House & Home

Italian supermarkets and grocery shopping

Knowing where to buy groceries if you’re new to a country can be tricky. Learn more about Italian supermarkets, including international and bio food stores.

italian supermarket
writer

By Lisa Harvey

Updated 8-1-2024

If you’re moving to Italy, there’s one thing you need to understand: Italians love their cuisine and take good food seriously.

The first supermarket (supermercato) opened in 1957 in Italy. Before this, the most popular way to shop for groceries was in local specialty stores, small vendors, and outdoor markets. Of course, these markets are still popular and a great place to explore the local culture and practice your Italian as an international. However, supermarket chains gained popularity for their convenience, product range, and affordability – particularly in the past fifty years.

You can quickly learn where to find all your local, international, and organic products in Italy by exploring the following topics:

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Grocery shopping in Italy

You have successfully moved to Italy, decided where to live, and found a job and a home, but your kitchen shelves are empty. Where do you head to first?

Customers buying their vegetables from an outdoor market in Catania
Catania (Photo: Melanie Vaz/Unsplash)

Grocery shopping can be expensive relative to the average income in Italy. For example, a family of four spends up to €8,550 per year on groceries.

There are several grocery shopping options in the country. Supermarkets, mini-markets, and outdoor markets are popular and are usually easily accessible. However, if you’re not ready to jump on public transport or drive around to explore your new city, you can order your groceries online and have them delivered.

Italy’s e-commerce behavior has increased since 2016 – as most households now have internet access, with more than 50% of Italians shopping online (2021). However, this percentage includes electronics, clothes, household and beauty products, more than groceries.

Need organic, seasonal products to live more sustainably or those ingredients to try new Italian recipes? Or maybe – as an expat – you are craving some international products from your home country.

Italy has all of this and more, but let’s start with what will probably be the most familiar: the supermarket.

Italian supermarkets

There are many types of supermarkets in Italy, such as:

  • Mini markets in city centers
  • Supermarkets in smaller towns and shopping malls
  • Hypermarkets (one-stop super-centers) in more rural retail areas
  • Discount supermarkets

Generally, supermarkets offer weekly discounts, and most have a points program for savings. Italian grocery stores also offer a large variety of fresh and seasonal produce and many have bakeries, butcheries, and fishmongers in-store. Some larger shops even have pharmacies, electronics, clothes, and homewares.

Supermarket chains in Italy

There are a number of popular Italian supermarket chains. However, many (e.g., Esselunga) are only in a particular region of Italy. Therefore, you might not see all of these stores in your city, be it Florence (Firenze), Milan (Milano), Rome (Roma) or any other town or village.

The leading supermarket chains across Italy – based on their market share – are:

  • Conad (23.4%)
  • Selex (22.22%)
  • Coop (14%)
  • Végé (9.02%)
SupermarketDescription
ConadThe leading supermarket with over 3,000 stores countrywide (with hypermarkets, superstores, supermarkets, discount stores, and neighborhood shops). Known for its organic and local produce.
SelexA supermarket group that includes well-known stores like Mercato and Familia. It takes its corporate responsibility seriously, committing to animal welfare, sustainability (sostenibile) practices, and selling fair trade products.
CoopPronounced kop, a consumer cooperative with over 2,000 stores across Italy. Offers affordable, store-branded products that are not genetically modified organisms (GMO) and are palm oil free. It is an SA8000-certified company, meaning it conducts a fair and decent work environment.
VégéIt has over 3,800 stores across the country. Stores sell fresh produce and brand products, including cleaning items and kitchenware. It prides itself on its sustainability practices and partners with NGOs, such as Doctors without Borders and Balzoo.
EsselungaWhile not considered a discount store, Esselunga is ranked the number one cost-effective store by Quifinanza, with over 170 stores in northern Italy. First to offer online shopping in the country and holds the international record for sales per square meter (€15,343). Its sustainability goals include high-quality products at affordable prices, a fair work environment and responsible supplier management, reduced environmental impact, and supporting local communities.

Discount supermarket chains

Relative to the average income in Italy, buying groceries can be expensive, partly due to the taxes added to foodstuffs. The Italian government has proposed plans to lower or scrap the Imposta sul Valore Aggiunto or IVA (i.e., sales tax or VAT) on produce, but this has yet to be put into effect.

This may explain why more families shop at discount stores to manage their cost of living in Italy. In November 2022, discount supermarkets reported a 12.9% increase in their sales value. According to a survey (2021/2022) by the Italian consumer group, Altroconsumo, a family of four can save up to €3,350 per year by shopping at discount supermarkets.

These stories are great for when you need to buy in bulk or are on a tight budget. Usually, they are on the outskirts of cities or in the suburbs. You can find products that you won’t find in the large Italian chains. Still, some of these can also be of lower quality.

