3 February, 2017

Swedish supermarkets – what can they teach us?

If you want to know more about someone, go and look in their fridge. If you want to know more about a country, go and look in their supermarket. There you will not only find out about the most common shopping routines of the locals, but also other hints about their culture. Is it clean or dirty? Is it organized or a mess? Do you feel good in there or more like running away? I like Swedish supermarkets and, believe it or not, that did have some weight on my decision of moving here.

When I was small I had a childhood best friend who I only saw on the weekends because we didn’t live in the same neighborhood. She was the youngest of five and together with her brothers and sisters built a play supermarket. They saved empty boxes, jars, and packages, and the result was as realistic as it could get when you are a child. I loved it. I joined them in the play many times and I was only sorry that I couldn’t spend as many hours there as they were allowed to.

That experience ended up having a significant influence in my life since I love going to the supermarket still today. Every time I travel to a new country I have to go to a supermarket and look. For me, it is just as important as any other sight or museum. And maybe I have learned as much about other cultures this way.

For instance, in Brazil, I found loads of fresh tropical fruits but the meat was sometimes green. In Argentina, just south of Brazil, I found fantastic meat but the fruit section was not as interesting. In Italy the supermarkets are noisy while in Finland they are so quiet, one can hear a pin hitting the floor.

What can we learn about Sweden by visiting a Swedish supermarket?

The experience is influenced by other factors, such as location and size both of the city and of the supermarket, and it can also vary within different stores. However, if you take a local average supermarket you can find all the hints you were looking for.

Organized and clean

The supermarkets are well organized, with well-marked sections for the different types of products. So is Sweden. The supermarkets are in general very clean. So is Sweden.

Technology and smart ideas

Swedes love smart and simple ideas, especially the ones that make life easier and less complicated. There are quite a few examples in the supermarket. The coin-counting machine at the cashier, that protects employees from the dirtiness of money and saves them the trouble of counting a lot of coins. The split conveyor belt, that allows you to pack your things without trouble or rush, as the cashier can just send the next costumer’s products to the other side. The guess-the-vegetable scales, that although are not yet in all supermarkets can be found in more and more. The self-scanning and self-payment machines, that make our lives so much easier every day.

Easy and efficient payment

In most supermarkets, there are many payment options available. One can scan while shopping and just pay at the end. One can scan and pay alone at the end. One can simply go to the regular queue and have a cashier do the scanning. There’s also membership cards, from more simple to more advanced, that work as credit cards. All of these combined with some of the technology described above make it so that shopping for groceries is simple and easy.

I don’t think I have ever been in a queue here for more than 10 minutes and I finally understood why my Swedish boyfriend always gets so annoyed by the long wait in other countries.


The Swedish concern about the environment is well expressed in the supermarkets. For almost every kind of product, there is a more ecologic version of it, whether it is in the section of fresh produce, staples, toiletries, or others.

Not noisy, not quiet

There’s no constant advertisement on the loudspeakers, which make the supermarkets a quiet place. Although, they are not as quiet so it gets uncomfortable. I would say they usually have a good amount of noise. Just like any other public place in Sweden.

Big variety and international food

I have heard a few times from Swedes that two decades ago the variety of produce in the supermarkets was quite limited. Things have changed and the supermarkets here, especially the larger ones, have a huge variety of products. That also means that the international section is usually quite large. There is a big range of Mexican products (Swedes love their tacos and tortillas), a decent Asian section, good Mediterranean and middle-eastern ingredients, among others. This is probably a result of the multicultural population of Sweden but is also one of the reasons why foreigners enjoy it here.

The truth is once one moves abroad you will never stop missing some things, whether it is from home or from other visited countries. I miss food, ingredients, and dishes from each place I have lived in. In Sweden, I can start missing a certain dish, spend the day dreaming about it and then go to the supermarket and cook it in the evening. This was not possible until I moved here.

Do you have a similar relationship with Swedish supermarkets? Have you spotted any other cultural hints that I might have missed?

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Sara Costa
Hej! I’m a Portuguese Newbie in Sweden. I have also lived in Brazil, Poland and the Czech Republic. It’s been fun to be a foreigner in so many different countries and I enjoy learning about other cultures. I’m a fan of sports, some to watch and some to practise, my favourite being running. I also love food, reading and blogging. I hope you enjoy my posts!

5 Comments on “Swedish supermarkets – what can they teach us?

6 February, 2017 at 11:37

” The supermarkets are in general very clean. So is Sweden.”
Then you have not been down in Malmö! 🙂

Gina Svensson
10 July, 2017 at 12:54

I think you can also mention the dairy section in Sweden! It’s very complicated especially for the first time I tried to buy milk. I was very confused and I couldn’t tell the difference between, fil, grädde, gräddfil, yogurt, kvarg, regular mjölk or filmjölk! I finally learned just to buy packages labeled “mellanmjölk” and then learned the rest through various breakfast experimentation. It was fun but really shocking when I tried to use milk and got a gelatinous substance of filmjölk! XD Swedes sure do love their dairy products!

Dennis Jakobsson
27 October, 2017 at 12:18

Sweden’s shopping carts are way better! All four wheels can turn, not just the two in the front!

4 November, 2018 at 08:23

I am a Swede and visited the Netherlands and Denmark a few times.

First up Denmark: Limited viriety of products but atleast all the foods are in the same store. I can buy what I need as in Sweden. The huge diffrence between Swedish stores and Danish stores are the Danish stores are like the tiny neighbourhoodstore in Sweden.

Second up the Netherlands: Tiny stores and nothing to buy other than candy and microwave foods and premade sandwiches. Their lagest stores Albert Heijn is like shoping in the kiosk Pressbyron in Sweden. I missed proper places to buy any food to cook in the Netherlands.

Laurence Herpelinck
17 January, 2020 at 15:23

I really like the fact that there is politeness and mutual respect between the cashier and the customer, as well as between customers as some simple rules and quite normal polite behavior make things smoother: put your articles in line while orienting the bar code towards the scanner, when it is your turn look at the cashier smile and say hello and wait for her to do as well, put the separating stick after your articles for the next customer, put your basket back in the right spot, etc…

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