10 things you need to know about Dutch supermarkets

Foreigners always complain about Dutch supermarkets – not enough choice, too many queues, no-one to pack up your groceries etc etc – so here are some tips to survive them.

1. They do not take credit cards. You might think that big chains would accept plastic but they don’t. Bring your PIN card or pay with cash. And some of them don’t take cash either.

2. Looking for canned vegetables? Look in the fresh vegetable aisle. And don’t expect them to be in cans, you’re much more likely to find peas in a jar.

Fresh from the farm

Fresh from the farm

 3. If you’re in need of basic first aid supplies, try behind the counter or, more likely, try the drug store (Etos, Kruidvat, etc.) around the corner. The average Albert Heijn might stock ibuprofen.

4. Hate to peel potatoes? You’re in luck, as every Dutch grocery store worth its salt will have peeled potatoes in every size and shape imaginable.

This was eating too many potatoes does to you

This is what eating too many potatoes does to you

5. You may find yourself in a modern day Dickens novel attempting to exit the store, depending on what freebie the store is giving away. If its football cards or some other child-enticing treat, hordes of kids may accost you after you check out, asking for yours.

 6. Depending on where you live, you may be shocked to discover that grocery stores aren’t open much outside office hours. If you don’t live in a designated tourist city, your local grocery is only allowed to open one Sunday a month. And you may be hard pressed to find stores open past 6pm or 8pm in many places. Never fear, on koopavond or “shopping evening,” they will stay open until the late hour of 9pm.

7. If you’re really stuck, try your local avondwinkel or night store where the owner will charge you double for milk at 11pm. These stores usually open mid-afternoon and stay open until midnight or 2am. 24/7 just doesn’t translate into Dutch.

8. Less you think the Dutch aren’t much for service, many stores will provide free coffee or tea for customers. And if you get there early enough, free samples of everything from cheese to cookies. You might even get enough for breakfast.

9. Do yourself a favour and only buy the blue milk. Avoid the red at all costs.  Repeat after me: blue is for milk (and the lighter the blue, the lower the fat), red is for karnemelk, green is for yoghurt and yellow is for vla.

Red is for danger

Red is for danger

10. You have to pay for plastic bags, apart from the very thin free ones at Albert Heijn that collapse when you put one packet of karnemelk in them.


16 thoughts on “10 things you need to know about Dutch supermarkets

  1. monique cremers

    ‘Red milk’, – karnemelk – is the best there is. It’s thirstquenching, yummie and healthy. And it keeps for ages. Do your self a favour and do NOT avoid it.!

    1. Michael Roeleveld

      I’m sorry, but that is just your oppinion. It tastes like milk out of date. Litterally, becose it is very sour!

    2. Verr

      yeah if you’re new to ‘buttermilk’ it tastes weird, otherwise it’s ok. I mostly like some types of cheese and yougurts and not much of a milk drinker but from time to time I buy all sorts of dairy products.

  2. Catinka

    Yes! avoid the red cartons at all cost! 😉 I never understood people who drink karnemelk… 🙂 I always think there is something seriously wrong with them. (as you can tell by this: i absolutely have Karnemelk! )

  3. Pee-Tor

    “You might think that big chains would accept plastic but they don’t.” Ehm, last I checked, every supermarket perfectly accepts my 100% plastic bank card. They don’t however, accept credit cards. But then again, a supermarket doesn’t quite sell flatscreens or plane tickets.

    Also, whether or not you like butter milk is a matter of taste, obviously. Personally, I avoid the blue cartons, as regular milk is just utterly disgusting. Butter milk, on the other hand, tastes a bit like liquid yoghurt. It’s lovely!

  4. Richard

    Even the local supermarket, Spar, in the tiny village I live in is open until 7pm. And I know of at least 5 supermarkets in the (rural) area where I live that are open until 10pm, every day except for Sunday when they’re open from 2pm – 6pm.

  5. Aloha

    I’m not from a western country, but have my fair share of experiences from western stores. The Chip & PIN cards are pretty much a requirement all over Europe, which is good. I liked the free samples quite a lot.


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