Most popular discounters

There are a few discount supermarkets that locals and internationals frequent, some of which are more affordable than others. Some of the most popular ones include:

SupermarketDescription
Aldi and LidlAldi and Lidl are German companies that offer more international products than their Italian counterparts. Lidl also sells clothes, toys, and homewares and is more expensive than the other discounters. However, most of its products are of decent quality.
EurospinMost affordable overall and the Italian version of Lidl, with more fresh produce.
Prix DiscountFocuses on helping customers live a healthy lifestyle by offering an extensive range of organic fresh produce, gluten and lactose-free, and low-calorie products. They even have a vegan branded range, BoneSan. Supports local producers (especially dairy) by including and promoting their products – marked Produced in Veneto (Prodotto in Veneto).
CarrefourOffers significant savings with its branded product (prodotti di marca) range.

Supermarket opening times

General opening times for supermarkets in Italy are from 7:30/8:30 in the morning to 21:00, Monday to Saturday and only on Sunday mornings. Remember that most shops close on public holidays.

Things to consider when shopping in Italian supermarkets

There are a few things to keep in mind when grocery shopping in Italy, such as:

  • Shopping carts are locked. To unlock a trolley, insert a coin (e.g., 50 cents, €1, or €2) in the slot on the handlebar. When you return the cart and lock it to the others, it will pop out.
  • You must wear plastic gloves before touching fruit or vegetables found next to the produce section’s plastic bags
  • You need to weigh the produce in Italian supermarkets. Once you have your gloves on, grab as many tomatoes or apples as you need, note the assigned number (next to the product name), and put them in the plastic bag. Then, weigh the bag on the digital scales in the produce area and type in the number. These have images to make it easier without being fluent in Italian. The scale will print a sticker with the weighed price that you stick on the plastic bag and bring to the checkout.
  • The cashier does not bag your groceries. You do this yourself, so remember those reusable bags. Otherwise, you will need to pay for plastic bags, which are not environmentally friendly.

Online grocery delivery services in Italy

Many large grocery chains offer grocery delivery and pick-up through their websites and apps.

Adult daughter showing mother or grandmother how to order groceries using mobile phone apps. Sitting on a park bench.
Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

However, some supermarkets require you to register a free account first (e.g., Esselunga), while others allow orders without (e.g., Conad). Almost all delivery services have a small fee, but it is usually worth the convenience. 

Some smaller city supermarkets like Carrefour work with apps like Deliveroo that provide restaurant and grocery delivery by bicycle.

Organic, bio, and health food stores in Italy

Italy has always been big on bio and organic products. Italian supermarkets have many options for those looking to be health-conscious. Major grocery chains have specific sections for bio and organic produce and natural, chemical-free products.

In many towns – especially in the southern regions – you are most likely to find organic produce in open-air markets. However, this may not always be true for big cities.

Greengrocer in Palermo watering the organic vegetables at his stall
Photo: Tomas Anton Escobar/Unsplash

There are also smaller health food grocery chains like Naturasì. It specializes in natural (often cruelty-free) products, from food to toiletries and makeup. With many stores countrywide, Naturasì is one of the most popular options for health-food shopping. They also have delivery and pick-up options.

It is also worth listing the stores that aim to minimize plastic pollution by reducing packaging:

Buying ethical or fair trade products in Italy

Most supermarkets in Italy pride themselves on their local and fair trade product selections. For example, Conad has its fair trade product line, Verso Natura, while Esselunga follows a strict sustainability policy.

Cashier in a fair trade shop
Photo: Center for Ageing Better/Unsplash

With a quick online search, you can also find smaller fair-trade, ethical stores, and sustainable clothing brands throughout Italy.

International grocery stores in Italy

As an expat living in Italy, you may want international products from your home country. You can usually find small, specialty, or ethnic stores in areas with larger migrant communities (e.g., larger cities).

Just ask your neighbors, or colleagues, or ask on social media. Be prepared to pay more for products than in regular supermarkets.

A few well-known international grocery stores include:

Store nameType of products/cuisineCity
CastroniWorld cuisineRome
Pacific Trading S.r.lAsian cuisineRome
Kathay InternationalAsian cuisineMilan
Zen MarketJapanese and Korean cuisineMilan

Unieuro (electronics) and ePrice are great online resources if you can’t find something in a local store.

Food shopping at Italian markets

If you’re looking for the freshest products or want the authentic Italian experience, head to the closest market. Many Italian towns have neighborhood markets – on a piazza (square) – where local vendors set up from the morning until lunchtime. In larger cities, you may find these markets inside specific buildings.

