When I moved to Switzerland, there was one thing that shocked me more than anything else: How freakishly expensive food was.
I am not talking about gourmet food, but about everyday staples like meat and vegetables. Not to mention bread, biscuits... I remember walking through the aisle at my local Migros or Coop grocery store, shaking my head at the prices.
Very soon, I learned the Italian way to go grocery shopping. Buying in Switzerland what is of better quality and not so expensive, then ride our car to the nearest Italian supermarket in Como, just off of the border. Food in Italy is way, way cheaper than in Switzerland, and (with a few exceptions) just as good. I always buy potatoes, milk, butter and eggs in Switzerland as they are so much better here.
Of course, we Italians are obsessed with food, with cooking, and with bargains. And the fact that Ticino is literally surrounded by Italy makes it even easier to go shopping back in our home country.
Not to mention, since the exchange rate for the Swiss franc has been released and prices in the Euro zone have plunged, Italian goods have become even more insanely cheap for those who earn a Swiss wage.
Euro Shopping Ahead
The result: More and more people are frequently making a trip cross-border to stock up on food for the week. Once, there used to be only Italians going to nearby Como to do grocery shopping. But now? It's everyone. The prices have become so cheap that even die-hard Swiss-product-loving-people from Ticino are driving to the local Bennet, Iper or Esselunga stores (popular grocery chains in Italy).
Swiss supermarkets are doing their best with price cuts and discounts to retain shoppers, but they really cannot compete. Not to mention: Swiss residents can get the VAT sales tax refunded when crossing the border - even more savings! This all sound too good to be true.
As with everything, there is a fine print. The amount of food which can legally be imported is limited, with amounts varying by type of food.
Anything above the legal amount will result in a (very expensive) fine.
"Just how much meat did we buy again?"
So here I am at an Italian supermarket on a Sunday afternoon, along with my husband and my daughter. We are packing up bags and bags of food just like any average Italian expat family from Ticino. And yes, shops are conveniently open on Sundays here in Italy.
I am confident that my bags of food will cross the border unchecked. Because I am a fool and I never check how much meat, butter, oil or wine I am buying. I just throw it all in the cart and head to the cashier.
And of course, the time I decide to fill up my freezer with chicken, beef, pork chops and other random assorted goods from the animal kingdom has got to be the time we are stopped at the border.
I break into a cheerful smile... and a cold sweat. "How much meat did we buy?" asks my husband, looking at my worried face. I grow even paler.
"I don't know," I mumble. "I might have gone a bit too far this time."
And this is when I knew this it was going to make a wonderful piece for Newly Swissed: That time we almost got caught smuggling meat into Switzerland. Notice I wrote "almost"? The customs officer added up all the meat we had bought, and we were safe by a few grams.
- The total amount of meat allowed for our car of three: 3.00 kilograms
- The total amount of meat in our possession: 2.90 kilograms
I kid you not. That moment, a huge sigh of relief was heard all around the border. It is when I realized that a life of crime would not suit me.
So yes, next time I go grocery shopping in Italy, I will be sure to stay well within my allowed quantity of meat!
- How to get a VAT refund when shopping outside of Switzerland. It is rather easy and I do it very often, so I suggest you give it a try if you have not done it yet. Tax free shopping is one of the greatest perks of being a Swiss resident.
- Quick guide to Duty Free Allowances: How much meat, fat, tobacco and alcohol you can bring into Switzerland without getting fined... Happy shopping!
- In Ticino news: With Spring ahead and barbecue season about to begin, more and more people are being searched and fined for illegally importing meat (Corriere del Ticino).
It’s not only a Canton Ticino-related problem.
People here in the northern cantons also shop in Germany, France and Austria. If you go to Konstanz on a Saturday afternoon, the streets are packed with Swiss people. Same for the many shopping centres which are around the border, like in Waldshut-Tiengen, or in Weil am Rhein, near Basel.
I feel sorry for my local shops, but the prices in Germany and Italy are so competitive that it´s hard for people to ignore that. Having Zürich and Geneva always in the “most expensive cities” charts surely doesn’t help and many of the neighbouring countries, like Austria, are banking on that.
What’s your experience with the quality of meat products? Could it be that meat from the European Union does not adhere to the same kinds of quality standards as Swiss meat? ^Dimitri
Not sure about it – yes, we do have strict criteria for food and dairies, but in my opinion the quality is on par with Swiss products, although I can only vouch for German and Italian meat, and I prefer the latter. Swiss meat products are not as famous as Italian or French ones, but in my opinion they are every bit as good.
Actually it is one of the few cases in Switzerland where the high price does not reflect necessarily higher quality. The European Union has higher limits regarding the quality of the meat compared to Switzerland. The high price of the meat in Switzerland is due to lets say ´subsidy´ of the Swiss farmers, who cannot be competitive with other countries due to the mountains, long winter in Switzerland etc.
Unfortunately, it is not true that European meat producers have to stick
to the same quality standards as Swiss ones! As pointed out in this
report by the Swiss Animal Welfare organisation STS for many animals such as cows, turkeys, sheep etc. in the EU there are
no regulations such as minimum cage size etc. to ensure that the animals
are treated well. Also, painful procedures like castrating piglets or
calfs with no anesthesia and cutting the tails and teeth of pigs or
cutting the beaks of chickens are allowed (and routinely practiced,
particularly on the factory farms where cheap meat like in your article
are coming from) in the EU while they’re prohibited in Switzerland. I
don’t think that’s worth accepting just to save a few bucks. Especially
if you live in Switzerland and earn a Swiss wage, which is a lot higher
than what the neighbors across the border are making.
Unfortunately, it is not true that European meat producers have to stick to the same quality standards as Swiss ones! As pointed out in this report by the Swiss Animal Welfare organisation STS, for many animals such as cows, turkeys, sheep etc. in the EU there are no regulations such as minimum cage size etc. to ensure that the animals are treated well. Also, painful procedures like castrating piglets or calfs with no anesthesia and cutting the tails and teeth of pigs or cutting the beaks of chickens are allowed (and routinely practiced, particularly on the factory farms where cheap meat like in your article are coming from) in the EU while they’re prohibited in Switzerland. I don’t think that’s worth accepting just to save a few bucks. Especially if you live in Switzerland and earn a Swiss wage, which is a lot higher than what the neighbors across the border are making.
I know this is an old post but I just thought I would add a comment about a wholesale food place called Aligro you can ‘join’ as a regular person and enjoy discounts on meat and also buy cuts of meat that are not available in the regular supermarkets. I bought a whole duck yesterday and beef cheeks.
They have a great sea food counter at the one at Altstetten/Zurich where you can get oysters and live crab. The meat is packaged in larger than normal packages for example a filet is the whole filet, or the chunk beef is in 2kg bags, but things like pork chops are in packs of 4.and the fish are sold as individual fish.
It wouldn’t be a problem for a family, but might be too much for a single person. I buy in bulk and cook food and freeze it. Yesterday my duck was 23CHF and the beef chunks were around 12CHF per kg. They have weekly specials too. I used to drive to Germany too but now I don’t bother, Trying to battle around Kaufland on a Saturday would test the patience of a saint….
Thank you very much for this helpful piece of advice!