Grocery Stores In Italy: all you need to know about grocery shopping in Italy + how to get the best produce and printable shopping list
Grocery shopping in Italy. All you need to know about grocery stores in Italy: what to expect, what products to buy, how to buy fresh produce in Italian and more.
Italy is famous for its fresh, delicious, local food and one of the best ways to taste it and include it in your daily diet is to go food shopping in a local grocery store.
Grocery shopping in Italy comes in many forms: local markets, small grocery shops, cheesemongers and deli shops are the most characteristic.
However, in Italy, we also have supermarkets and even what we call hypermarkets, very similar to the big grocery stores you probably have back home.
So, truly, food shopping in Italy is very much what you make of it!
In this guide, I am going to go through the most common types of grocery shops in Italy so you know what to expect, how to go about your purchase and also how to ask for what you need in Italian!
Grocery shopping in Italy: what are grocery stores in Italy called?
We have several types of food shops in Italy
In general, independent grocery stores are called alimentari; bigger shops comparable to large grocery stores abroad are called supermercato.
You can also buy food and staples in markets and other food outlets.
At a glance, these are the main types of grocery stores in Italy:
Local food markets (mercato) – these are the most traditional types of produce shops in Italy and you can still find them in both small and large center.
Markets can be indoors or outdoors, they can be big or small, have groceries only, also sell basic household items or even clothes.
Markets can be cheap or expensive, local or very touristy so it is important to do your research to avoid disappointment.
Do not presume a market is by default cheaper than the local supermarket: in tourist areas, it often isn’t!
Independent Grocery shops for fresh produce (verduraio, fruttivendolo or ortolano) – small, independent grocery shops, usually selling fruit, vegetables and, occasionally, a limited number of household essentials
Independent grocery stores for staples (Alimentari) – small to medium food stores usually selling bread, cured meats, cheese, fresh pasta and, sometimes, basic toiletries and household items
Butchers (macellai) – selling meat and, occasionally, pre-prepped cuts ready to put in the oven
Mini market – a mini market (we keep the English name even in Italian) are small supermarket.
They are usually in city center locations or small centers and they have a limited choice of many different essentials, ranging from food staples to shampoo and basic household items.
They usually have a deli counter where you can buy items such as cured meats, cheese, bread and more and a produce aisle.
Supermarkets (supermercati) – supermarkets are just what the name suggests, large grocery stores of the same type you may have back home (thing Tesco, Vons, Traders’ Joe etc).
Supermarkets usually also have a butcher and sometimes fishmonger stalls where you can get fresh meat and fish.
Supermarkets in Italy come ins several sizes and usually carry a large selection of all daily essentials you may need: bread and baked goods, cured meat, pasta, rice, canned goods and other staples, basic cleaning products for the house and baby products and all you expect to find the refrigerated section of the supermarket back home.
Ipermercati (hyper-markets) – ipermercati are super-sized supermarkets!
They tend to be slightly outside of city centers and people tend to go there by car so they can load up the car with their weekly shop and more.
Ipermarcati usually have all the basic staples of supermarkets but they also often carry additional items such as school supplies, household essentials and more.
Need to know: definition of mini-market / supermarket / ipermercato are not set in stone. They are just an indication of the type of size of the grocery store you can expect. Some supermarkets are very big and some are much smaller so, just use these definitions as a guiding principle!
How to find grocery stores in Italy
Finding grocery stores in Italy is easy as you will find one type or the other pretty much everywhere.
In large cities, you will have anything from small alimentari to local markets, supermarkets and ipermercati.
In smaller centers you usually have small shops and mini markets; however, you may be surprised by how easy it is to find very large supermarkets also in small towns.
To find grocery stores in Italy you can:
Look on google maps – if you zoom on your area, grocery shops and supermarkets will shop on the map with exact address
Ask your host – insider knowledge will take away the need for research and direct you to the best shops. If your host doesn’t speak English, read below our quick guide to going food shopping in Italian!
Ask a mom – the answer to everything, right? If you spot a local mom, you can just ask ‘Scusi, c’e’ un supermerato qui vicino’? Excuse me, is there a supermarket nearby? If there is, she’ll know!
Grocery shopping in Italy – How to buy groceries in an Italian food market
Going to a market in Italy can be great fun. Markets in Italy are colorful, busy and loud.
Depending on what you enjoy, they can be a fun place to experience or they may be a place you dread, sensory overload of sounds, colors and crowds easily becoming overwhelming.
Good to know: If you feel that a market experience is not for you, have no fear! There are very many alternative options you can choose from, just skip to the sections lower in this article!
If you decide to embrace the Italian market experience, I recommend you read here >>> our guide to Italian markets.
However, you can also just start by keeping in mind the following principles:
Italian markets come in all shapes and sizes: some have genuine good produce, others have not-so-great-one and have moved towards catering for tourism with overprices items such as commercial level limoncello etc.
