Everybody likes to eat well, and there has never been a better time in history for gourmets. Swiss grocery stores and delicatessens offer specialties, beverages and fresh produce from across the planet year-round. Regional and organic grocery shoppers too are spoilt for choice.
All that luxury comes at a price. If you don’t have a lot of disposable income you might find yourself either missing out on the joy of good food or burning a serious hole in your wallet at the checkout. If your grocery budget is tight, checkout these tips for grocery savings before opting for soup and bread or spending your weekends trekking to grocery stores in neighboring countries.
1. Shop by red dots
This is the easiest and most consistent way to save money on grocery shopping in Switzerland. All of the big retailers including Migros, Coop, Denner, Aldi Suisse and Lidl slash the prices of groceries that are nearing their expiration date. These discounts are clearly marked on the products themselves (typically with a red or orange sticker) and normally knock 25% or 50% off the retail price. This puts the cost of many quality groceries on par, or even well below, the prices charged in neighboring countries.
Shopping by red dots requires some flexibility because there is no way to know what items will be discounted ahead of your shopping trip, but this also lends to an interesting and varied culinary life. As a rule, evenings and weekends are the best time to pick up red-dot sales. Shopping non-perishable items like toys, electronics, appliances and kitchenware is best done after major holidays (after the Christmas season, for example).
2. Join loyalty programs
Several large Swiss grocery retailers operate customer loyalty programs, with the most prominent of these being the Cumulus program (Migros, Migrolino, Leshop.ch) and the Supercard program (Coop, Coop Pronto, Coop City). Although discounts on groceries are few and far between, opportunities to earn loyalty points abound. Points, in turn, can be redeemed for vouchers which you can use at eligible stores in place of money. The money you save with loyalty points and discounts doesn’t come near the amounts you save with red dot shopping, but over the course of a year the savings become noticeable. You can earn additional points by using a Cumulus credit card or Coop Supercard credit card to pay for your purchases.
3. Keep an eye out for coupons
Coupons are a hit and miss, because you may or may not find coupons that match the groceries on your list. But there are plenty of coupons around and the right ones can knock up to 50% off the going rate. Store magazines (like the Coop Zeitung) and local newspapers are a good place to look. If shopping for groceries online is an option, you can often find coupons for online grocery stores and delivery services on numerous coupon sites.
4. Shop at farm stalls
No matter where in Switzerland you live, there is a pretty good chance that there are farms close by. Many farms sell fresh produce directly to the public through farm stalls, and the price tags on fruits and vegetables at these stalls are often lower than those of equivalent produce in supermarkets. Many Swiss farm stalls remain open 24/7 (you simply deposit the money owed in a coffer) and some farmers take standing orders. You can find many Swiss farm stalls listed by location on schweizerbauer.ch. Some special interest groups operate farm stores in Swiss cities and online portals (like farmy.ch) let you buy local produce online, but the cost-saving factor diminishes at these establishments due to the higher operating costs which work their way into pricing.
5. Help cut food waste
While supermarkets use red dot sales to sell off stock, many smaller grocery stores like bakeries are still catching on to the idea. Several initiatives to reduce food waste by selling food that has passed its “best before” date operate stores in Switzerland, and those stores can present good value for money if you can find them.
The most prominent example of food sharing in Switzerland are the Caritas food stores which you can find in most Swiss cities. If you are a low-income student, are spending a large part of your income to repay debts, or receive government subsidies, you are eligible for membership. According to Caritas, prices are up to 70% lower than regular supermarket prices. Other specialized food waste stores (like the Äss-Bar stores which sell day-old baked goods) aim to cut waste more than to cut costs, but their prices are still well below the going rate.
6. Use expiry dates as guidelines
The “best before” dates on groceries are helpful in that they provide a point of reference for how fresh food items are. But many groceries lose none of their culinary goodness upon nearing the “best before” date. Expiry dates do, however, have a major impact on price tags. Swiss grocery retail standards are higher than those in many other countries, and time frames indicated by “best before” dates are often well ahead of schedule. Have the good sense to inspect items bearing a red dot sticker or those sold in a “food waste” store, but don’t shy away from taking advantage of these money-saving deals.
7. Buy bulk
The old market principle of buying bulk for cheaper deals applies in Swiss supermarkets and grocery stores as well. Everything from breakfast cereal to frozen pizzas is bundled in bulk or multiple packages. Although buying bulk deals rather than individual items requires you to fork out more capital up front, the cost saving over buying individual items can be significant (25% discounts are not unusual). Warehouse clubs like Prodega, TopCC and Aligro are popular among bulk shoppers, but they generally require you to own a business in order to get membership.
8. Consider eating less meat
Everybody has different tastes, but too heavy a hankering towards meat can become expensive. Meat (especially finer cuts) is a prized commodity in Switzerland, and you can do your body, the environment and your wallet a serious service by reducing your meat consumption and filling the gap with cheap and healthy substitutes like legumes instead. That is, unless you are lucky enough to find steaks and cordons bleus with half-price red dot stickers.
9. Think seasonally
In our consumer society one could be forgiven for thinking that food magically makes its way off an assembly line and onto supermarket shelves. But while the value of dry goods remains fairly constant, the cost of fresh produce is largely influenced by its availability. The cost of many fresh food items may double when those items are out of season. Adjusting your menu to accommodate fruits and vegetables that are in season can help you avoid having to purchase expensive, long-distance imports and ultimately save you money.