Top Tips for Grocery Shopping in the US

By: Rachel McClary

When I moved to the US I expected shopping to be different. In particular I expected a lot of processed foods and fewer fresh items. In some ways I was pleasantly surprised, fruit and veg sections are abundant with a large amount of organic produce, kept fresh by spraying them with water. Some of the top end stores have great meat, fish, deli and cheese counters. Shopping is a different experience however; here are some helpful tips.


  1. A Supermarket is called a grocery store. My neighbour’s child looked at me blankly when I took her to the ‘Supermarket’ to buy baking ingredients. Her father found it very funny when she returned declaring she had been to the ‘supermarket’ in her best British accent.

  2. A shopping trolley is called a cart. You do not need a token or coin to operate them.

  3. Fruit and Vegetables are abundant but many have different names
    Coriander = cilantro
    Courgette = zucchini
    Spring onions = green onions
    Rocket = arugula
    Peppers = bell peppers
    Aubergine = eggplant
    Sweet corn = cut corn

  4. You will find a huge array of tinned beans. The cans labelled ‘baked beans’ are not the same as Heinz baked beans these can be obtained in some specialist shops only.

  5. Pasta is sometimes called noodles - for Chinese style noodles buy either Chinese noodles or chow Mein noodles.

  6. Icing sugar is called powdered sugar. Icing is usually referred to as frosting.

Things you won’t find in an average grocery store

  1. American custard is not the same as British custard; it is designed to be served cold in puddings.

  2. Many seasonal items are not readily available including mince pies, hot cross buns, Christmas pudding and large Easter Eggs.

  3. Pickled gherkins are plentiful but pickled onions or beetroot are hard to find.

  4. Coffee is mostly filter coffee you will only find a small selection of instant coffee.

  5. Nappy sacks – they don’t use them over here but you could buy doggy bags instead.

  6. Squash – soft drinks are generally fizzy, energy style drinks or juice.

  7. Lean bacon – even the bacon that says it is lean isn’t, it is thinly cut and has a lot of fat.

  8. Frozen roast potatoes.

  9. Marmite.

  10. Bramley cooking apples – they use granny smiths for cooking.

  11. Lard (I’m yet to work out what the equivalent is for baking traditional Welshcakes).

  12. A multitude of syrups are available but nothing quite as thick as golden syrup or treacle, consequently I’m still failing to make the perfect flapjack or gingerbread.

At the Checkout

  1. You will find 2 prices on the shelf; standard price (in smaller font) and the price with loyalty card. Most special offers are also only available with a loyalty card so it is always worth getting one even if you are only visiting for a short while.

  2. The checkout assistants will pack for you and load up your trolley. I tried to pack my bags myself on one occasion because there wasn’t a packer and the checkout assistant thanked me. Even if there isn’t a packer present the checkout assistant will pack for you. They will also offer to take your shopping to the car. I rarely take them up on the offer but they will push your trolley to the car and load it and take the trolley away.

  3. They have chocolate bars and sweets at the checkout, beware if shopping with kids.

  4. You are very likely to be asked for ID if you buy alcohol, even if you are a 42 year old mother of 3.

General Tips

  1. Processed foods are really common and many seemingly healthy products have added sugar, salt or vitamins – always check the labels.

  2. Sweet treats and cakes tend to be decorated with frosting rather than fondant style icing. The colours are very bright – expect to have very interesting nappies for a few days if you have little ones.

  3. If you meet an assistant as you walk around the shop they will ask you if you are able to find everything you need.

  4. There are usually public toilets in grocery stores.

  5. There are no parent and child parking spaces.

  6. Shopping in the US takes a little getting used to and for me discovering World Food Market which sells many international foods was amazing. Marmite, Branston pickle and Birds custard give me just a little bit of home comfort.

Happy Shopping.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingRachel McClary is a Welsh expat living in USA. Blog description: discussing all aspects of early education and related topics and a new chapter as a Brit in America.
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Contest Comments » There are 4 comments

Amanda R. wrote 9 years ago:

You must be shopping somewhere really expensive because hardly any grocery stores bag groceries for patron any more and *no one* carries your bags to your car.

Claire wrote 9 years ago:

This is sooooo true! Sometimes torture, sometimes amusing! Grocery stores in the USA are a constant source of frustation and people watching frenzy and food condundrums!

Rachel McClary wrote 9 years ago:

No just plain old Safeway. Everywhere here bags and takes to the car, maybe it just depends on where you live.

Bennett wrote 9 years ago:

Always love the vocabulary conundrums that UK/US English throws up, even in a simple task as food shopping!

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