Do not assume that everything is genuine and wholesome because it is in a market: always choose your produce as you would anywhere else!
In most cases, stall owners prefer to serve you rather than having you pick your produce: just point at what you need and let them get it for you unless otherwise instructed.
Produce is usually loose in markets and the stall owner will wight it in front of you to give you a price. The price of produce in Italy is usually in etti (1 etto = 100 grams) or chili (kilos. 1 kg = 1000 gr)).
Market stall owners usually do not speak English
Markets usually prefer dealing with cash. However, things are changing fast and now debit cards are widely accepted.
In Italian markets, you can usually buy: fruit, vegetables, fish, meat. Usually, indoor markets also have shops with additional staples such as pasta and household items. However, for such items usually, supermarkets or alimentary shops are better equipped.
How to buy groceries in Italy’s independent fruit and veg shops
Independent fruit and veg shops are slowly becoming a thing of the past.
However, you still see them and they can be fantastic to get fresh produce locally.
In Italian, we call these shops verduario (lit: the person who sells verdure = vegetables) also Ortolano (lit. the person who sells harvest products) or fruttivendolo (Lit” the person who sells fruit) and they usually sell fresh fruit, vegetables and often eggs.
These shops tend to be local to certain areas and therefore have prices that mirror how wealthy or not wealthy a certain locality is.
In Rome city center they can be exceptionally expensive while in more popular areas they can offer good bargains.
As for the markets, there is no general rule when it comes to cost and quality: follow your instincts and if you don’t like the look of those veggies, go to the next one!
In small Italian grocery stores, you can usually buy fruit, vegetables, eggs and the occasional additional product from the farm such as fruit juice and similar.
Buying groceries in Italian supermarkets – the most popular grocery stores in Italy
Going food shopping in Italian supermarkets and bigger grocery stores is just like going grocery shopping back home.
We have very much imported the idea of supermarkets from abroad and so there is very little that is specific about Italian supermarkets you need to worry about before going.
This is a list of the most popular grocery stores Italy:
- Carrefour (various types: Carrefour Market, carrefour express etc – depending on size usually)
- Coop (also ipercoop)
- Elite Supermercati
- Il Gigante
Of these, the latest statistics report Conad, Coop, and Carrefour to be the most popular of all for presence on the ground and
Supermarkets usually have the main aisles with all the basic food items and household items / personal toiletry that you expect, self-service fruit and vegetable, refrigerated aisled with milk, yogurts, cheese etc, areas and manned stalls such as deli counters and, sometimes, fish and meat stalls.
You also now very often have a ‘free from’ aisle.
You can find here >>> my full guide to supermarkets in Italy (with essential tips on how the fresh food aisle works!)
What you can buy in Italian supermarkets: all basic food needs fresh and dry, some gourmet options, breakfast staples, basic toiletries and house cleaning essentials, and basic baby items.
Please note: if you are traveling to Italy with a baby or toddler, you may not find all you need in smaller supermarkets. To learn where to buy baby essentials in Italy, I recommend you read our guide to Traveling Italy with a baby instead.
Food shopping at Italian alimentari – the most traditional types of grocery stores in Italy
Alimentari is the name of the traditional food shops in Italy, the shops that existed before supermarkets took hold.
Alimentary are usually local shops and tend to sell all food staples you wouldn’t get at the greengrocer or the butcher, mainly bread, cured meats, cheese, pizza and basic household and toiletry items such as shampoo and cleaning products.
Alimentari still very much exist and they are fantastic for a take-out lunch or basic shopping, however, they can be expensive as often they have specialized in higher-end products to stand a chance against the competition of the big supermarkets.
Alimentari is ideal if you want fresh bread ham, cheese and, often, fresh pasta and sauces such as ravioli, pesto and more.
Good to know: when I was little, a standard food shopping session included a stop at the alimentari, one at the butcher and one at the fruit and veg stall. So you can think of them as the different sections of a supermarket, just spread around a neighborhood!
Going grocery shopping in Italy if you don’t speak Italian – essential vocabulary
If you go grocery shopping in large supermarkets, you will need little to no Italian.
If your grocery shopping in Italy leads you to markets and smaller grocery stores, however, knowing Italian works for foods and some basic Italian expressions can be useful.
Grocery shopping in Italy mini dictionary:
Grocery shopping = fare la spesa
I need to go grocery shopping = Devo andare a fare la spesa
Where can we go grocery shopping? = Dove possiamo fare la spesa?
How much is it? = Quanto costa?
