I Care Deeply About What’s Going On In The Overseas Markets

I have this odd quirk that makes me a really cheap date (and easily entertained) when I’m on vacation in another country: I love foreign grocery stores.

I can’t explain why. It’s just a part of my life-long foreign fetish, I guess, but there’s just something about checking out what foods are popular in other countries, how they’re priced, what the packaging looks like, and anything else that pops up as I stroll up and down the aisles. A worldwide tour of grocery stores sounds like a great kind of vacation to me. I’m weird like that.

When we went to Germany in 2010 I had a great visit to “Kaufland” with my friend Kat. I learned, among other things, that Germans (the grocery store buyers, anyway) think Americans love marshmallows way more than we actually do. (That grocery trip is documented here.)

When I was in Costa Rica last week, I was surprised to discover that there was a Walmart right next to our airport hotel (they’re EVERYWHERE!). I really don’t care to visit Walmart in the States (I much prefer Target!), but when I realized that half of that store was full of groceries, I got excited and made a beeline for it right away. The next morning when I went on my walk through Alajuela, I happened upon a “Jumbo”, which is one of the local supermarket chains. I giddily walked through each store, snapping pictures and feeling like a total geek all the way. I wondered what the employees thought about the crazy woman who was taking pictures of ketchup and cereal.

Here are some pictures, with a little bit of commentary on what I learned and what I wondered about Costa Ricans and their grocery stores. By the way, none of this is scientific OR factual. These are just my thoughts. If you have anything to dispute, add, or otherwise, let me know in the comments!

Here we go…

Much like everyone else in the world, Costa Ricans love Coca-Cola. In fact, they sell it in more sizes than I’ve ever seen. Small cans, big cans, individual bottles, two-liter bottles, three-liter bottles, and more. Crazy!

Coca-cola in all sizes!

The Costa Rican Tony the Tiger looks like he’s on a rampage. I wondered if the children who live there enjoy Frosted Flakes (or, “little bits of sugar”, as my sister deftly translated), and if they would be jealous that the American Tony the Tiger looks friendlier.

Aww Tony. Don't be mad.

The eggs are kept on the shelves at room temperature and not in the refrigerated section. I wondered how quickly they go through those eggs and what the rate of spoilage typically is.

The eggs are on the shelf, not in the refrigerator.

Costa Ricans apparently REALLY LOVE their mayonnaise. It comes in many different flavors and took up nearly one entire side of an aisle at Walmart, with the salad dressings taking up only about two feet wide of shelf space.

A whole aisle of mayonnaise.

I found that pricing (along with special deals) is displayed just like it is in the States. It was still fascinating to read.

Jumbo deals at Jumbo!

Costa Ricans are much smarter than Americans when it comes to product packaging. I took this picture in the detergent aisle, and it’s interesting to note that their packaging takes up much less space in the landfills than ours does. Smart. And probably cheaper, too. (Check out that mayonnaise picture again, too: same smart packaging!)

I love their packaging.

Here’s the Jumbo-sized entrance to Jumbo. So inviting!

Jumbo! Supermarket in Costa Rica

I found the Costa Rican Walmart to be very, very clean–much cleaner than my local Walmart here in the Chicago suburbs. I could see myself shopping there regularly. You know, if I moved there.

Walmart in Costa Rica

Costa Ricans must really like their milk, AND/OR their grocery stores may not sell shelf space to the highest bidder like we do in the States, because that’s a LOT of milk.

Lots of milk!

Tang is still big in Costa Rica. The amount of Tang that all of America consumes each year is probably less than what’s in this picture. Just a guess.

They like Tang in Costa Rica

Produce pictures, from a very clean Costa Rican Walmart. Yummy.

Produce at Walmart

Pineapples at Walmart

Finally, when you see “Queques” in Costa Rica, it really does mean “Cakes”, like you think. Verifying that when I had internet access again made me smile like a total dork.

Yes, that DOES mean "Cakes".

Related: I’m hungry. You?