Sunday, March 9, 2014

Grocery Shopping in Stockholm, Sweden

Before we moved to Stockholm I tried to find out what grocery shopping would look like in Stockholm.  That might seem strange but as I've said before I don't like change so the closer it is to what I'm used to the better I would feel about moving.  I found a blog that did a post about grocery shopping and it was very helpful to read that grocery stores in Stockholm weren't that different from the United States.
When I walked into this grocery store I did notice it was a little bit different than ones back home :).  The sign says: Hi! My name is Rudolf and I come from the North Pole!  I will park here in a few weeks and sell good bread from Polfärskt at a really good price!  Until we meet again!
We used to go grocery shopping once every two weeks when we lived in Olathe.  Since we only went to the store twice a month it helped cut down on buying things we didn't need; we saw less stuff and therefore bought less stuff.  I would usually make a quick run to the store for milk and fresh produce on the off weeks of going to Walmart but it was never more than just a couple of things.  I quickly realized that my once every two week grocery shopping trips wouldn't be possible in Stockholm.  For one the food here expires much faster than it does back home and for two, the main reason, we have to carry it all home!  They also don't sell food in as big of packages here since you do have to carry it home. They know you will come back more often rather than load yourself down too much before you make it back to your apartment.  A couple of examples, milk is sold in liters instead of gallons and toilet paper is sold in packages of 6 instead of buying 24 at a time.
Mjölk (milk), yoghurt (yogurt), fil (soured milk), grädde (cream), keso (cottage cheese)
The two main grocery stores are ICA and Coop.  They have different sizes of ICAs (pronounced eek-uh) and Coops (pronounced like a chicken coop not co-op) throughout the city.  There is a really large ICA Maxi by us that is similar to a Super Target where they have food as well as household items, clothing, etc.  I've mentioned before when I was on the hunt for a cookie sheet that most grocery stores just carry groceries.  They don't have many cooking utensils in the grocery store so the ICA Maxi is very unique and you can tell from the name that it is a big store.  We go there every other week to shop or if we get a package in the mail.  Our regular mail gets delivered through a slot on our apartment door but packages go to the closest post office agent. We either get a text or a slip of paper in the mail telling us our package is ready for pick up.  The text or letter gives you a number and then you have to give that number to the post office along with an ID to pick up the package.  Before we had our Swedish IDs we had to take our passports to pick up a package.  And of course to pick up a package you have to take a number when you get to the post office and wait until your number is called.
Öst anyone?  Swedes love their cheese!  I'm scared to try most of it.  One of our first shopping mistakes was during our first week in Stockholm we bought some Havarti cheese and it smelled so bad Jake took it to the dumpster outside of our hotel because just throwing it away in our apartment wouldn't have made the smell go away.  My favorite cheese now is Gouda and Jake likes Västerbotten.
There is a small Coop Nära (Nära means close in Swedish) by our apartment that we go to on our way home if we need just a few things.  It has a pretty good selection but the line is typically long when you check out and the store is so small it can feel really crowded so I don't typically do my weekly grocery shopping there.

I try to do my big grocery shopping trip on Sunday so Jake can help me carry it all home.  We either go to ICA Maxi or if we are out on Sunday we stop by one of the bigger grocery stores that they typically have at the metro stops.

One of the nice things about living in a big city and using the public transportation is that they put things you need where most people visit aka metro stops, which makes sense.  I haven't been to every metro stop but I'm going to guess that there is a grocery store at all of them.  The bigger the stop, the more grocery stores and the bigger the grocery stores are at that stop.  I usually buy my groceries on the way home after working out because that metro stop is big so it has a couple of stores to choose from.  Of course I have found my favorite store so I usually always go to that one but sometimes some stores carry different things so I have to go to a couple on my way home.

When you walk in the grocery store one of the things you will notice first is your choice of carts and baskets.  Most of the grocery stores just have small baskets that you carry or medium sized ones that roll.  Only the big grocery stores have actual rolling carts like what most people typically use in the states.  It took me a minute to realize why most stores don't have bigger carts.  Any guesses?  You have to carry home what you buy so typically if you can't carry it around in a basket on your arm you aren't going to make it home.  I usually use one of the medium sized baskets with wheels to give my arms a break while I'm shopping since and I also like to put my backpack in it to give my back a rest as well.
Some of the bigger grocery stores have moving platforms to connect the floors because they have two levels and you can't take the stairs with a rolling basket or cart.

