austrian supermarkets. It’s sad, but it’s true. I’ve learnt to be nice back to the friendly cashiers and ignore the sour ones. You should too. Don’t let a grumpy supermarket employee spoil your holiday.
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Have you had good or bad experiences in Austrian supermarkets? Or do you have more tips to add? Tell us about them in the comment box provided below.
Read more of my travel tips to make the best of your stay in Tyrol and save you money while you’re at it: