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A Guide to Supermarket Shopping

Sometimes Bulgaria is presented as such an unsophisticated backwater that you may worry that there will not be enough choice in produce or retail outlets. Rest assured that this is not the case.

Over the last few years leading supermarket chains from across Europe as well as Bulgaria's own chic homegrown brand have been investing heavily in the Bulgarian market. Bulgarian families now have lots more choice and are no longer limited to the corner shop selling cheap Bulgarian brands.

Piccadilly, Bulgaria's Waitrose

Piccadilly is the only homegrown supermarket chain.Most stores are within shopping malls but there are quite a few smaller stores located independently. Piccadilly has a clean, easy-to-shop layout. The fruit and veg section is always first and the produce on display is always of excellent condition with a wide range of choice including out of season produce from other countries. Prices are the highest of all the supermarkets in Bulgaria, but quality and good service are assured and the chain is not short of customers.In addition to food, drink and household items like cleaning products, the company also sells a limited range of kitchenware, linens, stationary and toys. Foreign products are widely available but come at a price.

Kaufland Quality

These German hypermarkets are in every major town. Kaufland stores are usually located on the edge of town in a giant steel warehouse. Outside you can buy cheap, traditional German fast food like Bratwurst for 1.50 lv. Inside the store is stocked with food and drink with many German brands at incredibly low prices. There is a fresh meat counter and numerous freezers and chilled cabinets. The store also sells clothing and household goods as well as some unique offers like swimming pools in summer. The layout of the store is not as user-friendly as that of Piccadilly, but prices are far lower.

Metro, One of a Kind

Metro is another German owned company with a strong foothold in the Bulgarian market. It differs from all of the other supermarkets because it is a Cash and Carry store similar aimed at those people with their own businesses who want to buy in bulk rather than in the end consumer. All big towns have a Metro on an out-of-town site and each store offers plenty of parking.

You need a membership card to shop here and this can be obtained at no cost by presenting your Bulgarian company documents to the information desk. If you don't have a Bulgarian company then you need to take your passport and obtain a free day pass. It is worth the effort; Metro stocks everything from food and drink to electrical goods, office equipment, clothes, furniture and household fixtures and fittings. The downside of shopping here is that it is more like a warehouse than a pleasant shopping environment; fork lift trucks buzz around the place all day, aisles are often closed off whilst shelves are restocked and if you want a large item of furniture you need to find a member of staff to locate it for you and this usually involves another fork lift! VAT can also be claimed back for those who are VAT registered.

Bargains at Billa

Originally an Austrian chain, Billa is now owned by the German retail and tourist giant Rewe Group.The stores are not always large in size - there are only a couple of hypermarkets in Bulgaria although there are plans for more. Billa offer perfect conditions for the storage of their products and a user friendly shopping environment. The bread sold here is produced fresh on the premises and there is a great selection of both white and brown bread. The fruit and veg section is also excellent with a good selection of imported out of season fruit and vegetables. This is great if you are just dying for a change from seasonal veg or have a special occasion when you want something which normally isn't available at that time of year. Aisles are wide and stores are always bright and clean and security is good.

Carrefour, Lidl and Penny Market

Between 2009 - 2011 Carrefour the French hypermarket has opened stores in Sofia, Varna, Burgas, Plovdiv and Ruse, and similar to Metro sells everything under one roof. The choice is huge and will challenge all of the existing chains as Carrefour is renowned for its massive choice and low prices in food, drink and household goods and clothes.

Lidl and Penny Market are German discount supermarkets which are now in most major towns throughout Bulgaria. Lidl began operation in November 2010 and is extremely popular with Bulgarian's,and to date there are 53 stores nationwide with more to come. Penny market also another popular foodstore from Germany has a similar style to Lidl and has branches in most major towns in Bulgaria.