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10 things you should check before you buy products in German Supermarkets

Many of us do most of our grocery and vegetable shopping from supermarkets. Despite visiting these shops regularly and having encountered the same products multiple times, some basic information stays alien to many. When I moved to Germany some years back, I was intrigued by the amount of data on the packaging of food products, so I decided to note each of the things I didn’t understand and learn more about them at home. So, over these years, I have made it a habit to check these ten things before I pick products from the supermarket shelf and add them to my shopping cart. I would urge my readers also to check them as it helps to make a more informed choice about what we consume.

Let me take you through them.

  1. Ingredient list:

    Ingredient list
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    This is the most essential thing one must see before making a purchase. An ingredient list can give you a whole lot of information about allergens, preservatives, the presence of animal products etc. For example, some cheeses ( Eg. Parmesan Cheese) contain Tierisches Lab (which is Rennet), making it an animal product, while others contain Mikrobielles Lab ( which is plant-based). So, vegetarians or vegans can avoid this product. Similarly, some gluten-free products ( Eg Bread mixes) may contain high amounts of cornstarch (Speisestärke) or potato starch (Kartoffelstärke), which may or may not suit some people. So, always see the ingredient list before buying any food product.
  2. Nutrition information:

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    This is called Nährwertangaben and is visible as a table on any packaged food. Typically it gives the nutrition information per 100 gm of the product. So, for example, say you are looking for a high protein product (Eg Skyr); a protein value of 10-12 gm/100 gm is good. Usually, the front part, where the brand name is written, contains marketing information to attract customers. E.g., Some fresh creams are marketed as ‘ High protein’, but if you see the nutrition information, you will find that along with being high in protein, it is also high in fat. While you may want high protein, you may not want High Fat. Only by checking the nutrition information can you actually know what nutrition the food provides.
  3. Expiry Date:

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    This is especially important when the products are dairy or meat-based. Consuming expired products can lead to problems, which can be easily avoided if you check this information. Sometimes, supermarkets discount milk and meat products one or two days before expiry. You may be tempted to buy them because of the reduced price, but buy them only if you plan to consume them before the expiry date.
  4. Organic Seal:

    In Germany, organic foods are called BIO and have this symbol:

    Organic foods are products from organic cultivation or organic animal husbandry. There may be information on the packaging, which may lead you to believe that the product is organic, but the only way to know if it truly is organic is by looking for this symbol.
  5. Haltungsform:

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    This applies to meat products such as chicken, pork, beef, etc., commonly available in supermarkets. Just like when we buy eggs, we can choose between Bodenhaltung, Freilandhaltung etc., for meat too, this information is available. Haltungsform gives information about the housing conditions of the animals, with Haltungsform 1 being the worst and Haltungsform 4 being the best. It takes into consideration the stall space, the feed given to the animals, health monitoring etc. You can find more information about it on their official website.
  6. Nutri-Score:

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    Nutri Score is a 5 Colour Nutrition Label that rates the food product for its nutrition. It is labelled from A to E, with A being the best and E being the worst. Components such as fibre, protein etc., are given specific points (P), whereas components such as sugars, saturated fats etc., are given specific points (N). Then P is subtracted from N to get the nutri score of the food item. I have explained it very simplistically, though the method to calculate Nutriscore is complex. To know more, you can check their official website.

    Let’s say you are looking for multigrain bread in a supermarket, and you have many choices, look for the Nutri score label and choose the one with a better score. One must note here that nutri scores are derived by comparing foods in the same category, for example, a spinach pizza with a margarita pizza OR whole wheat Flour with refined flour etc. A Nutri score of A given to a product DOES NOT mean that it is necessarily healthy or fulfils your nutrition requirements. It just shows that it is a better product in that category.
  7. Price/unit:

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    When buying products, especially fruits and vegetables, you might have noticed that some are sold loose, while others are pre-packaged and sold in 1kg/kg packs ( Eg, onions and potatoes), while others are packed in 100/200 gm packs ( Eg Salad veggies). In the same category too, you may find different packaging sizes. E.g., You could find regular onions in a 1kg pack, while purple ones in a 500 gm pack. In order to make it easy for customers to compare the prices, on the labels fixed to the shelves, you will always find information about how much it costs per kg. So, while one product may seem more expensive than the other (because of the amount in the packaging), it may so happen that it is actually cheaper because its per kg cost is lesser. These labels mentioning per kg/ per 100 gm are available for almost all the products in German supermarkets.
  8. Ohne-Gentechnik Seal:

    In many products, especially meats, milk etc.., you might have seen the Ohne-Gentechnik seal:

    This seal means a ban on the use of GMOs ( Genetically modified organisms) in the product, use of additives, enzymes etc., that contain GMOs and even genetically modified feed for animals from whom the products are obtained (e.g. milk, eggs, cheese etc.). Since 2015, GMOs have been banned in Germany, but this seal continues to assure customers that they are not used.
  9. Fair Trade Seal:

    The Fair Trade seal ensures that the products we buy ( those that come from developing countries) have arrived in the supermarkets through fair deals with the farmers and producers. Under the fair trade agreements, the farmers ( who typically belong to a cooperative) are paid fairly. There is a minimum price below which they will not sell their product. The cooperative also receives a premium, which can be used by the farmers to improve their life by, for example, investing in facilities, modern farming equipment, organic farming etc. By buying a fair trade product, we, as consumers, contribute towards improving the lives of all these producers in developing countries. The most common fair trade product is coffee. However, you can see the seal on other products like bananas, honey, tea, sugar, rice, and wine too.
  10. Manufacturer Information:

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    All food packaging contains manufacturing information. It tells where the product was manufactured. As customers, if we buy products that are locally produced, not only do we get the product at better prices, but we also help the environment by reducing our carbon footprint. For example, ready-made Pesto is available from Ja ( a brand from Rewe, produced in Germany) and Barilla (an Italian product that comes from Italy). If you consider both the products similar in terms of taste and nutrition values, choose the local one over the one that travels miles before reaching you.

If you are looking for specific information about supermarket products in Germany, click here.

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