The Bacon Bus: Or Grocery Shopping in Sweden

Like I mentioned, grocery shopping in Norway can be a bit pricey, especially when it comes to meat and alcohol. The solution to this? Go to Sweden!*

Trondheim is conveniently located close to the Swedish border and there is a free bus that runs from Trondheim to Storlien. Just to give you an idea of how much traffic this place must receive from Norway, the bus is free and the shopping center seems like it’s the heart of the town (though calling it a town might be a bit of a stretch).

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As you can see, Storlien is literally as close as you can get to the Norwegian-Swedish border.

The bus is quaintly nicknamed the fleskbussen or “bacon bus” because many of the people take the bus to buy cheap bacon. When I took the bus I used the Thorleifs Bussreiser system and called ahead (+47 72 55 33 94) to make a reservation on the bus.

Getting there takes about an hour and a half, and the bus leaves you about an hour to shop before returning to Trondheim.

As for prices, two kilos of boneless chicken costs around 120 NOK and beer is cheaper at about 70 NOK/six pack (and thankfully the stores accept Norwegian kroner). Other forms of alcohol are also cheaper, but for alcohol over 3.5% you have to order in advance, usually at least two days before your trip. In order to do this you have to go to the systembolaget website, select the appropriate shop (in this case Åre), select your desired alcohol, and checkout. An email with a confirmation code will be sent to you and you have to present this code at the store in order to pick up your purchases.

Funnily enough, it’s not just broke college students who try and take advantage of the cheap alcohol and meat in Sweden. About half of my bus was filled with non-college students, and the elderly man sitting in front of me actually asked if I would pretend to own half of his alcohol in the event that we were stopped by customs. To my surprise, there were no customs or passport control at the Swedish border, and as far as I could tell it seems like you can cross the Norwegian-Swedish border without having to do anything special.

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*I’ve even heard of people flying to Poland to go grocery shopping since the total cost is still less than it would be in Norway, but I have not reached those levels of desperation.

Grocery Shopping: Or Things That Make Me Sad

Not only is alcohol expensive in Norway, so are groceries! Again I like to think that my friends have learned by this point that grocery shopping complaints are strictly prohibited.

So, here are a few things to know about grocery shopping in Norway. First things first, there are definitely certain stores that are cheaper than others. At my Fulbright orientation in August we were told:

Cheap Grocery Stores:

  • Kiwi
  • Rema 1000
  • Coop Prix
  • Rimi

More Expensive Stores:

  • ICA
  • Bunnpris
  • Meny
  • Joker

Most Expensive Stores:

  • Statoil
  • Narvesen
  • 7-Eleven
  • Deli de Luca

While the cheaper grocery stores tend to fulfill most of my shopping needs, the more expensive stores, Meny in particular, tend to contain more variety. All of the grocery stores have sales that you can see on the mobile app Mattilbud.

There are also some added costs that come with grocery shopping in Norway. Plastic bags cost 1 NOK so most people bring their own bags when they shop. Another thing to know is that most drinks have an additional charge on top of the listed price. This additional cost covers the price of the bottle the drink comes in (it’s usually anywhere between an extra 1 to 3 NOK and the cost is listed on the bottle). Most grocery stores contain special machines that will process and recycle your bottles and give you the option of either recouping the cost of the bottle or donating the money.

On to prices! Here are some grocery store prices and all include the 15% tax. All of these items were bought at the cheapest grocery stores:

  • 1.75 liters of Milk (24.90 NOK = 3.51 USD = 7.54 USD/gallon)
  • 1100 g of oatmeal  (19.90 NOK = 2.8 USD)
  • Half dozen eggs (22.3 NOK = 3.14 USD)
  • Pasta noodles (5 NOK = .70 USD)
  • Tomato pasta sauce (20.90 NOK = 2.94 USD)
  • 125 g of blueberries (20 NOK = 2.82 USD)
  • 125 g of raspberries (21.96 NOK = 3.09 USD)
  • Onion (2.14 NOK = .30 USD)
  • Set of avocados (29.90 NOK = 4.21 USD)
  • Green beans (23.90 NOK = 3.37 USD)
  • 750 g of carrots (24.96 NOK = 3.51 USD)
  • 400 g of ground beef (51.40 NOK = 7.24 USD)
  • 500 g of scampi (109 NOK = 15. 35 USD)
  • 2 chicken breasts (35.60 NOK = 5.01 USD)

 

Early on in our Fulbright orientation we were told to stop converting prices to USD, but we were also told that if we felt absolutely compelled to apply an exchange rate to our purchases we should use the Big Mac Index. The Big Mac Index compares the price of big macs across the globe in order to give a conversion rate that is based on purchasing power parity (see parents I did take that basic economics class in college). Using the Big Mac Index the conversion rate is 10 NOK/USD. Using this rate instead of the current exchange rate makes the prices of the above items become more reasonable:

  • 1.75 liters of Milk (24.90 NOK = 2.49 USD = 5.39 USD/gallon)
  • 1100 g of oatmeal  (19.90 NOK = 1.99 USD)
  • Half dozen eggs (22.3 NOK = 2.23 USD)
  • Pasta noodles (5 NOK = .50 USD)
  • Tomato pasta sauce (20.90 NOK = 2.09 USD)
  • 125 g of blueberries (20 NOK = 2 USD)
  • 125 g of raspberries (21.96 NOK = 2.20 USD)
  • Onion (2.14 NOK = .21 USD)
  • Set of avocados (29.90 NOK = 2.99 USD)
  • Green beans (23.90 NOK = 2.39 USD)
  • 750 g of carrots (24.96 NOK = 2.50 USD)
  • 400 g of ground beef (51.40 NOK = 5.14 USD)
  • 500 g of scampi (109 NOK = 10. 90 USD)
  • 2 chicken breasts (35.60 NOK = 3.56 USD)

 

There are only two other things that I’ve found a bit atypical when grocery shopping in Norway:

  1. The units. In the US it is required that food vendors clearly state the volume or weight of an item on the front of the package. In Norway however it can be a bit like playing “Where’s Waldo?” to find the actual units on a food item.
  2. Milk. I used to resent not being able to buy a gallon of milk in Norway; however, this changed when someone told me that milk is never sold in great amounts (the maximum being 1.75 liters) because the milk is fresh. While this does make me feel healthier, this also means that milk usually won’t last longer than its expiration date (typically around a week) since it lacks preservatives.