All you need to know about supermarkets in Italy: learn their names, what to expect, how to use them, and tips for a stress-free grocery shopping experience.
The easiest way to go grocery shopping in Italy is to go to one of the many supermarkets available.
I know this comes as a surprise to many.
If you have never been to the country and you’ve followed Italy- loving websites and Instagram accounts, you may have learned that Italy has food markets and local grocery stores and that Italian shop there, rather than in large American-style supermarkets.
However, like many other things said about Italy by nostalgic visitors, this is also true to a point.
There is a small element of truth in this statement but also a huge romanticization of reality.
In Italy, we don’t all have hours to chat to market stall owners, discussing fresh produce while tasting the best their farm has to offer before cooking a multi-course dinner for our family.
Just like anywhere else, we do big weekly shops in supermarkets loading up the car with breakfast cereals, produce and household items exactly like you do back home.
Of course, you can go to food markets and grocery stores. If this is the experience you are after, I highly recommend you read our guide to grocery shopping in Italy with all-our best tips.
However, if you just want a stress-free shopping experience, there are supermarkets in Italy and they are as easy to use as those back home.
To take any possible stress away from your Italian supermarket expedition, in this guide we share all you need to know about supermarkets in Italy.
I hope you find it useful!
Supermarkets in Italy: how do you say ‘supermarket’ in Italian?
In Italian, supermarkets are called supermercato, super or, in English, supermarket
If you need to find one while out and about, you can ask: ‘Per favore, c’e’ un supermercato qui vicino’ = please, is there a supermarket nearby?
Or simply: c’e’ un supermarket qui vicino? Is there a supermarket nearby?
When supermarkets are very small, they may be called a mini-market or mini-mart; if a supermarket in Italy is very big, they are often called an ipermercato, literally a hyper-market.
Types of supermarkets in Italy
When it comes to supermarkets in Italy, you are likely to find several types.
Mini markets – these are the smallest type of Italian supermarket and a small step up from a local grocery store.
Mini markets usually have all your basic food staples and toiletries, a limited amount of fresh produce and a manned stall for bread, cheese and cured meats. Usually, mini markets are a little like corner shops or convenience stores and may have higher prices than big ones.
Supermarkets – the word ‘supermarket’ is a general word and can be used to identify establishments big or small.
Supermarkets in Italy are exactly like you would expect them to be; however, if you compare them with standard ones in the USA for instance, they may strike you as being smaller.
Not all of them re, soma are very big and very quell equipped, bt the word ‘super’ doesn’t always mean ‘big’.
Therefore, what you get in one place in terms of supermarket experience many not be what you get in the next.
Supermarkets may be in city centers however, the larger ones tend to be in residential areas rather than in the historical center of town, to aesthetic and convenience reasons (parking space, proximity to houses etc)
Ipermercati – Hyper-markets are the supersized version of supermarkets. They tend to be outside of city and town centers, have large car parks and they usually carry more than groceries and staples, often also including additional items such as school supplies, basic clothing and household items.
Like with supermarkets, you never know exactly what you get as it depends on the supermarket chain and specific location / local needs.
So for instance an ipermercato near the beach may have water sports supply but one belonging to the same chain far from the coast will not.
Discounts – Discounts or discount supermarkets are special supermarket chains with lower-budget items. They tend to have the same type of products as a standard supermarket but since they do not carry well-known brands, they are able to keep the prices lower.
List of most popular supermarkets in Italy
- Carrefour (various types: Carrefour Market, carrefour express etc – depending on size usually)
- Coop (also ipercoop)
- Elite Supermercati
- Il Gigante
A different type of supermarket is also Eataly, which differs from the others as it is a specialty gourmet supermarket more than an everyday grocery shopping type of place.
Where to find supermarkets in Italy
You can find supermarkets in Italy almost everywhere.
As a general rule, bigger ones tend to be outside of the historical centers of cities but this is changing rapidly.
If you are staying in the country, you are likely to find large supermarkets in the outskirts of bigger towns, well equipped with parking spaces to serve people coming from all over the area.
What can I buy in the supermarkets in Italy?
In Italian supermarkets, you will find most of what you find in supermarkets back home but in local variety.
Italian supermarkets usually have:
A produce section – this is usually close to the supermarket entrance. Fruits and vegetables are usually part loose and part pre-packaged. See below our tips to pick pruduce in Italian supermarkets!
Eggs are often in this section too.
General food aisles: these occupy the bulk of the supermarket and offer anything from breakfast staples to snacks, pasta, passata, canned food, biscuits and more
Free-from aisles: these are more and more common in Italian supermarkets and carry anything from gluten-free foods to dairy milk alternatives.
Refrigerated aisles – packaged meat, cheese, fresh pasta, milk and dairy products and more can be found in the refrigerated aisle.
Meat section – meat is usually kept in a specific refrigerated aisle, usually close to the butcher stall, if the supermarket offers one
Fish section – usually, you find frozen fish in the dedicated frozen food aisle. However, supermarkets with fishmongers often also have fresh fish in large refrigerators close to their stall
Toiletries section – Italian supermarkets have an aisle for toiletries. Some are very well equipped and some are basic: in this section, you normally find basic toiletry products such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, deodorant, women’s sanitary towels, creams, wet wipes, diapers etc.
Baby aisle – this is not present in all supermarkets however, supermarkets usually have some baby products including diapers, wipes, formula and weaning products.
