Expat’s Guide to Grocery Shopping in Saudi Arabia

There are surprisingly many differences between the grocery shopping experience in Saudi Arabia vs. in the expats’ home countries.
Here are a few tips for newbies in Saudi Arabia- How to grocery shop in KSA!

 

Where to Shop

The most popular large grocery stores in Saudi Arabia are Hyper Panda, Tamimi, Carrefour, Danube. Lulu’s and Euromarche. For imported American goods go to Tamimi. For exotic fruits and vegetables, Asian foods, wide range of gluten free and organic produce go to Lulu’s. Danube is good when looking for for organic, gluten free and dairy free options, great fruit and vegetable section and bakery. Carrefour for imported European produce. Euromarche and Panda are the best budget friendly options. Panda has the widest selection of Saudi produce.

 

Prayer Times

Don’t forget the prayer times! Everything in Saudi closes for prayer for around 15-30 minutes. The length of the closure time depends on the store and how eager the employees are to return to their posts.

Some larger stores like the ones mentioned above, let you stay in the store shopping while the employees go to pray, or if they´re non-muslims they have a break. When they come back you can cash out. keep in mind you won’t be able to exit the store during prayer times.

When to Shop

To avoid zahma which means traffic, never shop on weekend evenings. Worst times for crowds are on weekends starting after Maghrib prayer to around 11pm. Fridays the stores will start to have lots of people earlier, around 3-4 pm (Asr prayer). Due to the crowds, traffic jams in parking lots and getting “stuck” inside the store during prayer times, a quick grocery shopping spree might turn into a 3 hour ordeal. Add another hour or two to get there and back and you’re looking at a 4 hour grocery shopping trip.

The largest stores are open until 12am-2 am. It’s much nicer to go shopping late at night if you have the chance, or an early weekday morning. Some stores are even open 24hrs a day, like Hyperpanda on Takhasusi road. There’s even one infamous store on exit 20 which is open 25 hours a day. Imagine that, an extra hour for shopping!

Cultural considerations

-Try to avoid bumping into or getting too close to Saudis of the opposite sex. They might feel awkward because they are not used to it. You will notice the Saudi men usually give way to the women in the aisles, they do this out of respect and they want to be polite to you. Not because they are scared/disgusted/arrogant (most common misperceptions). So be polite and and mindful of other shoppers.

Chose the right cashier

Female cashiers began working at “family section” cashiers in Panda’s in 2015 and they’ve become mor and more common in other grocery and department stores ever since. If you are a single male (single here meaning shopping without any females) you should always go to the male cashiers to avoid any problems. Men accompanied with their wives can go to the female cashiers. Females shopping alone can chose either one.
All the staff in the store apart form the cashiers are male. The staff is everywhere, there seems to be a different guy responsible for every 10 sqm of the store. There will always be someone sweeping the floors, filling the shelves and working at the fresh food sections. Surprisingly when asked, the staff might not know the answer to your question because their area of responsibility is so narrow. The yogurt shelf guy doesn’t necessarily know a thing about the bread or know where the pasta might be located. The frustrating aspect of this is that they hardly ever say “I don’t know”. Instead, they will just point you to a random direction (often in the wrong).

How to queue in line 

-Be aware that in general Saudis do not acknowledge the concept of queuing, or standing in line, example of which you can read here: How not to queue in Saudi Arabia.
What line? Is there a line here? Especially when you’re going to have your fruits weighed, there seems to be no order in which the staff attends to the customers. Usually the Saudi women will go first, then whoever is the loudest or has best skills in line-cutting will be served next. In this situation you can use your female gender to your advantage, try to go behind or next to the loud Saudi lady and have your bag ready immediately when she is done, place your bag ON the scale! This will not guarantee success though.

Special considerations for female shoppers 

– If you’re a young woman, watch out for gangs of teenage boys and young men on the lookout for a date. Yes, as ridiculous as it sounds, they come to grocery stores sometimes to hit on girls. Shopping malls are off-limits to them because of this exact behaviour. They might follow the girl they are interested in the store, trying to exchange numbers. Sometimes they will try to hand you their phone number on a sheet of paper or napkin. In the recent years this has become less common and looking for dates has moved back to the shopping malls and public events.
-Be careful with your abaya when going on escalators, it might get stuck. Another annoying occurrence is it sometimes might get jammed under your shopping cart, or fellow shoppers carts.

-At the cashier always have cash! So many frustrating times I have encountered problems with any kind of cards. They will run around the store with your card trying to get it work, but you still might end up having to go to the ATM.

Say NO to plastic bags 

-Please try to save the nature and encourage the packers to use less plastic bags!Take your own reusable grocery bags (they can also be bought at the cashiers in Danube for example)

In Saudi Arabia there will be one or sometimes even two men packing your groceries. They are trained (I would assume) to put different items in separate bags, which is a very peculiar phenomenon for most westerners. If you buy for example bread, milk, deodorant, cookies, chicken and eggs, everything requires it’s own bag! This total waste of plastic is just mind-boggling and needs to stop. We can all do our part in reducing the mindless and pointless usage of plastic bags, which end up in the desert, the ocean and the beaches ruining the scenery and destroying the environment. There is no harm in telling the bagger you prefer your groceries bags to be packed full of things. If this fails, there is also no harm in going to help the bagger to pack the groceries and fill them up full yourself.

