One guy passed away and went to the sky, and when he got there, the angel checked the books and said, “You’ve done an equal number of good deeds and bad deeds throughout your life – you can choose if you want to go to heaven or hell”. The guy asked, “May I have one week to try both before I decide?”, and the angel agreed.
In the first week – the guy went to heaven. They played golf and chess, sipped tea and took naps, and everything went quietly and uneventfully. In the second week – the guy went to hell. It was a week soaked in every possible sin imaginable – never-ending drugs, sex and an alcohol-induced party.
When the second week was over, he came back to the angel. “Did you make up your mind?”, asked the angel, and the guy said, “Send me straight back to hell!”.
Upon arrival, the guy was immediately tortured with the worst pains and suffering conceivable! He screamed, “What happened to the party? Where did all the fun go???”, and a demon answered, “That, my friend, is the difference between tourism and immigration”.
One of my favorite things when going abroad is going to the local supermarket and experiencing the local produce, learning about the new culture and the new flavors, and how people live.
But when you move into a new country and the daily visit to the grocery store becomes a daily task – you might want to learn a few tips and tricks to save some of your $$$, especially in today’s economy.
The different kinds of supermarkets in Israel
The big chains – There are a few large chains that you can probably find in every major city – Shufersal, Rami Levi, Yohanannof, Victory, Yeinot Bitan (soon to become Carrefour) to name a few. These are common and their prices fluctuate around the baseline of the market. These chains also offer various sub-types of supermarkets, with smaller, pricier shops located in city centers, and larger shops outside the city with better prices and bigger variety.
Other big chains include chains that are “originally” dedicated to the religious Jewish population or the Arab population – but anyone can go there and enjoy what they offer. These would be Osher Ad, Salah Dabah, King Store and Super Chesed. Their stores are more remote at times but their price range is normally lower and they offer family-size packages.
For imported / non-Kosher items you might want to check any of the “Russian” chains such as Tiv Taam, Keshet Te’amim, Rosman, etc.
Local grocers – small mom-and-pop shops you might find in the street or in the commercial centers close to you. Prices are adjusted to the cost of living where you’re located and might vary.
Markets – Every major city (and then some) has a market that takes place daily or once a week – it’s usually cheaper than a store and you can find a variety of fruit, vegetables, eggs, spices, and other kitchen items.
The Israeli 7-Eleven and convenience stores (“Pitzutziya”) – Your typical 7/11 with basic items, snacks, alcohol and cigarettes. Usually quite expensive and have longer opening hours. In central Israel and the Tel Aviv area especially, you won’t miss AM:PM – a chain of small supermarkets with extensive opening hours and high prices accordingly. Not bad though for when you forget the most important ingredient for a recipe!
Toiletries and Pharmacy – For toiletries and other cosmetics you can find a wide range of items at SuperPharm and Be (owned by Shufersal). These shops also have a pharmacy where you can get prescription drugs, as well as some basic over-the-counter medicines. Another option would be local pharmacies, which are less common in Israel nowadays.
“Stock” shops – In Europe these would sometimes be called “Baazar”. Stock shops offer cheap household items like disposables, cleaning supplies, kitchen utensils, as well as office supplies and stationery. The bigger branches would even sometimes offer basic furniture. The common stock shops are Max Stock, Zol Stock, Dan Deal, and others. Similarly to supermarkets, these chains have smaller shops inside the city, and larger shops on the outskirts of cities.
Online / Apps – The online market in Israel is quite robust and you can find everything and anything online. Most supermarkets have an online app or website that offers home delivery and use of discounts (shipping times vary from anywhere between immediate and next week – depending on the shop). There are also some local price comparison apps for the price-conscious people – like Pricez and CHP.
Location location location
Sometimes there’s a trade-off between price and distance. The store close to you is more convenient but more expensive and vice-versa – a short drive to a more distant supermarket will get you deep discounts that might be worth the trip. Contrary to common logic – you might find it cheaper to obtain groceries at the center of Israel because of the dense population and cheaper supply chain costs.
Kosher and non-Kosher
Except for specialty stores, most supermarkets in Israel sell only Kosher food. That means – no seafood, pork, or food items that mix meat/poultry with dairy. The shops that do offer non-kosher foods would usually have it priced much higher than the kosher equivalent and presumably MUCH higher than what you’d be used to in your home country. The higher prices of non-kosher foods are a result of lower demand and Israeli importation restrictions.
Either way, if you feel like bacon bits and can’t get to a Russian store (or you don’t want to pay the price) – Amazon is your friend.
Opening hours and visiting hours
You can find most opening hours for shops on Google Maps. Be mindful – most supermarkets (and other shops) will be closed from Friday afternoon until Saturday night/Sunday morning because of Shabbat. Another landmine to avoid is going grocery shopping around Thursday evening and Friday morning to early noon – most people would do their groceries around that time and you’ll just waste your time standing in lines.
Life Hacks for the new Israeli shopper
Shopping Carts – in most supermarkets you’ll need to put in a 5 or 10 Shekel coin to get a cart as a deposit (in Shufersal it’s with a credit card). You might find a stray cart but it’s also common to bring a token on a keychain to spare you the chase after loose change.
Bags – single-use plastic bags cost 10 Agorot and some places will sell multi-use bags for around 5 Shekels. If you wish to save some coins and the environment – bring some bags from home.
Separating shopping – separating your groceries to different stores based on category can save you some cost, especially if you buy non-perishables in bulk.
Seasonal shopping – Israel is an agricultural country and seasonal produce is interchanging throughout the year, you can make your nutrition richer and yummier by utilizing what the stores have to offer.
Labels – labels in Israel would normally be written in Hebrew and Arabic and sometimes English. ALL Food items have (by law) either red, green, or no stickers to indicate high/low/normal levels of sugar, fat and salt in them. Other indications you might normally find are product size change statements and allergens lists.
Membership Cards – most stores in Israel have membership cards for little or no fees and they allow you access to discounts, notifications about sales and other saving options. The bigger chains also offer special credit cards for even more discounts. Usually, you don’t need to carry the membership cards around (unless it’s a credit card), you can tell your ID/phone number to the cashier. On that note, always notice that some attractive sales you encounter while shopping may be restricted to “members only”. Avoid getting tempted and then disappointed at checkout!
Self-Checkouts – some stores offer this option and it usually saves you time. These systems are usually Hebrew-only, and it might be a bit tricky in the beginning with weight-based items such as fruits and vegetables. In addition, be advised that all users of self-checkout kiosks are subject to a random review by a human cashier!
Sales – sales are nice and shiny but please be a smart consumer – supermarkets in Israel are required to state the price per 100gr on price labels so make sure to compare, and check out top/bottom shelves for small/unknown brands that might be cheaper. If a sale envelope a few varieties of an item – the barcode number would be indicated on the sale sign. If a sale item didn’t win you the required discount as the sale sign indicated – you can demand the indicated discount from the cashier (the same goes for the wrong price label).
Patience – the best thing to practice in a supermarket. Israelis don’t like to wait in lines and sometimes these situations might not bring the best out of them… in the parking lot, at the deli, during checkout, and in general. Be assertive but patient and you will too, master the art of grocering in Israel!