Once you are inside the grocery store it doesn't look much different than what you are used to in the States.  It is clean, well organized and the food comes in boxes or packages and it isn't lying on the floor like what we saw in Beijing.  Of course there are different brands and the words on the boxes are in Swedish so it takes you a little while to figure out what you need but it isn't impossible.  At the beginning I thought grocery shopping would be a piece of cake because you can either see the product itself or a picture of the product so even if you don't know Swedish it shouldn't be a problem.  That is kind of true.  Most of the time we can figure out what we are buying by looking at the picture but we have purchased a couple of things only to realize later that it wasn't what we thought it was.  One time when we went to buy milk they were out of the kind we usually get so we bought what we thought was another kind but it turns out it was sour milk.  And then there was our first day in Stockholm when I almost started crying because we couldn't figure out what was butter versus margarine.  Butter is smör in Swedish and there are still lots of choices after you figure that part out.
Our favorite butter to use on toast is butter with sea salt, smör med havssalt.  It is so good!
They do have less prepackaged food here.  You won't find tons of boxes of premade meals you just pop in the oven or make in a pan.  They still have crackers, chips and cookies but not as many as we do in the US.  They have canned fish but I have yet to find canned chicken.  I used to use shredded chicken a lot in recipes because it was easier than cooking the chicken first and then adding it to something that would bake in the oven.  I asked for a crockpot for Christmas so I could easily shred my own chicken for recipes.  My parents ordered me one from Amazon UK because I can't find crockpots over here.  They must be next to the cookie sheets :).
They do have a few frozen pizzas and other meals.  And of course they have frozen Swedish meatballs :).

I am a Honey Nut Cheerios girl.  I have that every day for breakfast, unless it is the weekend and then I like Fruit Loops with marshmallows :).  Apparently I'm still 10.  I knew that I would need to find something similar over here and thankfully I did.  I found Honey Cheerios and I usually buy them at a store called ÖoB because they are pretty cheap there (about $3 a box, instead of $4.60 at a regular grocery store).  Jake usually eats musli which has a mixture of dried fruits, nuts and oats.  At one of the stores you can make your own muslimix.  Granola bars aren't very popular here and I've never seen Pop-tarts.  A typical Swedish breakfast includes musli mixed with yogurt, cheese, bread,sliced meat and of course strong coffee.

I usually go to ÖoB for some of my staples like cereal, flour, sugar, crackers, spices, pasta sauce and they also have cleaning supplies and paper goods for better prices than the regular grocery stores.  ÖoB doesn't have fresh produce or meat but they have canned and boxed goods.  They also have household supplies as well as shampoo, conditioner, body wash and other things you would normally find at a Walmart.

Here are a few personal care items you would find at a big grocery store.  There are a few brands from home like Kleenex and Dove.  The deodorant they have here is mostly the roll on kind.  I have only seen sticks of deodorant once or twice.
I thought it was funny how many insoles they had at the ICA Maxi.  I ended up buying a pair of wool ones to put in my Hunter rain boots to give me a little extra warmth.  They also have covers you can put over your shoes made out of rubber that have spikes in the soles to help you not slip during the winter and it keeps your shoes dry.  I'm guessing you could find things like this in the northern part of the US but I've never seen anything like this in Kansas.
You can also find LOTS of coffee choices and Mexican food.  For a city that doesn't have a good Mexican restaurant, at least not that we've found, they sure have a big selection at the store!
I haven't tried anything that comes in one of these tubes but they are filled with cheese and then usually something else like salmon, shrimp, bacon, caviar, etc.
The meat section looks like what you would expect except for the prices.  Meat is expensive here!  A pound of hamburger meat is between $7.50 and $10.  There is a store here called Lidl which is similar to Aldi and they have better prices for their meat.  Whenever we need meat I always go to Lidl.  Their beef and chicken are both really good and the chicken is even the same brand you would get at a regular grocery store.  We have also noticed that the raw meat smells better here than in the US.

The produce section is very similar to what I'm used to.  It was hard at the beginning because I would see something like bananas that were 29 kr/kg and I would have to convert two things before I could compare prices.  I would have to figure out how much 29 kr is in dollars, $4.54, and then convert kilograms to pounds.  So bananas would be about $2.00 a pound.  Eventually I stopped converting things and decided if it was on the list and in the budget than I would buy it.  

We used to do a monthly budget when we lived in Olathe and then we would get lazy and slack for a couple of months but once we moved we knew we would need to start one again for a couple of reasons.  The main reason was that we went from two incomes to one and we wanted to travel.  We wanted to make sure we didn't waste money on little things that we didn't need so we could use that money to travel while we had the opportunity.  We made our budget in dollars and then converted it to kronor so that I would know about how many crowns I could spend each week on groceries.
I think it is funny that herbs come in pots instead of bundled up portions like back home.  So far I've bought koriander, cilantro, twice. The first time we cut off only what we needed thinking the rest would stay fresh and it died within a few days. The second time I cut off all the cilantro and froze what I didn't use and nothing regrew so apparently I need some tips on what to do with herbs that come in pots.

I liked this sign in the produce section that told you which month was the best time to purchase the produce.  The bins around this sign held the produce that was best during that month.
If you want to use a self checkout machine then you will need to print off a price label for your produce.  There aren't many stores with self checkouts that I've seen but there is one store I go to regularly that has one and sometimes when I'm just buying one or two things it is faster to do the self checkout.  It took me a while to get up enough courage to use this machine because I was worried I'd start using it and someone would come up behind me and I wouldn't be able to figure it out and then they would be watching.  But I have successfully done it several times now so I should be good to go.  My advice . . . look at how the fruit or vegetable is spelled in Swedish so that when you look it up on the machine you at least know what to search for :).  After it finishes weighing the produce it prints off a label to put on the bag so you can scan it at the register.  You don't need a label if you are going through a regular checkout.

