Sunday, 27 March 2011

Danish life: swapping Waitrose for Netto

Back in London, my local supermarket was Waitrose: the branch located on the Finchley Road in the former John Barnes department store. It was like a good friend: familiar, consistent and reliable in my hours of need (frantic food shopping with the children in tow). The layout was second nature - I knew where everything was located and could efficiently whizz through my supermarket shopping. Fruit and vegetables were near the entrance, then bread and the bakery with its lovely cupcakes and pastries, the meat counter, the fish counter and so on... It was reliable and for the most part the same groceries were in the same location week to week and month to month. The selection of groceries was also pretty consistent and I could plan my weekly menus pretty confident that the ingredients would be available.

Now I'm in Copenhagen my local supermarket is Netto. In my limited experience (it has only been a couple of months) there is little point in taking a shopping list to Netto as the selection of groceries on offer varies from day to day. One day a staple item will be available and the next day, its not. There's no sign saying, 'Temporarily unavailable'. Instead another grocery will have taken up residence where whatever it was I was looking for used to be. Its very disconcerting and this randomness extends beyond food to other items that pop up in unexpected places - this week I spotted Converse trainers for sale alongside the chocolate bars!

To the uninitiated it feels very much as if Netto sells whatever is unloaded from the big container ships in the nearby docks. When something is in stock, it fills the shelves. One week there are boxes and boxes of Kleenex tissues stacked up high, the next week there are no Kleenex tissues, just mountains of precariously balanced jars of coffee. Hence food shopping at Netto is a lot like foraging and menu planning goes out the window.

Its not just the ever-changing selection of groceries. The other supermarket culture shock I am still coming to terms with is the speed of the checkouts. Isn't it customary to exchange pleasantries with the person working on the checkout? And don't they usually wait for you to pack your groceries before asking you to pay? There's nothing inconvenient to either party in this ritual as the groceries are scanned at a reasonable pace and there's ample time for them to be packed into bags.

Not so here in Copenhagen. The routine here is quite different; for a start eye contact is rarely made before groceries are scanned and hurled down the conveyor belt so that if you're lucky you might just get to the other end and manage to open a bag, catch the groceries and bag them before the bill is rung up. Then the expectation is that if you have been slow and not completed your packing by the time the cashier has called out the total, you have to abandon your groceries and go and pay. There is little time to familiarise yourself with the coinage (this is probably supposed to be done on your time, not the cashier's) before your change is not handed to you but dropped into the coin tray. By the time you hear the coins dropping, the cashier is scanning the next customer's groceries and hurling them down the conveyor belt.

The number of times I have had to retrieve my groceries and half filled shopping bags from the end of the packing area whilst also trying to keep out of the way of the next customer... its embarrassing and I obviously need more practise. Maybe I should enlist the help of my husband and ask him to stand at one end of the kitchen and throw groceries at me so I can master the art of speed-bagging!

Fortunately, although it is my nearest, Netto is not my only option for supermarket shopping. Here in Østerbro I also have SuperBest, Føtex and Irma. SuperBest is probably the closest to my Waitrose experiences and the layout and selection of groceries is familiar. The only difference is the prices. I know everyone is always complaining about it but things here are more expensive. Just for fun I thought I would do a quick comparison of Waitrose, SuperBest and Netto prices on some of the groceries I regularly buy. I've tried to compare like for like and all prices were taken this week. I've used an exchange rate of 8.5 DKK for £1. I haven't included any fruit comparisons because here apples, oranges, bananas, plums etc are all sold per piece unlike back home where it is by weight.

1L 1.5% Milk
6.95 DKK
6.95 DKK
£0.86 (2 pints)
£0.76 (1 L equiv)
(half dozen)
Not available
22.95 DKK
Wholemeal sliced bread
17.95 DKK
18.25 DKK
150g fruit yoghurt
Not available
4.95 DKK
500 ml Fairy washing up liquid
Not available
(Alternative brand 8.50 DKK £1.00)
16.95 DKK
£1.00 (433 ml)
£1.15 (500 ml equiv)
250g Lurpak butter (unsalted)
Not available
18.50 DKK
6 x 330 ml Coca cola Zero
Not available
46.95 DKK
6 x 1L San Pelligrino sparkling water
Not available
79.95 DKK
2 kg potatoes
16 DKK
25 DKK
£1.29 (2 kg)
£1.61 (2.5 kg equiv)
60 Active Fit nappies
Not available
(Alternative brand
equiv 117 DKK £13.76)
99.95 DKK
Converse trainers
279 DKK
Not available
Not available

Perhaps it isn't surprising that some things cost more here but Lurpak butter?! That's Danish!!

Supermarket shopping here is not all bleak; the fresh fish counter is something else and we always stop by to say hello to the lobsters...


  1. Oh how I love this post! One of my big pet hates here is shopping as I think I have mentioned before!! I think my favourite shop has to be SuperBest as it's the closest to what we have at home, but I was once charged for 27 avacados when I actually only had 3(£50!!)...Make sure you check your receipts in all shops as this happens a lot!

    You are right, you can find some interesting things in Netto sometimes, such as real salt and vinegar crips and hob nobs!!! Emma

  2. Thanks for tip! Will definitely check my receipts x

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