By Loura Kruger-Zwart
The Netherlands has four major supermarket chains that can be found all over any city: Albert Heijn and Jumbo are the two largest, followed by Aldi and Lidl as slightly more affordable chain counterparts. Here and there you might also find a Coop or a Spar as alternatives, and while chain supermarkets tend to be close by and convenient, you pay for that convenience in both price and plastic.
According to Business Insider Nederland, all six of the aforementioned supermarkets have average or high prices for basic goods – average prices can still be high on a student budget, and this does not take into account higher costs for non-basic and international products which can be both hard to find on chain supermarket shelves and expensive once you come across them.
Plastic packaging in major chain supermarkets is another issue: a stroll in some of these stores will show individually packed paprikas and cling-wrapped cucumbers, beside rows and rows of prechopped, plastic-encased fruits and vegetables. In 2019, supermarket chains in the Netherlands and elsewhere agreed to reduce their use of packaging materials – and there have been some improvements, like some stores opting for paper bags in bakery and fresh produce sections. However, watchdogs say that the fine print of the Sustainable Packaging Sector Plan 2019-2022 targets only the chain supermarkets’ home brands and focuses recyclability of plastic use rather than reduction.
So, what can you do? There are indeed options for getting groceries and avoiding the chains, and wonderful Groningen is bursting with alternatives. Here you’ll find some suggestions and information on fresh markets in the city, as well as some lesser-known yet excellent (and affordable!) grocers that specialise in international products and ingredients.
To the Market!
What: produce market
When: Tuesday, Friday & Saturday
Three times a week, the Vismarkt of Groningen becomes home to a bustling market of fresh groceries. Here you’ll find fruit and vegetables (minimal plastic in sight), bakery stalls that understand the needs and budgets of the city’s students, and even a stand dedicated to herbs, spices, and loose-leaf tea. Among the amazing variety, you’ll also come across flowers, cheese, eggs, and fresh snacks like stroopwafels and Belgian fries. Buying in bulk is always penny-smart, but avoiding waste is also important – consider buying fresh produce together with friends for the best deal! And don’t forget to bring your own bags!
This link has more information about this and other markets in Groningen, so be sure to plan your week around visiting these great options.
Insider tip: while many of the stalls are the same every market day of the week, the bakeries change each time. Tuesday is great for cheap buns, snacks, and sweets, while Friday and Saturday’s bakeries trade in deluxe loaves and cakes that’ll last you all week.
Home & Abroad
If you’re on the hunt for international products and ingredients, for something you’re missing from home, or you just want to try something new from non-chain supermarket, here are five fantastic stores to support in Groningen:
What: Italian products and ingredients
When: 7 days
Where: Vismarkt 34
Basarz is where you can fill all your Italian delicatessen needs, from pasta and pesto to Parma ham, olives to oils to tiramisu, and everything in between. The staff are knowledgeable, friendly, and always happy to help. You can also order hot meals (dinner) on a weekly basis, or pop in for a quick lunch to take away or eat on their lovely little Vismarkt terrace. Bonus: keep an eye out for the Basarz stall at the market too, for all your antipasti needs!
- Le Souk
What: North African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean (+ more) products and ingredients
When: 7 days
Where: Folkingestraat 21
Left: Le Souk interior; right: Le Souk from outside
Le Souk is a gem of Groningen, with a magnificent range of fresh produce, herbs, breads, olives, sweets, and salads. Be sure to pop into their store for all sorts of international spices, flavour-makers, dates, and grains: their small extension at the market three times a week is but a taste of the range of products they carry! Bonus: Le Souk sells cous-cous, lentils, beans, pasta, and other grains by weight – this means when appropriately measured, you can bring your own containers and avoid packaging entirely for these (and more) products
3. Toko Hendrik
What: Indonesian, Surinamese, Latin American, Caribbean (+ more) products and ingredients
When: 6 days (closed Sunday)
Where: Korreweg 26
Toko Hendrik is a classic and welcoming toko (from Indonesia, Malay word for ‘shop’) with products from across the globe: think Indian drinks, Central American canned goods, Surinamese ice pops, Dominican seasonings, North American cereals, Mexican snacks – this local store’s range is ever changing and always delightful. You can also find some fresh produce here, even aloe vera if you’re lucky! Bonus: Sita’s Roti & Broodjes, a homely take-away lunchspot, can be found inside Toko Hendrik serving Surinamese comfort food in the form of delicious sandwiches and generous roti meals.
What: Middle Eastern, Arabic, Turkish (+ more) products and ingredients
When: 7 days
Where: Boterdiep 49
Nazar is a supermarket but far from a chain: this local store stocks over 6,000 international products and plenty of fresh produce (with minimal plastic!). Once you know your way around, it’ll fast become a staple of your grocery shopping schedule for its diverse range of kitchen necessities like tea, coffee, herbs and spices, drinks and whatever of the many other new or traditional items that catch your eye. The prices are great and the staff is always helpful and friendly! Bonus: Nazar operates as a halal supermarket in Groningen.
5. Amazing Oriental
What: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese (+ more) products and ingredients
When: 7 days
Where: Korreweg 51
Amazing Oriental could be considered a chain supermarket since growing to have 24 stores across the Netherlands, but as the only one north of Amsterdam, I consider Groningen’s branch to be a non-major supermarket in the city – and definitely worth checking out! In this large store they have just about everything: fresh Asian fruits and vegetables are stocked regularly, alongside fresh and dried noodles, as well as frozen delicacies to make and enjoy at home. Also very popular is the plentiful range of vegetarian and vegan products, as well as all the ingredients you’d need to cook an authentic and delicious meal. Not to mention, Amazing Oriental is very student-budget friendly! Bonus: if you’ve made the mistake of grocery shopping while hungry (or just can’t wait to try some of the amazing ingredients you’ve come across instore) Amazing Oriental Groningen has a food corner where you can take a fresh full meal home for less than ten euros, or grab a bubble tea to go!
Leuk & Lekker (Grote Kromme Elleboog 8): a self-proclaimed culinary giftshop, here you’ll find a huge variety of oils, vinegars, rice and pastas, salts, chutneys and much more, from Europe and beyond.
Ariola (Folkingestraat 54): everything homemade and authentically Italian! Ariola is a must for a pasta lunch or dinner, or to pick up classic Italian ingredients for doing it yourself.
Polski Smak (Nieuwe Ebbingestraat 84): the only Polish store in Groningen, Polski Smak is well equipped to supply all kinds of Polish goods: breads, sweets, beer and much more.
Picture credits: Loura Kruger-Zwart