If traveling with a little one, please also read >>> our guide to traveling to Italy with a baby or toddler
Drinks – supermarkets usually carry both soft drinks and alcohol. Please note that, unlike in other countries in Europe, sections selling alcohol are not cordoned off. However, the sale of alcohol is restricted to over 18s only.
Bakery stalls, butchers, fishmongers, etc – most supermarkets have an ‘alimentari’ counter, aka a deli counter or manned area where you can get fresh bread, freshly sliced ham, fresh pasta and more.
Some also have butchers and fishmonger counters, usually adding to the chance of already portioned meat and fish you can buy elsewhere in the supermarket
What you cannot buy in Italian supermarkets
It is important to know that you cannot buy medications in Italian supermarkets, not even basic painkillers or eye drops.
For all medical needs, you need to go to a Farmacia (Pharmacy; chemist).
Compared with the UK and the US, you are also likely to find less pre-made food and ready-to-eat meals in Italian supermarkets.
At the alimentary/deli counter you often find fresh pasta and sauces and, more and more often, some meal offerings such as lasagna or ready-to-eat pesto but this is not the norm everywhere.
How to buy food at the alimentari counter of an Italian supermarkets
You can find packaged bread, cheese, cured meats and more in the standard aisles of supermarkets. However, to have something freshly baked or cut you need to go to the alimentari stall inside the supermarket.
To guarantee an orderly experience, these sections are usually equipped with a number machine and a display so you know when your turn comes.
When ordering, it is useful to remember the following:
The most common units of measure in Italy are etti (hectograms) and chili (kilograms).
So if you wanted to buy 300gr or ham, you will ask for ‘Tre etti di prosciutto‘
If you do not know how much you need, you can also ask for example ‘per tre persone‘ (for three people): they will start cutting and, if is it too much, you can say ‘basta cosi’, grazie’ = that’s enough, thank you.
Easy table of conversion for food shopping in Italy (supermarkets and grocery stores):
|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|
How to buy fresh produce in Italian supermarkets
Fresh produce is self-service in Italy and just take what you need. However, there are some important rules to abide to!
Always wear disposable gloves (provided): all grocery isles offer free, disposable gloves, to avoid people contaminating foods by touching them with their bare hands. Make sure you use them!
Bag and weigh your vegetables/fruit: you must bag and weigh your purchase yourself.
Bags and scales are available in the fresh produce section of the supermarkets and it is important you use them: the cashier doesn’t have a scale at the till so anything loose will have to be put back (or you’ll have to go back and wight it while the others in line are waiting, not a good idea!).
Anything that is already packaged and with a bar code does not have to be weighed again.
Top tips for grocery shopping in Italian supermarkets
Bring coins for the trolley – most supermarkets secure their trolleys one to the other and you need a coin to release them. Usually, you need 1-euro or 2-euro coin for this, make sure you bring them with you.
Otherwise, smaller baskets with and without wheels are usually available
Bring your own shopping bags – bringing your own bags helps the environment and your budget since grocery bags come at a (small) additional cost
Go in the morning – deliveries may not happen several times a day in all supermarkets Go early in the morning for the best selection
Learn the names of basic foods and stemples (see below)
Learn special delivery day – items such as fish may be delivered on special days of the week only. Chat to the supermarket fishmonger or check signs on the walls so you don’t miss out.
Name of food in Italian
At a glance, these are some common Italian food names you may want to learn:
- Latte = milk
- Latte di mandorla / latte di soia = almond mil / soy milk
- Latte in polvere = baby formula
- Mele = apples
- Pere = pears
- Albicocche = apricots
- Fragole = strawberries
- Ananas = pineapple
- Pompelmo = grapefruit
- Uva = grapes
- Carote = carrors
- Pomodori = tomatoes
- Zucchine = courgettes/ zucchini
- Melanzane = aubergines / eggplant
- Peperoni = peppers (bell peppers etc)
- Cipolle = onions
- Aglio = garlic
- Basilico = basil
- Prezzemolo = parsley
- Coriandolo = corinander / cilantro
- Senza Glutine = gluten free
- Senza Lattosio = lactose free
- Manzo = beef
- Macinato = minced meat (usually beef, in not otherwise specified)
- Vitello = veal
- Pollo = chicken
- Tacchino = Turkey
- Merendine = snacks (usually in the breakfast aisle with also biscuits etc)
- Riso = rice
- Scatolette = cans (generic word)
- Other useful Italian words for grocery shopping:
- Busta = bag (paper or plastic)
- Sacchetto = bag (usually in plastic)
- Bilancia = scale
- Frutta = fruit
- Verdura = vegetables
- Surgelati = frozen food
Supermarkets in Italy: opening hours
There are no standard opening hours for supermarkets in Italy. While bigger chains are usually able to stay open until very late and even on Sunday, smaller ones and local ones may not have the necessary staff resources.
In all cases, do not count on finding supermarkets or shops opened late at night or on rest days such as Sundays unless you know for sure the local one you are heading towards offers these out-of-hours opening times.
For emergency baby purchases you can usually go to the pharmacy or some staples are often available in train stations/
I hope you found this overview of supermarkets in Italy useful. Safe travels!
need even more practical tips? Join our FREE Facebook Group Travel Italy with kids and let’s chat!
Photos in this article are by me or purchased from Depositphotos, with license.