They do have international food aisles at most of the grocery stores.  The bigger the store of course the bigger the selection.  I will never forget when we were looking at the international foods and Jake couldn't figure out why things like peanut butter and boxes of macaroni would be next to things you would use to make Chinese food.  We aren't in Kansas anymore!  
Apparently Americans eat ice cream toppings, marshmallows, jello, pancakes, icing and candy.  No wonder we are all fat!  I typically don't buy too many things from this section but I have purchased a couple of pancake mixes and brownie mixes.  Over Christmas I brought back some brownie mixes because they are $7.50 here and less than $2.00 at home so I haven't bought any of those for a while.
Cool American chips anyone?  The taste is close to Cool Ranch Doritos but not exactly the same.  They also have Pringles but those actually do taste the same.

The baking aisle is similar to what you will find at home except they don't really have chocolate chips or other flavors of baking chips.  They have bars of chocolate you can chop into smaller pieces but it was a while before I actually found chocolate chips.  Maybe they keep the chocolate chips by the cookie sheets :).  The other interesting thing in the baking aisle was vanilla.  We use vanilla extract for chocolate chip cookies and ice cream back home all the time so we used to buy a big bottle of vanilla at Costco.  The bottles they have here would last for maybe two batches of cookies and one batch of ice cream.  They are so small and expensive, of course.  Thankfully one of Jake's friends that came over in November brought us a Costco bottle of vanilla so we don't have to worry about running out for a while :).
A small thing of vanilla, top right hand picture, is about $3.60 and it has about 3 tablespoons of liquid.  A 5 oz bag of chocolate chips is $2.66.  We have used the pizza dough mix and it is okay.  Next time we make homemade pizza we might try an actual recipe instead of a mix.  They don't have refrigerated dough (cinnamon rolls, pizza dough, pie crusts, etc) like you would find back home.

They have some cans of soup but not the selection you would find at a Walmart.  They have several soup and sauce mixes where you add milk or water to powder to make soup or a sauce.  I've tried a few of those and they work okay.  They also don't have cans of chicken broth or beef broth.  They have hard cubes you can dissolve in water instead.  
Almost every grocery store has a candy section.  Swedes love their candy.  They really like the licorice flavor especially when paired with salt.  Apparently Swedes get a bag of mixed candy once a week.  We've only gotten candy once and it was okay.  I'm not a huge candy person.  I prefer chocolate. They have some chocolate in the bins too but I like to find a good quality bar of chocolate and stick with that.

When we were in Stockholm last summer visiting I noticed they had handheld scanners in some of the grocery stores.  I was very intrigued.  I haven't ever tried one because I think you have to set up an account first which I am hoping to do before we move back home.  I've seen enough people use them that I think you grab one of these when you first walk into the store and then as you shop you scan the item before it goes into your basket or your reusable shopping bag.  Lots of people load their reusable bags as they shop because as soon as they are done they pay, return their handheld scanner and then leave. (Swedes are very trusting.  I'm assuming they check bags randomly so people aren't tempted to put things in they don't scan but I'm not sure how much they check.)   My goal before we leave is to see if I can get signed up and try one of these.  I always wanted to be a cashier, which is another reason why I like going through the self checkout, and now I could scan my own things as I shop and not have to bag my groceries while people are waiting for me to finish!  Sign me up!

One thing I did learn from reading the grocery shopping post before we moved was that you need to bring your own bags or else you will have to pay for bags.  The bags are $0.30 to $0.75 which isn't bad but it adds up if you buy bags every time you go to the store.  You also have to bag your own groceries.  That is stressful!  There is a divider on the belt so you basically have the time it takes for all of your things to make it to the end of the belt plus the person after you but then person after that should be in your spot so you can't just dilly dally.  When I go shopping with Jake I always start bagging while the cashier rings up our things and then Jake pays and helps me finish bagging.  I am also a lot more thoughtful about putting the groceries on the belt.  Since I am bagging I put the heavier and bulkier things on first so they can be evenly divided between the bags we brought and placed on the bottom of each bag.  Then the lightweight and smaller things go on last so they can be on the top of the bag.  When I shopped back home I would always put all the cold food together so they could keep each other cool but now I have to think about that plus weight distribution.  I can't have one bag full of cans and other full of lightweight things.  We usually take four bags with us to do our weekly grocery shopping and we don't usually have to buy any extra bags.  I do make sure I put things that could possibly leak in our slick reusable bags instead of the one made out of fabric.  That has saved us a few times already :).

Most people pay with a debit or credit card when they go to the store.  Debit cards and credit cards over here have a chip in them where you put the end of your card in the machine and leave it there while it reads the chip and then you enter a pin.  We saw that while we were here this summer so before we moved we tried to find a card with a chip and a pin but they don't have those in the states yet.  We could either get one with a chip and a signature or one that you have to swipe and then enter a pin.  We decided to get both. Typically we use the one where you swipe and enter a pin because that takes up a lot less time than signing and then we don't stand out as much which I always appreciate.

Hope you learned a few things about grocery shopping in Stockholm!

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