Tips to Help You Navigate Paris Supermarkets



Back at home, grocery shopping is usually considered mundane….a weekly chore. But in Paris, ahhh….there's just something so exquisitely exotic about walking down the aisles of your local grocery store, seeing items that are vaguely familiar, but all the labels are in a foreign language!

Franprix Supermarket in Paris

Franprix Supermarket in Paris

G20 Supermarket in Paris

G20 Supermarket in Paris

Don't worry, even if you speak no French at all, it's fairly easy to manage. The following tips will help you navigate like a true Parisian.

First, the shopping cart. In some outlying areas, you'll find the shopping carts stacked up outside, but in Paris, they are usually just inside the doorway. You'll find them all chained together, and you need a 1 Euro coin to unlock your cart.


When you are finished shopping, return your cart and slide the key back in to the cart in front of you and the Euro coin pops back out again…just a rental.

True Parisians shop with their own rolling market basket, to transport all their daily purchases easily, without lugging everything around by hand. Remember, they have several stops to make, so carrying multiple bundles around can be unwieldy. Lucky for you, Paris Perfect stocks a rolling market basket in many of their apartments.

When you arrive at the grocery, it's usually customary to leave your market basket at the front of the store (look for the variety of wheeled baskets lined up in front) and use the store's shopping carts to travel up and down the aisles.Now, produce can be a bit tricky. Some grocery stores weigh your produce at the check out stand. But many require you to weigh them yourself in the produce department. Watch what the other shoppers are doing and take your cue from them. Scales in the produce department are easy to use. Just bag your item in plastic and place it on the scale. There are little pictures of each fruit/vegetable item on the scale, so you just locate the appropriate photo, push the button, and voila, the machine calculates the weight and spits out the label for you to affix to the plastic bag.

Don't be surprised to find larger grocery stores in Paris on 2 levels, with large elevators or escalators to accommodate the shopping carts.

Yogurt – the French love their yogurt, and there must be 100 different kinds

Hundreds of yoghurts to choose from

Hundreds of yoghurts to choose from

And of course, French cheese is legendary. Pick up a few basic cheeses if you like, but save your main cheese shopping for the neighborhood fromagerie.

Sliced luncheon meat is always available. You'll find dinde (turkey), poulet (chicken) and jambon (ham). And you'll see selections for meats smoked (fumer) or roasted (roti).

Salad dressing is interesting. In France, it's customary for the chef to prepare a special dressing or vinaigrette for each salad, to bring out the special flavors of the greens. So in a French supermarket, you do not have a large selection of pre-made dressings. Your choices are: yellow or white. That's about it!

On the other hand, sauces, condiments, mayonnaise, and mustards you will find in abundance. One of our favorite lines is Benedicta sauces, which come in about 8 delicious varieties (the Benedicta Sauce au Poivre is missing from this shelf below, as I bought every jar to take home with me to the States). You'll also see mayonnaise in a tube, like toothpaste. Olives, pickles and cornichons come in many varieties as well.

The salad dressing and sauce aisle

The salad dressing and sauce aisle

Bonne Maman shortbread cookies filled with raspberry or strawberry jam are scrumptious with a cup of hot tea when you need a sugar high to perk you up after a long day sightseeing.

Here's another difference in French supermarkets. Milk is rarely refrigerated. It is sterilized and perfectly safe, so don't be afraid (remember Louis Pasteur, as in pasteurized)! Milk comes in white plastic bottles or boxes – usually 1 liter, and shrink wrapped 6 bottles to a pack. But most groceries allow you to break the plastic and purchase just 1 or 2 bottles at a time.

If you're looking for organic options, look for “Biologique”.

Frozen foods – lots of interesting choices here.

Huge range of frozen foods

Huge range of frozen foods

Soda and soft drinks? Of course – Coca Light is Diet Coke.

You'll also find a very decent wine selection – you're in France, of course!

Supermarkets also sell wine

Supermarkets also sell wine

Lot of bottled water too – Volvic is a favorite, along with Evian and Perrier, if you want avec gaseus (carbonation)

When it's time for checkout, take your place in line, and when it's your turn, be sure to greet the clerk with a polite “Bonjour”. Cashiers don't smile…..don't take it personally. It's against the rules. It's just not done. Pay in Euros or with Mastercard, Visa, and some supermarkets accept American Express. Good to verify in advance.

