I is for Iceland…

And other supermarkets…

 “I never make a trip to the United States without visiting a supermarket. To me they are more fascinating than any fashion salon” Wallis Simpson

Well, we’re not quite America that’s for sure! But the Algarve does have its fair share of shopping malls and big supermarkets – in fact I can think of the names of 12 different supermarkets out here without even blinking!

And everyone we speak to seems to have their favourite – and others that they just never visit, even if they are nearby. And of course, there’s now Iceland muscling in too, with a relatively new store open near Albufeira.

And a quick trawl on an expat forum will show you just how excited the expat community was when Iceland opened… suddenly you could buy ‘British’ food items like pork pies, ‘proper’ cheese, Branston pickle, Ginsters pasties and scotch eggs (you may detect a slight hint of amusement creeping into my typing at this point?!)

Iceland store Portugal

Iceland store Portugal – click for image link


It’s an ‘interesting experience’ visiting the new Iceland store. For one thing, it’s like stepping back into Britain, as if you’d never been away. The staff all seem to be British and speak English to all the customers (I’m interested to know how that can happen with Portuguese employment and EU equality law?) 

Many of the food items have British £ labels – which are then converted to Euros – so you have to check the small shelf labels carefully! All products priced £1 are 1.40€ – I was interested to find out why so I checked the Iceland ‘Overseas’ website  which covers the company’s European stores (including quite a few in Spain) and the company states that “Overseas has made the decision to keep a standard pricing Policy with regards to Price Marked Products. If we worked off a standard Profit Margin then the prices would fluctuate across the range.”

Interestingly their maths includes the fact that they have forward purchased their currency months in advance – they are currently only getting €1.17 to the Pound – and as the going rate is now around €1.24 to the Pound…

I also did not realise that ‘Overseas Imports’ – or ‘Overseas’ is actually a Privately Owned Company with an Exclusive Sales Agreement with Iceland Frozen Foods Ltd – and that they have to pay the price set by their suppliers. They are actually “more often than not [selling] at very close to a loss in order to try and hold prices low.”

Overseas are paying between 85p and 95p for many of their £1.00 ‘flashed’ products – they then have to pay for transport, translation labels and IVA on top of this – so a £1.00 GBP product will actually cost them €1.39 – and with a Selling Price of €1.40 that’s not exactly a healthy profit margin! I’m sure Sir Alan Sugar would have something to say about that!

One Pound Iceland label

If the flurry of excitement on expat forums is anything to go by – I’m sure they have little to worry about! We have only been twice – and we did put a few items in a basket; but to be honest we wandered around feeling a bit bemused … do they really think all ‘expats’ or British holidaymakers [and let’s be honest here – that’s their target market] go round eating chocolate and crisps all day long? The aisles (plural!) full of unhealthy confectionary and ready meals is quite incredible.

Iceland also stock some Waitrose ‘basic’ products too – if anyone knows how that relationship started do let me know – they seem an unlikely combination – although Waitrose were rumoured to be interested in buying some Iceland stores in the UK last year (?)

Iceland store

It will remain to be seen whether the novelty value wears off – or whether their incredibly low profit margins stand up to the economic climate we are currently weathering.


Continente flag

One supermarket however that we do like is Continente – mainly because we can shop there during the day when it is quiet! It is certainly a different store in the evening and at weekends.

Our treat is to arrive and settle in for a quick ‘bica’ complete with ‘pastel de nata’ in their café – well it doesn’t seem right to miss them out – they only charge 85c for a coffee and pastry – and they are the nicest ones we have tasted this side of Faro!

pastel de nata and coffee

The other thing we love them for is the incredibly generous offers they have in store – get yourself a Continente card – wait for the 75% discount offers to arrive – and stock up on the things you’d normally buy anyway – then watch the money arrive back on your card to spend again! You get 50% back about 2 weeks later – and then a further 25% about 3 weeks after that – we regularly end up with 50€ credit on our card to spend in store. Excellent!

They also have a petrol discount voucher – you get 5c (or sometimes 8c) per litre off your petrol – then you get another voucher to take back into the store to get the same money you have just saved on petrol back again… you can end up on one big shopping discount loop here!

Continente discounts


We jump between Continente and Lidl’s quite happily – we shopped in Lidl’s in the UK – and found it extremely amusing to suddenly find out little local ‘secret’ store becoming more popular as more people discovered their low prices and quality products.

We also have friends who swear by Aldi – and don’t like Lidl’s – so it is definitely all down to taste and what is local to you… and Portugal also has its own equivalent ‘discount’ supermarket chain – Pingo Doce. They are now famous for recently deciding to run a last minute one-day offer of ‘spend over 100 Euros – and only pay 50% of your bill’ – it was absolute chaos – and also did not go down too well with the Portuguese public as they held it on ‘Labour Day’ – a national holiday, and traditionally a day when all supermarkets used to close to ensure staff had the day off.

