One of the things I fretted about most before moving to Sydney was what kinds of food I’d be able to find and how much it would cost. I enjoy cooking and make homemade meals most nights of the week, so it’s an important part of our family life. We have a lineup of meals we cook regularly that require particular ingredients, and I worried that I would struggle to replicate these if I couldn’t find familiar food items. I also like trying new recipes, which can sometimes involve special ingredients that are hard to find or pricey. Most of all, I worried that we wouldn’t be able to find peanut butter or cheddar cheese (so much so that I stocked our luggage with jars of dehydrated peanut butter just in case).
Well, I’ve now been to the grocery store at least 10 times and I must say that my fears have been fully assuaged. There are four main grocery chains here in Sydney: Coles, Woolworths (Woolies), Aldi, and IGA. Coles and Woolies are the two mainstream stores, almost identical to a Vons, Safeway or Publix back in the U.S. Aldi is the discount chain, with significantly lower prices. However, there are fewer choices and odd items mixed in with your groceries (you are likely to find a tv next to your bread and a suitcase next to your milk). IGA is an independent chain, with similar prices to Coles and Woolies.
We have done most of our shopping at Coles to date, for no reason other than it was the most convenient store near our rental in North Sydney our first few weeks we were here, and then once I got used to it I’ve decided to stick with it when we moved to Curl Curl and had equal choices of Coles, Woolies or IGA. Coles is organized almost identical to our stores in the States, with bakeries, delis, butchers, dairy and produce sections around the perimeter and dry goods in the center. You can similarly find an assortment of cleaning products, kitchenwares, and baby items in the center aisles. The one thing they don’t sell is liquor or beer, but there is usually a liquor store immediately adjacent. At some Coles, you are required to insert a coin to release the shopping cart (trolley) which is returned when you return the cart.
I have yet to come across any product that I simply can’t find here in Oz that I could easily find in the U.S. A few things are definitely less common – bagels, for example – and there are a lot of different brands that sometimes have different tastes (we’ve yet to find a spaghetti sauce or bbq sauce that tastes halfway decent). I’ve also yet to come across my favorite cereal brand, Kashi, but there is an abundant selection of muesli (similar to granola). There are also some items that have many more options here. There are at least four different locations within the grocery store where they sell curries and Indian simmer sauces. It can be a bit overwhelming to finally make your choice of sauce only to turn the corner and be presented with a whole new shelf of options.
When preparing to move to Sydney you are constantly forewarned of the high price of living. And yes, rents are exorbitantly high and eating out can be a bit pricey. However, we haven’t found groceries to be that much more expensive than they were in the U.S. (although our standard might be a bit skewed since we were in San Diego, which has a higher cost of living than most of the rest of the U.S.). When shopping, most items seem to be much more expensive. However, when adjusted for the exchange rate or the size/weight of the item (a kilogram is more than double a pound) most items actually come out even, or less in Australia.
To get a solid idea of the difference in what we are spending on food here in Australia compared to back in the U.S., I compared a grocery receipt from a shopping in San Diego just before we left with our receipts from shopping trips here at Coles. Below is a list of items frequently on our shopping list and a comparison of prices. The majority of items are actually cheaper in Australia. In particular, cereal, bread, jam (same brand, same size), cheddar cheese, and hummus are significantly cheaper. On the other hand, rice, bagels, tuna and goat cheese are significantly more expensive in Australia.
|US Item||Price USD||AU Item||Price AUD||Price USD|
|white rice||$2.50||white rice||$5.00||$3.80|
|box of cereal||$5.29||box of cereal||$4.15||$3.15|
|wheat thin crackers||$2.99||rice crackers||$1.40||$1.06|
|mixed grain bread||$5.49||mixed grain bread||$2.70||$2.05|
|6 bagels||$2.99||4 bagels||5.39||$4.10|
|refried beans||$2.00||black beans||$3.00||$2.28|
|32 oz chicken stock||$4.19||1L chicken stock||3.99||$3.03|
|10oz soy sauce||$3.29||250 mL soy sauce||5.5||$4.18|
|organic lg brown eggs||$5.79||free range eggs||$4.60||$3.50|
|1 gallon organic milk||$4.49||3 litre regular milk||$3.00||$2.28|
|greek yogurt||$2.99||1kg plain white yogurt||$0.75||$0.57|
|goat cheese||$5.00||goat cheese||$9.24||$7.02|
|16oz cheddar cheese||$7.19||500 G Cheddar Cheese||6.3||$4.79|
|16oz cottage cheese||$3.29||500g cottage cheese||$2.90||$2.20|
|firm tofu||$1.69||firm tofu||2.9||$2.20|
|0.5 lb turkey breast||$10.29||.5 kg turkey breast||$13.45||$10.22|
|ground turkey||$3.99||pork mince||7||$5.32|
|1 red bell pepper||$1.49||1 red bell pepper||0.85||$0.65|
|bunch of bananas||$1.90||bunch of bananas||$1.59||$1.21|
|2 haas avocados||$3.38||2 haas avocados||$5.00||$3.80|
|organic salad mix||$5.00||salad mix||$5.00||$3.80|
|1lb strawberries||$1.99||250 g strawberries||$3.90||$2.96|
*Note – I’ve tried to include sizes where possible and whether or not an item is organic to clarify the comparison.
The main grocery chains are not your only option for shopping either. There are quite a few independent health food stores and chains (we are close to a Harris Farms market in Manly). There are also farmers markets (called produce markets here) and manly local ethnic markets. One place you won’t find groceries though is in Target or Walmart (i.e. Big W). That is a uniquely American phenomena.