For newcomers to the country it can be hard to know where to find cheap food or which supermarket stocks a good selection of international brands, but here’s what you need to know before heading out for your grocery shop.
Trade laws in Austria
One of the big differences for many international residents in Austria is that most supermarkets don’t open on a Sunday due to trade laws that prohibit shops from operating.
This means that if you forget to stock up the fridge on Saturday, you will have to wait until Monday morning to go to a supermarket.
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There are exceptions to this rule though, with a small number of stores allowed to open, especially those near big train stations. In some tourist areas (like the Alps) Hofer supermarkets are open on Sundays during the peak holiday times in winter and summer while some Eurospar supermarkets also open on a Sunday but with limited hours.
Also, following the latest Covid-19 lockdown in Austria, all shops will be allowed to open on Sunday 19th December 2021 to make up for lost Christmas trading time, although this is not expected to become a regular occurrence.
Additionally, supermarkets in Austria are allowed to sell alcohol (unlike in the Nordics for example) and most have an in-store bakery.
Supermarkets close early in the evening (around 7pm), which can be a shock to people from places like the UK where most supermarkets are open until 10pm or 11pm.
And one quirk that isn’t a law, but more an unwritten rule, is that Austrian checkouts tend to be quite hurried affairs, and this is especially true for discount supermarkets. Unless you’re particularly skilled bag-packer, expect to have to put your shopping back into your trolley while you’re paying, and sort it into your bags in the packing area, rather than bagging up at the checkout.
Regional differences in Austria
Austria is home to a number of supermarket chains that operate nationwide but there are a few regional differences too. For example, MPreis is a supermarket mostly located in Tyrol with a few branches in Vorarlberg, Salzburg, Carinthia, Upper Austria, Styria and even South Tyrol in Italy.
Until recently, Merkur supermarkets were common in the east of Austria until stores were replaced by the Billa Plus brand (which is owned by Germany’s REWE Group, the same parent company as Merkur).
And if you live in one of Austria’s bigger cities, like Vienna or Graz, residents mostly shop at smaller supermarkets like Spar and Billa, with the larger stores located in the suburbs.
Supermarket chains in Austria
Spar is a Dutch-owned supermarket chain and is the most common store in Austria with more than 1,500 shops across the country. It became the market leader in Austria in 2020 with sales of €8.3 billion.
Interspar is the hypermarket version of this brand, followed by Eurospar that offers a wide selection of food and drink. Then there is Spar Gourmet, which is a “lifestyle supermarket” in Vienna and the surrounding area where you will find a few more high-end items alongside the usual selection of basics.
On a national level, Spar recently announced a partnership with food waste reduction company Too Good To Go. This means users of the Too Good To Go app can pick up food that would otherwise go to waste from Spar, Eurospar and some Interspar stores.
Loyalty card: Spar doesn’t have a specific loyalty card but instead shoppers can collect tokens to receive discounts up to 20 percent.
Own brands: Spar has a range of in-store brands, but the most notable are Spar Premium which is meant to signal higher quality, S-Budget for price-conscious shoppers and Spar Free From for lactose and gluten-free products.
Billa has more than 1,000 stores across Austria and can be found in most towns and cities. It is easy to spot with its bright yellow and red branding and is known for stocking regional produce.
Billa operates the larger Billa Plus stores in some locations, as well as an online shop for click and collect orders. Billa Plus offers even more regional products than the regular Billa shops and promises more price reductions as a result. All stores have a bakery, a meat counter, a fish counter, take away coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.
Loyalty card: With the jö Bonus Club customers can collect one point for every Euro spent in Billa and Billa Plus, as well as in all partner stores, including Zgonc, Pearle, Verbund, BIPA, Libro, Penny Markt, Pagro Discount, OMV, Billa Reisen, ADEG, BAWAG PSK, Interio and mjam.
Own brands: Billa’s top own brands include Ja! Naturlich for organic products, Clever for budget prices and Wegenstein for award-winning Austrian wines.
MPreis has 257 stores and is the main supermarket in Tyrol. The independent chain works with 250 regional suppliers and is a proud stockist of Tyrolean meat, cheese and vegetables, as well hundreds of organic products.
The quality of food products in MPreis is high and the stores are pleasant to visit, but the prices can be higher than other stores and the international food section is often limited. However, for regional produce from the Alps, it’s a top choice.
Like many other supermarkets in Austria, MPreis stores have an in-store bakery, a cafe and a meat counter.
Loyalty card: For every €5 spent, shoppers get one MPreis loyalty card point. After ten points have been collected you can purchase a product at a special price, such as Snowtrack snowshoes for €100 instead of €200.
Own brands: The Jeden Tag range is very affordable, the Therese Mölk bakery delivers high-quality bread and baked goods, and the Nature Fair brand ensures customers know where their meat is coming from with a focus on animal welfare.
Ask any Austrian or international resident where to find cheap food in Austria and they will probably say Hofer.
Hofer is essentially Aldi but with a different name for the Austrian market and it sells cheaper, lesser known brands that Aldi is famous for, as well as some fresh Austrian produce.
Hofer doesn’t have the same perks as other supermarkets like a cafe or a specialised butchers’ counter, but it does have an in-store bakery. And when it comes to saving money on groceries, it is definitely the place to go.
Pro tip – be prepared to pack your bags quickly in Hofer. The check-out assistants don’t mess around.
Loyalty card: Hofer doesn’t have a loyalty card system but does offer weekly promotional deals that vary from store to store.
Own brands: Backbox is the name of Hofer’s in-store bakery and Austrian meat is sold with the 100% aus Österreich label. Milfina is another Hofer brand that offers a range of affordable milk products.
Unimarkt is a franchised cooperative of supermarkets. There are just 129 Unimarkt stores in Austria, with shops mostly found in Upper Austria, Styria, Salzburg and Lower Austria.
Earlier this year, Unimarkt was bought by entrepreneur Andreas Haider who plans to raise the profile of the brand and go up against Spar and Billa to expand the number of Unimarkt stores across the country.
For customers, Unimarkt represents an alternative to spending money at the big supermarket chains and can also help people to reduce their grocery bills with the low-cost Jeden Tag range (also available in MPreis).
Loyalty card: The loyalty card is known as PAYBACK and customers receive points every time they shop at Unimarkt or partner stores, such as DM, Burger King and Nordsee.
Own brands: Jeden Tag for low-cost shopping, Alnatura for organic food and UNIpur for family-friendly Austrian products.
Nah & Frisch
Nah & Frisch (which translates to near and fresh) is part of the Unimarkt family and has a strong focus on regional and organic products. It was founded in 1983 and there are 390 stores in Austria.
The website features recipes for products sold in Nah & Frisch stores and customers can even collect loyalty points to save up to 40 per cent on future purchases.
Recently opened Nah & Frisch stores include Haitzendorf in Lower Austria and Niederwölz in Styria.
Loyalty card: No loyalty card but there are special offers every week.
Own brands: Nah & Frisch sells products aus’m Dorf, which means products from the village or the surrounding region.
Where to find international food stores
While some of the larger supermarkets in Austria stock a range of international food, it can be harder to find in the smaller stores. Especially if searching for products from countries further afield, like the UK and the USA.
Instead, it can be useful to visit a specialist international shop to find comfort food and specific international products. Or order online if there is not a specialist shop in your area.