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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

Everything you need to know about supermarkets in Austria

Austria has a wide selection of quality supermarkets but there are some key regional differences to be aware of, as well as Sunday trading laws to get used to.

Supermarket
How to navigate the confusing world of Austrian supermarkets and save money on your food shop. Photo: Tara Clark/Unsplash

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.

READ MORE: How to drink coffee like an Austrian

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.

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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

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

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. 

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MPreis

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. 

Hofer

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

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.

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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.

Find out more with The Local’s guide to finding international food in Austria.

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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about retiring in Austria

Retiring to Austria to spend time in fresh alpine air is a dream for many people, but who is actually eligible to retire to the Alpine Republic? Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about retiring in Austria

People from all over the world can retire to Austria, but unlike some other European countries, Austria does not have a residence permit tailored to retirees.

This means anyone wanting to retire to Austria has to go through the standard immigration channels, with different rules for EU and non-EU citizens.

Here’s what you need to know about retirement in Austria and who is eligible to retire in the Alpine Republic.

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What are the rules for retiring to Austria as an EU citizen?

The process for citizens from EU and EEA countries to retire in Austria is relatively simple due to freedom of movement across the bloc.

There are a few rules though.

To stay in the Austria for longer than three months, retirees will need to be able to support themselves financially (e.g. through a pension) and have sufficient health insurance.

When it comes to accessing a pension from another EU member state, this is typically taken care of by an insurance provider in Austria who will deal with the approval process between the states. Access to public healthcare in Austria is also available to all EU/EEA citizens.

Currently the pension age in Austria is 60 for women and 65 for men. More information about pensions in Austria can be found on the European Commission website.

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What are the rules for retiring to Austria as a non-EU citizen?

The most popular visa route for non-EU retirees hoping to live out their golden years in the Austrian Alps or the grandeur of Vienna is to apply for a settlement permit

This is issued to people that do not intend to work in Austria and is referred to as “except gainful employment” (Niederlassungsbewilligung – ausgenommen Erwerbstätigkeit) by Austrian immigration.

To qualify for the settlement permit, applicants must prove they have sufficient funds, comprehensive health insurance and a place to live.

Proof of sufficient funds means applicants must have a regular monthly income from a pension, profits from enterprises abroad, income from assets, savings or company shares. 

The minimum amount is €1,030.49 for a single person, or €1,625.71 for married couples or those in a partnership. 

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Third-country nationals also have to provide evidence of basic German language skills at Level A1, in line with the Common European Framework of References for Languages. The diploma must be no older than one year when submitted with the application.

However, the application process will be entirely in German so for people that don’t have advanced German language skills, it’s best to hire an English-speaking immigration lawyer.

Additionally, Austria has a social security agreement with several non-EU states, including the UK, Canada and the USA. This allows some people to access their pension directly from Austria, depending on the agreement.

Again, it can be useful to find an English-speaking advisor to help with the bureaucratic part of accessing a pension in Austria if you don’t have strong German language skills.

After five years of living in Austria with a settlement permit, visa holders can then apply for permanent residence.

Want information on pensions? Then check out the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How does the Austrian pension system work?

Useful vocabulary

Retirement – Ruhestand

Pension – Rente

Social insurance – Sozialversicherung

Health insurance – Krankenkasse

Settlement permit – Niederlassungsbewilligung

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