Vendor sells organic meat, fresh produce, and wine at Mercato Centrale Roma
Mercato Centrale Roma (Photo: Stefano Montesi/Corbis via Getty Images)

A few well-known fresh food markets include:

MarketCity
Mercato Centrale Di RomaRome
Testaccio MarketRome
Sant’Ambrogio MarketFlorence
Santo Spirito MarketFlorence
Porta Nolana Fish MarketNaples (Napoli)
Mercato PignaseccaNaples
The QuadrilateroBologna
Mercato CentraleBologna
Rialto Fish MarketVenice (Venezia)
Mercato OrientalGenoa
Mercato AlbinelliModena
Catania Fish MarketSicily
Ortigia MarketSicily
Piazza Del PopoloOrvieto
Ballarò Market Palermo
Mercato Di San BenedettoCagliari
Piazza delle Erbe/Piazza della Frutta MarketPadua
Piazza Campo del PalioAsti
Fish Market Gallipoli

The best part about market shopping is the personal interaction with the stall owners who are passionate about their products. Do remember these etiquette points when shopping at the markets:

  • Do not touch any produce unless given permission
  • Be specific about the amount or weight of the product you want (e.g., ten tomatoes, 200 grams of cheese)
  • Feel free to ask for suggestions, as many vendors enjoy advising you on how to prepare their products or will even give you recipes

Helpful Italian phrases at the food market

A few Italian phrases that may help you in the market include:

EnglishItalian
Good morning/day/afternoon, sir/madam/missBuongiorno/giorno/pomeriggio, signore/signora/signora
I am well, thank you, and you?Sto bene, grazie, e tu?
Please or Thank youPer favore o Grazie
How much does it cost?Quanto costa?
I would like (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)/dozen/half-dozenMi piacerebbe (uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei, sette, otto, nove, dieci)/dozzina/mezza dozzina
GoodbyeArrivederci/Ciao
OrganicBiologica/Biologico
EggsUova
CheeseFormaggio
BreadPane
Fruit (apple, banana, orange, grapes, pineapple)Frutta (mela, banana, arancia, uva, ananas)
Vegetables (pumpkin, courgette, aubergine, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, potato) Verdure (zucca, zucchine, melanzane, carote, funghi, broccoli, spinaci, cavolfiori, patate)
Salad (lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber, avocado)Insalata (lattuga, pomodoro, cipolla, cetriolo, avocado)
Herbs (chili, thyme, basil, oregano, parsley, garlic)Erbe aromatiche (peperoncino, timo, basilico, origano, prezzemolo, aglio)
Pastas (Bigoli, Strozzapreti, Trofie, Gigli, Chitarra, Penne, Spagetti, Lasagne, Tagliatelle, Linguine, Fettucine)Paste (Bigoli, Strozzapreti, Trofie, Gigli, Chitarra, Penne, Spagetti, Lasagne, Tagliatelle, Linguine, Fettucine)
ChickenPollo
BeefManzo
PorkMaiale
Mutton/lambMontone/agnello
Fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies, cod, eel, clams)Pesce (salmone, sardine, acciughe, merluzzo, anguilla, vongole)
Olive oilOlio d’oliva

Specialty stores in Italy

Many Italians prefer to shop daily for fresh and unique ingredients at their local:

  • macelleria (butcher)
  • forno (bakery)
  • pasticceria (pastry shop)
  • pescheria (fish monger)
  • (fruttivendolo) greengrocer

You may pay more for produce in these specialty shops, but will enjoy excellent customer care and are assured of high-quality products.

Italian convenience stores

In almost every Italian neighborhood, you’ll find a tabacchi. These local convenience stores sell tobacco (as the name suggests), newspapers, magazines, lottery tickets, and stamps. You can pay utility bills and print documents at these shops.

Larger tabacchi stores also sell essential food products and soft drinks; many even have a little café.

Liquor stores and off-licenses in Italy

Liquor stores aren’t typical in Italy because you can purchase beer, wine, and spirits from grocery stores. Still, you will find these in larger cities and they often have longer opening hours.

On average, you’ll pay the following for these popular beverages:

  • Local beer – from €1.30 per can/bottle
  • Imported beer – from €1.80 per can/bottle
  • Prosecco – from €4.00 per bottle
  • Aperol Spritz – from €8.00 per bottle
  • Limoncello – from €3.80 per bottle
  • Wine – from €5.00 per bottle
An enoteca (wine shop) in Rome
An enoteca in Rome (Photo: Gabriella Clare Marino/Unsplash)

However, if you are specifically looking for a good quality wine, you will want to find an enoteca (wine shop).

If you prefer less kick in your aperitifs, Italy has a range of non-alcoholic drinks, such as:

  • Chinotto
  • Cedrata
  • Crodino
  • Spuma
  • Orzata
  • Gazzosa
  • Gingerino

Many well-known Italian beer breweries also offer alcohol-free options like Nastro Azzuro Zero, Neroni Libera, and Freedl.

Saving money on groceries in Italy 

You can find affordable products in most supermarkets and grocery stores in Italy. Many chains also have members-only discounts where customers sign up for loyalty cards and point systems to get special deals. Buying seasonal and local products is more sustainable and a great way to save money too.

Useful resources

  • Forbes.com – lists the most affordable supermarkets in Italy (2022)
  • Gambero Rosso – lists the top food markets in Italy