Any tips for grocery shopping in Saudi you want to add?

Happy shopping!

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  • Tara Umm OmarJune 12, 2010 - 10:25 am

    Just went to Hyper Panda last night. By the time I left at 1130pm it was still busy! During the summer when kids are out of school, it will get worse. I absolutely hate grocery shopping here because my husband can only take me on the weekends anytime after isha. He hates accompanying me inside because of the fitnah inside the malls and most of the time he is just too tired (Friday is his only day off). Its just as well because if he comes with me then he hurries me up. He does not do well in crowds lol. Shopping late on a weekend means that you get whatever produce that’s left over because the workers aren’t stocking to fulfill demand until the next day. The vegetable stands are always a nightmare. I loathe this part of the shopping the most. Besides having to choose from the crappy produce that has been picked over by hands who knows how many times, there are never enough workers manning the scales! One worker and 2-3 scales sitting unused. There are also men who have no respect for letting the women go first. I had been patiently awaiting my turn at an unused scale when another worker came up to it, I should have been first but he took the produce of a Saudi guy who had just then waltzed up to the counter. This is another thing, the non-Saudi workers are too afraid to tell people to wait their turn. I try to avoid this part of shopping by finding already packaged fruits/veggies with prices on them. It doesn’t always work because of course not everything I need is packaged! I shop for two weeks worth of groceries so that I can stay away from the store for two weeks…my cart is usually overflowing by the time I’m finished. Since my husband is not with me then I will have to put my own stuff on the conveyor belt which I don’t mind except for when I have to bend over the cart, my butt is in the air, my boobies are spilling over the inside of it and I can feel the men’s eyes on my every move. When I pick up a heavy water case or a case of juice, some of the looks my way are wide-eyed because they can’t believe a woman is picking up such “heavy” stuff by herself. If one of the baggers aren’t busy, they’ll help me so I give them a tip for that. Other trouble I run into is not being careful to make sure something has a price on it. Then having to explain in Arabic that I really want it, I need it! Sometimes they’ll send the bagger to get a price and other times they can’t understand my Arabic lol. If I try to speak in English, its no use. Most of the Saudi cashiers don’t understand English either. I’m just dreaming of the day that I can shop during the day when there are no crowds.

    By the way, the Tamimi inside Sahara Mall and on Dabab street are the worse to go to at night and certainly on a weekend night.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJune 12, 2010 - 9:08 pm

    Hi Tara!
    Yes I agree, grocery shopping is usually a nightmare!
    I’ve found that Danube (not the one inside Hayat) and Carrefour are the best to visit at night.The store inside granada mall is quiet at night times too (cant remember is it actually Hyperpanda or carrefour..)Most Hyperpanda are horrible on weekends! Especially the one on Takhasusi!The best time to visit hyperpanda is in the early morning when saudis are still asleep :)
    If a man cuts in front of you in the weighing line, just say excuse me I was here first and shove your stuff on the scale! Works for me most of the time. If not I will usually have a say with the weighing guy in hopes of him treating the next women better.
    ya I get those looks too when I load 5litre water bottles on the conveyor belt, and then I lift them back into the cart quickly before the bagger puts them in plastic bags :) I assume people are thinking “poor woman having to do all that work, where is her husband” as if women cant do anything by themselves! So annoying but it wont stop me from doing it.ReplyCancel

  • Tara Umm OmarJune 13, 2010 - 1:13 pm

    Hi Laylah,

    It would be heaven to shop at Danube if only my husband would drive me that far and I had a bigger grocery allowance. You must mean the new Danube on Takhasusi?

    We used to live in the Granada area last year. I’m allergic to the Carrefore at Granada Mall unless I can get there during the day on a week day. Sometimes I can see bus loads of expats from the nearby compounds but they are civilized if you know what I mean lol.

    The Hyper Panda I go to in Rawdah used to be a Geant. To add to the nightmare of shopping, its so hot in there as if they don’t have the a/c on! I’m thinking about going back to shopping at Carrefore down further on Khurais Rd. After I figure out which is cheaper, Carrefore or Hyper Panda.

    As I’ve said before, you’re brave. I don’t want to deal with a man if my husband is not nearby in the store or parked outside. But if its a woman, oh hell no! She better think twice because I’ll take her on lol.

    We gotta do what we gotta do and that includes not always having a man doing things for us :-)ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJune 13, 2010 - 4:57 pm

    Hi Tara!
    yes I mean the one in the new Panorama mall on Takhasusi, its always very quiet. Dont know how long that’s going to last though.

    Yep, a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do lol!ReplyCancel

  • ipv6January 13, 2011 - 2:58 pm

    ah the shy guy again,
    send my regard to your man and say dun be shy!
    chuckles.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJuly 18, 2012 - 8:00 am

    And I thought its only my abaya get stuck under the trolley:), I always go to carrfure at granada always before magrib and its never crouded so I enjoy my grosery shopping . thank u Laya for useful infoReplyCancel

  • AnonymousAugust 24, 2012 - 2:38 am

    Having worked for both Carrefour and hyper panda in the past as store GM I can tell you Hyperpanda may be cheaper on price for groceries but Carrefour are certainly better in terms of the quality of the produce…

    If you want too check for yourselves you only need compare potatoes, onions and tomatoes you will see a clear difference.ReplyCancel

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