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Markus Anecdotes - Dutch Supermarkets

Written by Markus

If you’re staying at or travelling to the Netherlands, you may need to do some grocery shopping.

When I lived in Singapore, the choice was always easy for my daily groceries: NTUC. It was the only choice available. The only way to make a difference in quality and/or cost, is by being conscious of what you’re throwing in your basket.

In the Netherlands there’s a lot of choice in supermarket brands. And no matter where you live, chances are there will be 2 brands of supermarkets next to each other. And if you live in a city, you’ll have a choice of many more.

Doing a high level comparison may help you choosing where to shop when in the Netherlands, as the differences are significant. I’ve left specialty shops and describe only the type of stores that would classify as a supermarket.

1. Albert Heijn

Source: Arbert Heijn

Recognizable from their blue color theme, you can find this decent sized supermarket everywhere. They are considered to be the more upscale supermarket, but you’ll find the same products as in most other stores I mention. Their products are relatively fresh and of good quality. Forget though about buying bread in the late afternoon, as it will be finished. Also, you’ll see many items on offer, but you need to become a member (that is free to get) to enjoy these discounts. No member card, then no discount. This can be tricky as the price you see is the discounted price.

Average price is the highest, but not hugely. It does add up over time though. Also you’ll find some more “ luxury” items, tempting you to drop big bucks on groceries.

A nice feature is the “ self-checkout”. This is based on trust as you scan your own items and pay yourself, without the presence of staff, resulting in no queues and fast check-out.

Also, make sure to check your receipt. In 5 receipts, one will be too high due to offers not registered in the system.

2. Dirk van den Broek

Source: Dirk van den Broek

Recognizable from their red color theme, this is the mid-tier supermarket in the Netherlands. Shops are in average a bit bigger that Albert Heijn. Choice is a bit larger and quality of the products are the same. But what you’ll be missing are luxury products, for example certain pastries. But overall it’s the same. One major difference is though that this place is significant cheaper. Every product will be a bit cheaper, but offers will be a lot cheaper. And no weird memberships are required to enjoy these discounts. Security is a bit stricter. You’ll quickly find they believe that a customer is not to be trusted, so expect they want to check your bag. But you’ll also pay an average of 10% less.

3. Aldi & Lidl

Grouped together, these are two different popular supermarket brands you will also find everywhere in the Netherlands. Every small town will have at least one of these. They are less often available than Albert Heijn and Dirk van den Broek, but you can find them if you search. Both claim to be the cheapest option available. Inside you’ll find non-standard, mostly German, low end products next to the standard product you’ll also find in the other supermarkets. Here you can find great deals on said German products, but note, they’re going to be a little different than is the standard, and not in a good way. The normal products, for example a bottle of coca cola, may be priced the same or even a bit more, than at other supermarkets. Also the theme is a bit odd: everything is still in boxes, giving a cheap market vibe.

So if you’re on a strict budget, this is the place to be. But if you want some quality, then skip these places.

4. Then last but not least, the Makro.

This is actually my favorite. But formally it is wholesale, so you’ll need to register with a valid company registration. If you know someone who registered, he/she can “mandate” you to shop on his behalf. So in practice, everyone can access. It’s comparable to Tesco, where you buy in bulk. And due to that, get bulk discounts. What I like about it:

- They only sell branded and top-tier products;

- It is not busy, so in a blur blocking the isle, wondering what to buy, is not a problem as nobody will try to pass you

- Hardly any queue when paying

- Shops are huge

- Parking right in front of the shop

- Huge fresh fish section

- Quality of products is the highest of all shops mentioned, but if paying a lot for bulk-buying things that can spoil, make sure you grab the freshest package.

But there are downsides:

- There are different types of discounts, where the best discounts are given at products where for example the packaging was slightly damages. These sometimes go for as little as 10% of the original price. These discounts are rarely processed correctly and you need to point it out when paying.

- They sell top-tier products by piece, but also in bulk. For example: I want to buy 2 standard steaks for me and my daughter, that costs around 5 euro and is available. But I walk out with 5kg premium & aged rib-eye, paying 50 euro.

- You need storage to store you bulk-buy. For example, where to keep 2000 toilet paper rolls?

- Rarely I walk out of the store with a bill below 200 euro.

- As you buy bulk, you’ll need a car and prepare carrying boxes into your home

- All mentioned stores are often in the middle of residential areas. The Makro is not. It will be in an industrial area.

Personally I mostly go to Albert Heijn as it is only 3 minutes walking from my house. I do this almost every day. But if I am in the mood to walk an extra 3 minutes, I go to Dirk van den Broek as it allows to buy more of the same for less money. Once a month I go to the Makro to supplement “the stock”, limiting to meat, drinks (soda’s, juices, etc) and dog/cat things. The “trap” I try to avoid is going overboard by buying things in bulk that I do not need. For example lobster, foie grass and so on. I avoid the Aldi & Lidl as generally what I buy there, I do not eat, and keep till it spoils and then throw away. I know what would happen, therefore I steer to my regular favourite places to shop - the much needed supermart retail therapy! Actually, I could take orders for bulk buy, eg dry foods such as biscuits, so please let me know and will ship some food across.

Sadly, the Makro is not doing well. I already mentioned, it is quiet inside. The last 5 visits, I’ve seen maybe only 100 other people shopping. And this is not enough for a shop that is the size of a shopping mall. They are already closing stores as true wholesale buyers will buy from true wholesale sellers. For them, the Makro is relatively expensive. So the Makro sits between real whole-sale and retail, and it appears that niche no longer is profitable. I’ll miss them if they really go. The alternative would be to go to the Metro, but that is (for me) is a 1.5 hour drive (one way). Upside is there I can buy tobacco for half the price I’d pay here and pump petrol with a 30% discount. So this is more a “day trip” than running out to buy some groceries. And they are not doing very well either.

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