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6 March, 2020

Party or Poverty – Can You Eat Well On a Tight Food Budget?

Food shops

Food is not very cheap in Sweden. Why? Well, this country is far up in the North where things don’t grow year-round. Which means that a lot of food is imported from far away. And that (big surprise) will affect the price – and sometimes the quality.

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Some of our newbie readers have sometimes not too complimentary things to say about Swedish supermarkets. “They are too expensive”, “the quality is poor and there is not enough variety.” However, many other newbies quite like what is on offer – although no one is too fond of the prices 🙂

So, it seems that there are as many opinions about food in Sweden as there are newbies.

Here we have put together a little guide to help you get started on your Swedish food journey.

Sweden’s supermarket chains

As in most other countries, Sweden has a number of different supermarket chains. They vary in price, quality and location so my best bet is to try out a few different options before settling for “your” grocery shop. The most common shops that you can find in various locations are:

  • Willys
  • Coop – there are types of Coops, like Coop Forum, Coop Nära etc
  • ICA – there are many types ICA’s, like ICA Nära, ICA Maxi etc
  • Lidl
  • Hemköp
  • Netto
  • City Gross

Tip: On the different websites, you can find where their shops are located. Mostly it is under the heading “hitta din/min butik“. Or just do a Google search for the name of the shop and the name of your town.

Online food shops

The online food business exploded a few years ago and there are now many options available for you – as long as you live in the bigger cities. Newbies who live in less urban areas may have slightly fewer online food options.

  • City Gross Matkasse* – now you English speakers, don’t let the name put you off. This supermarket offers a variety of matkasse (grocery bags) with recipes and the necessary items to cook that food. They offer regular, weight watchers, for kids, vegetarian, lactose, seasonal and a bunch more. You can of course also buy stuff independently and are not limited to the different matkasse. You can have home delivery or pick up your ready packed matkasse in the shop.
  • Linas Matkasse* – if I am not mistaken, Linas Matkasse was one of the first, if not the first, to offer a matkasse. Their concept was that it is not necessarily the buying of groceries that is annoying but the coming up with what to eat. And as the question “what shall we eat tonight” is said EVERY single evening in my house, I can only applaud their business idea:-) Linas Matkasse therefore offers 5 recipes for four people and all the groceries you need to cook the meal. They do home delivery.
  • Matsmart* – this is the place for those of you who are very price-conscious and/or want to contribute to less food waste. Matsmart sells food that “normal” shops can’t or won’t sell, such as items with old or incorrect packaging, short or passed sell-by dates, overproduction or seasonal items. They offer 20-90% discount and deliver all over Sweden.
  • Mat.se* – yet another online shop options, with a large number of items and delivery to your home. They are mobile-friendly so it is very easy to do your groceries on your way home unless you are like me and get super car sick if I do anything but look straight ahead on any type of transportation.
  • Most of the “physical” grocery shops like ICA, Willy’s, Coop etc. also offer an online version. Some with home delivery and others give the option of picking up the ready packed bags at your local shop. Check out their websites.

Tips to keep in mind when buying food

Don’t buy the wrong thing 🙂 As most product labels and special deals are in Swedish, it can be a good idea to use Google Translate or a friend to avoid some usual pitfalls. Mostly you will know what you are buying but some products can be a bit confusing. We asked our newbies what products they got most confused in the beginning and have set up a list to help you out during those first supermarket visits:

  • “I bought fil instead of yogurt and then threw it out because it was “sour”. I just couldn’t understand how it would go bad so quickly.
  • All the different types of flour. I just couldn’t keep them apart.
  • The weird smell of packed chicken, I though it was off so took it back to the shop:-) “
  • “Mörkt muscovadrörsocker instead of brunt farinsocker! PS. Does anyone have any tips on how to keep the farinsocker soft? I usually put in a dried orange slice at home but it doesn’t seem to do the trick here…”
  • “I bought filmjölk and put it in my coffee. Thought the milk had gone bad so went back to she shop. Bought filmjölk again, same thing. I now drink my coffee black:-)”
  • “I bought messmör thinking it was butter. But it wasn’t. 🤮”
  • “A guy in my student halls bought hair mousse thinking it was squirty cream. “
  • “For the longest time I thought that apelsinjos was apple juice or a bizarre mix of apple and orange juice. Why don’t these crazy Swedes have pure orange juice, I wondered each time I was at the grocery store.”
  • “I bought filmjölk—like four or five times. I started thinking this was a country to worry about food safety..”.

Bring your own shopping bags. Sweden is working towards more sustainable goals which means that you have to buy paper or plastic bags in most shops today.

Sign up for membership programs. Pretty much all shops offer memberships and membership deals. Sign up and wait for the deals to come.

Make comparisons – Every year, there are surveys mapping the most expensive and the cheapest grocery shops in Sweden. Here is a comparison between food chains all over Sweden (article in Swedish).

So, I hope you enjoyed this post and that you found some good tips for your future grocery shopping. If you want to read about traditional Swedish food, check out this blog post. Aaaand before you go, please let us know what were your early “grocery shopping mistakes” in the comments, it is always nice to know one is not alone in making these kinds of mistakes. 🙂

The Newbie Team
The Newbie Team posts news, tips and general goodness that can be useful for all Newbies. We always try to find Newbie related information that will help all Newbies on their new life in Sweden.
Please let us know if there is something you wish we'd write more about and we will try to add it to our repertoire.

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