France not only has an impressive number of food outlets to meet all needs, but the largest hypermarchés (super-sized supermarkets) in the world. Here’s what you need to know about supermarkets and food shopping in France.
French Supermarket Chains
The main supermarket chains in France are Leclerc, Auchan, Carrefour, Casino, Hyper U, and Intermarché, all of which have hypermarkets across France. In city center, you may also find smaller branches of Carrefour, Casino, and Leclerc.
Shopping at the Supermarket in France
French hypermarchés sell an enormous range of products. There’s an électroménager (home appliance) section where you can buy everything from kettles to washing machines; a jardinage (gardening) section, where you’ll find flowers, grass seeds, and bags of potting soil (in season); as well as tools, paint, kitchen accessories and even high-tech items. You will also find lingerie, make-up, toiletries, shoes, toys, children’s clothing, as well as men and women’s wear.
Food shopping at French Supermarkets
French supermarkets have several fresh food counters. Head for the bakery and you’ll find freshly baked bread in all shapes and sizes, as well as baguettes, croissants, cakes and a huge variety of pastries. At the dairy and cheese counter, you’ll find French cheeses alongside Italian, Greek, Dutch, Swiss and British cheeses, with a selection of commercial, artisanal (hand-made), and bio (organic). There’s often a wide range, from fresh goat cheese the size of a golf ball to large slabs of comté, gruyère or gouda, to torta di mascarpone (layered mascarpone with gorgonzola) and feta.
The meat and charcuterie (delicatessen) section has butchers on hand to help you choose between fillets of beef or pork, duck breast, calf’s liver, sausages, and ham cooked on the premises. When choosing a chicken, you might consider the ones with the label rouge (red label), proof they are free range and properly fed.
If you prefer fish, head towards the poissonnerie, (fish counter), where you’ll find fresh fish, whole or in fillets, oysters, prawns, and other seafood, on beds of crushed ice. Prices are per kilo, but there is no pressure to buy large amounts, and you can opt to purchase just three or four mussels, a few prawns, or a small filet of salmon.
Fruits and vegetables
In the fresh produce section, most supermarkets sell a wide range of fruit and vegetables, a large proportion of which will have been grown in France. Many supermarkets also champion local or regional producers. Be aware that most fresh produce sold in France is seasonal. Bigger supermarkets in large cities often have more imported produce, but in many rural towns, purchasing strawberries in the middle of winter just won’t be possible.
Another important area of the French supermarket is the wine section, where you’ll find everything from high-end and middle- to low-end wines at very reasonable prices. Most supermarkets will have knowledgeable staff able to advise you on basic wine selections.
Understanding the Ingredients
Food labelling laws are strict in France and all packaged foods should provide nutritional information, a full ingredients list, and often a Nutri-Score (the 5-Colour Nutrition label used throughout Europe). Products such as beef and dairy will also list the fat content, or %MG matière grasse.
Opening hours, Shopping carts, and Parking
Because of their size, hypermarkets are usually situated in a centre commercial (shopping centre) outside city centres. Parking is extensive and free, and there are service stations to purchase carburant (petrol) on your way out. Most supermarkets also have electric car charging stations.
Bring your own shopping bags, although most stores do provide them for a fee. The parking lots are equipped with shopping carts which need a euro or a jeton. A jeton (plastic token) can be obtained at the reception desk and is free to keep.
Opening hours are generally the same, from 8h30 am. to 8 pm. Some do open Sunday mornings, and some stay open despite public holidays.
Smaller Supermarkets and Bio Stores
All-organic supermarkets such BioCoop are becoming increasingly popular in France and sell everything from dry goods and fresh food, to household cleaning products. Another popular choice is Grand Frais, which translates as ‘Super Fresh’ and has an impressive variety of quality fresh food. In season, you will find dozens of varieties of tomatoes, grapes, potatoes, salads, and fruits, along with fresh meats, cheeses, and shrink-wrapped fish, boned and ready to cook.
For those of you who are curious and want to discover exceptional food, most city centres across France have small boutique food emporiums that carry local or imported products such as vinegars, olive oils, salt, pepper, biscuits, and chocolates.
International and Discount Supermarkets
International supermarkets such as Lidl, Aldi, and Leader Price are also becoming increasingly popular in France and are known for selling discount and lower-priced produce, along with a revolving stock of non-food items.
Shopping at Marchés Couverts (Covered Markets) in France
Les marchés couverts or halles (covered markets) are indoor food markets found in city centres throughout France, often inside grandiose buildings dating from the 19th century. They offer fresh produce, alongside speciality and regional products, and are normally open daily, unlike the outdoor markets which are only set up for a few days a week in towns or villages.
Most towns and village throughout France also have weekly open-air markets or smaller covered markets where you can purchase fresh produce brought in from local farms. Some will tell you to arrive early so as to find the best on offer, others will advise to wait just before noon, when they are about to close, and you can bargain. These outdoor markets have different opening days and hours, and only your local mairie (town hall) can furnish the right information.
There are also seasonal covered markets in the Sud Ouest and other regions, such as le marché au gras, (duck market) where aficionados flock during the cold months to stock up for Christmas on the best foie gras, terrines, or whole fresh ducks not to mention the prized black truffles. Your local mairie will have all the details.