Local Markets

We are also keen to shop ‘locally’ – at the corner shop, or the local market. Most towns and villages have a market – either daily or weekly – Loule has an amazing Saturday market:

Loule market 1

You can make friends, check what you are buying, and support local businesses and buy fresh local produce that is actually in season. We even have our favourite orange and fruit supplier – a lovely Portuguese farmer in a tiny little local village, and we are always spoilt with the amount of oranges they put in our bag – and the care and attention they give you is something you will never find in a supermarket.

Loule market 2

We even have a little fish van that comes round where we live at least twice a week, honking his little car horn to let you know he is coming!

Other supermarkets

Well you could shop in a different store every day for at least two weeks over here – it depends what you want! There are a number of French supermarkets over here, like Intermarché; and some that promote selling a lot of expat produce (like Baptista in Luz); and there is also Modelo – often now remodelled – and which is actually just part of the Continente-Modelo chain now – but it is still good for a bargain – especially if they still have their chain of clothes shops alongside – Modalfa.

There’s also Pão de Açúcar which was introduced in Portugal by the Brazilian Group whose name translates as ‘Sugar Loaf’; and is now a supermarket chain owned by the French group Auchan – who are also linked to the Jumbo supermarkets and Pingo Doce. I think this explains why when you get a load of supermarket advertising through the letterbox – and they all seem to be discounting the same products on the same week – well – they are!

supermarket ads

There’s one thing they all have in common though – whichever supermarket you end up in – you’ll need a Euro coin for the trolley!

Continente trolley


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13 Responses to I is for Iceland…

  1. Tracey Hand says:

    Interesting story about Lagos’ Lidl.
    When we’ve called in, it’s usually been middle of the day. Full of English tourists and ex-pats. Complete hell (not unlike walking around Iceland actually!)
    Certainly very different to Ferragudo’s store, I’m sure!

    However, yesterday, we had need to call in at 9am, opening time, as we needed(!) one of their limited offer items and suspected they’d sell quick.
    9am is a bit early for tourists to be supermarket shopping so I was curious to know how busy it’d be and who’d be in there.
    Was very surprised to find it very busy but FULL of Portuguese! Clearly they know when to avoid the Brits too lol

    Re. Baptista in Luz. Ever been in? We went once. *shudders* LOL

    • ferragudofan says:

      thanks Tracey – wasn’t sure about this post – but I think it might hit several nerves for people … I’ll be interested to hear what ‘pro-Iceland’ fans have to say!
      Pricing is very varied too across the stores isn’t it … branded UK products are a big no-no!

      • Tracey Hand says:

        Yeh, fortunately we don’t do brands much anyway (we were already Aldi shoppers in the UK)
        Heinz Beans are usually our “compare” product.
        Until about 6 months ago, you could get them for 99c a tin in Intermarché so I never bothered to get them in the English shops (where they were usually 90-95c – by comparison, they’re 89c in Iceland)
        Pingo sell them for, I think, €1,89! Continente not much difference.
        Even Intermarché’s price is now up in that level so, needless to say, unless we happen to be at Algarve Shopping and call into Iceland for some, we don’t buy them any more!

        I’ll be interested to see what the “pro-Iceland” folk have to say too.
        Or will I? LOLOL

        • ferragudofan says:

          we should do a quick ‘I’m going to Iceland – do you need anything call to each other then?!’
          will be driving that way on Monday – happy to do a shop for you?!! LOL

  2. sami veloso says:

    Lol, when I read the title I thought you had gone on a holiday to Iceland (the country). I had never heard of Iceland (the supermarket) but I presume it´s a UK chain. That coffee and pastel nata at 85cts, sure beats the $4 coffee in Perth!! There seems to be a whole lot of bargains around the supermarkets, I suppose all competing for as many costumers as possible. When we lived there, we had a Ecomarche and a Pingo Doce in the village. If I drove to Viseu or Coimbra then I would go to a Continente.

  3. Very cool post, not what I expected when I saw Iceland as the title. Your supermarket sounds like a great deal.

  4. I love the look of the local markets! All those beautiful in season fruits and vegetables. I think it would be interesting to see if the novelty of the Iceland store does fade. Off the top of my head I can’t name the parent company, but we have “Fresh and Easy” stores, owned by a British corporation, and I’m amused from time to time to see unexpected British imports hit the aisles. My grandmother was born and raised in Scotland and introduced me to some of the canned products, much like the Crosse & Blackwell label. So they show up here in the U.S., too, and I will often buy items as novelties. I didn’t follow any of the details as you speak about currency, LOL, but I do understand loyalty to supermarkets! I have my personal favorites, too! Fun post! Your A-Z challenge is a lot of fun! Debra

  5. Pingback: The Cost of Shopping | Algarve Blog

  6. Fatima Silva says:

    Pingo doce isn’t a discount chain… it used to be the most overpriced supermarket chain in Portugal. I am Portuguese … I know what I am talking about

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