Main staples you can buy in grocery stores in Italy and Italian names for common foods and basic household / personal items
- Mele – apples
- Pere -pears
- Banane – bananas
- Ananas – pineapples
- Uva – grapes
- Arance – oranges
- Pesche – peaches
- Albicocche – apricots
- Fragole – strawberries
- Carote – carrots
- Melanzane – aubergines / eggplants
- Zucchine – courgette/ zucchini
- Patate – potatoes
- Cipolle – onions
- Aglio – garlic
- Pomodori – tomatoes
- Latte – milk
- Latte di soia / latte di mandorla – soy milk, almond milk
- Latte a lunga conservazione – UHT milk
- Uova – eggs
- Pollo – chicken
- Manzo – beef
- Macinato – minced beef
- Maiale – pork
- Vitello – veal
- Farina – flour
- Sale – salt
- Tonno – Tuna
- Prosciutto – Parma ham
- Prosciutto Cotto – cooked ham
- Fagioli – beans (usually plain, not baked beans English-style)
- Mais – corn
- Passata – basic tomato sauce
- Riso – rice
- Scatolette = canned food
- Carta igienica = toilet paper
- Pannolini = diapers (baby)
- Detersivi = detergents
Non-food items you can buy in Italian grocery stores
Supermarkets, and occasionally smaller Italian grocery stores, carry more than just food.
Among the non-food items you can expect in Italian supermarkets, there are:
- Soap/shower gels, bubble baths etc
- Toothpaste and toothbrushes
- Hair care products
- Low budget hydrating cream
- Female sanitary towels and tampons
- Pet essentials
- Toilet paper / tissues / kitchen towels etc
- Bottled water
- Soft drinks
- House cleaning products (usually detergent, not always mops or bigger items)
- Laundry detergent, softener etc. Read here >>> all you need to know about doing laundry in Italy.
Need to know: Italian supermarkets do not carry medicines, not even basic pain killers. For those, you need to go to a Farmacia (pharmacy). learn here >>> all about Italian farmacie (Italian pharmacies)
How to buy fresh produce in Italian
If you don’t speak Italian, you can buy produce in supermarkets or by pointing at what you need.
However, if you want to have a go at asking in Italian, this is how you can do it.
“Per favore, vorrei” = please, I would like
“Per favore, mi da'” = please, can you give me
un chilo di mele (one kilo of apples), 300 grammi di carne (300 grams of meat), quattro pesche (four peaches) etc.
To know how much something is you can ask:
‘Quant’e’? – or ‘quanto costa’ = how much it is?
If you are not sure how to make your request polite, read here >>> how to say please in Italian.
So for example:
Per favore, vorrei 3 etti di prosciutto di Parma e cinque panini all’olio = Please, I would like 300 grams of Parma ham and five bread rolls
See also: 100+ useful Italian expressions for travelers
How to buy food in Italy by weight – Useful Italian measurement when food shopping
When grocery shopping for fresh produce, you are likely to encounter loose fruit and vegetables with no individual price tag.
In that case, you will need to buy them by weight, which in Italy is calculated in grams, hectograms (100 grams) and kilos (1000 grams).
This can be stressful at the start but you will quickly learn how much your family needs.
This quick table may come in handy:
|Unit in Italian||Unit in English|
|Un / uno / una||one|
|Un etto||100 grams|
|Due etti||200 grams|
|Tre etti||300 grams|
|Quattro etti||400 grams|
|e mezzo||and a half|
|Due etti e mezzo||250 grams|
|Mezzo chilo di||500 grams of / half a kilo of|
|Un chilo di||1 Kg of|
|Grams||Lb||lb and ounces|
|100 grams||0.22 lb||0 lb, 3.53 oz|
|200 grams||0.441 lb||0 lb, 7.05 oz|
|300 grams||0.661 lb||0 lb, 10.58 oz|
|400 grams||0.882 lb||0 lb, 14.11 oz|
Good to know! If measurements confuse you, don’t sweat it! Just ask for un po’ (= some) and say ‘stop’ when it is enough. No one will mind!
Conclusions: 10 tips for going to grocery stores in Italy
So, to make the most of your grocery shop in Italy, I recommend you:
- Check prices before buying: market / small shop does not equal cheap!
- Shop around: even in the same market, you will find stalls with different quality produce. Try and change if you are not satisfied with your first pick
- Go to the market early in the morning for the widest selection
- Go to the market right before closing time to snap a bargain (and you are not fussed by what type of produce you get)
- Chat with the stall owner or figure out delivery day at your grocery store of choice so you can get there as soon as fresh things arrive
- Bring your own shopping bag, to save money and the environment
- Familiarize with Italian weight measurements so you can make an accurate purchase
- Bring cash and cards and sometimes only one form of payment is accepted
- Remember to wight your fresh produce and stick the relevant sticker on the bag. If you don’t, the cashier will have to send you back and the line behind you won’t take it kindly!
- Bonus tip: don’t be afraid to take your time when picking fresh produce. Just use the disposable gloves provided so you can touch the produce in a hygenic (and legal!) way
Grocery shopping in Italy is easy with our printable shopping list!
I hope you found this introduction to going food shopping and grocery stores in Italy useful. Have more questions? Join me in my Facebook Group Travel Italy with kids (it’s free) and ask me anything!