Once you check out, you bag your own groceries in plastic, load them into your rolling market basket, and you're on your way.

Bring your shopping cart

Don't forget your shopping cart!

Yummy French specialty products you can't find abroad make great small souvenirs to bring home for gifts (remember the Benedicta sauces). And French chocolate maker 1848 is a great line. Our favorite is the milk chocolate with whole hazelnuts and praline. Unbelievably delicious!

French chocolate

French chocolate

The packaging has changed to a gold box (instead of black, as shown in the picture), but the chocolate is still the same….incredible! And only about 2.50 Euros each, they make a great, and very packable, souvenir for friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.

9 Responses to “Tips to Help You Navigate Paris Supermarkets”

  1. quedar embarazada says:

    Geniales todo lo que escriben. Los felicito mucho. Gracias.

  2. Mary Hathaway says:

    Great information! Thank you for the tips. We can’t wait to do some
    shopping once we check-in to our apartment outside Versailles.

  3. Margaret Dennis says:

    Remember that some supermarkets charge for platic bags. Good idea to bring your own or a couple of string bags. If you have a bag with sections for carrying bottles, that is a good idea too. If you don’t want TP that has pink dye, you might consider bringing from from the US.

  4. madelyn says:

    Hi Margaret, thanks for the great tips! I’m so used to being charged for plastic bags that it’s now second nature for me to carry one of those teeny tiny bags that fold up and fit in your handbag. We do try to leave shopping carts in each apartment but you can also purchase small reuseable bags at most supermarkets and stores in Paris.

  5. Kitty says:

    As an American ex-pat resident here in France, I thought I’d just add a few things to this already excellent article.
    Yes, there is UHT milk on the shelves, which keeps for weeks unrefrigerated, however, if you want milk for your tea or to drink, you will usually find lait frais (fresh milk) stocked next to either butter or crème fraîche (sour cream). Generally speaking, the top of the bottle signifies the fat content or type of milk: red top is lait entier (full cream,) blue top is lait demi-écrémé (semi-skimmed/low-fat) and green top is lait écrémé/maigre (skimmed/non-fat.) Lait Ribot is buttermilk. SOME stores also stock lait cru which is raw, unheated milk. Perfectly legal and safe to drink here since ALL growth (or other) hormone-use in animals is outlawed and the regulations are strict.

    That is one of the reasons a fermière chicken you buy here tastes like honest-to-goodness real chicken: they’ve been allowed to develop naturally with no growth hormones. I’d never tasted chicken like that until I arrived here in France, it’s delicious!

    Butter here is excellent, you will find a wide variety from doux (sweet, unsalted) to demi-sel (partially salted) right through to butter with cristal du sel – salt crystals. I know it’s like gilding the lily, but, fresh butter on a croissant, that you brought back that morning from the boulangerie or pâtisserie, still possibly warm, topped with a thin spread of confiture (jam) is a supreme delight. With a bowl of café au lait (yes, we drink our morning coffee in bowls sometimes) et voilà! Continental breakfast!
    One last note: you pack your own bags here when finished shopping. That can be rather a shock, if you’re American, used to someone asking ‘paper or plastic?’

  6. madelyn says:

    Hi Kitty, thank you so much for adding your wonderful tips for shopping the supermarkets in Paris! The chicken in France is certainly some of the best I’ve ever tasted and my husband is addicted to butter with salt crystals (yum!) I loved that you mentioned packing your own bags as it’s one of the things that I’ve always found very frustrating about shopping in Paris and other parts of Europe. It drives me crazy trying to shove all of my things into bags as the next customer’s items are speeding down the checkout. But, it is fun seeing if you can beat the customer service lady! 🙂

  7. Murray Rosenbluth says:

    Hi, Any possibility to get low/no salt products other than butter?

  8. Madelyn says:

    Hi Murray, some of the larger supermarkets may stock a range of low/no salt products but your best option would be to try a health food store such as ‘Naturalia’. They have several stores across Paris including our local store at 38 Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, 75007, just near the Ecole Militaire métro. They also have a comprehensive website that lists their product range but unfortunately it’s in French only.

  9. kenstee says:

    Best (and least expensive) supermarket in Paris has got to be Carrefour. Wonderful layouts and lots of variety. Great hours as well – even Sundays (at least for a few hours) and evenings. This is “the” place to stock up your apartment for an extended stay. The inexpensive wines to be found there – $4 or so – are fantastic!

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