Travel Guides – I live in the UK. Here’s what the ‘American’ section of the grocery store is actually like.
The “American” section is really tiny.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
I’m an American and Scotland’s version of American food in grocery stores puzzles me.
There are hot dogs in jars, giant marshmallows, a lot of Nerds candies, and uniquely named Doritos.
Twinkies, pancake mix, and cereal are priced like luxury items in the UK.
I was born and raised in America, but have lived in the United Kingdom for several years.
UK grocery stores usually offer a selection of American goodies. Unfortunately, the “American” section is usually tiny, expensive, and can feature some confusing items.
Here’s a snapshot of what the “American” food section looks like in a large suburban Sainsbury’s supermarket in Scotland:
Table of Contents
- Expats hoping for a wide variety of American snacks and products in the UK may be disappointed
- Hot dogs in brine are a staple of the American section
- Breakfast cereal is one of the most expensive American imports in the grocery store
- Pancake mix is a luxury product
- Marshmallows are apparently an American thing
- Gatorade looks a little different in the UK
- Doritos’ flavors have different names
- As an American, looking at a pack of soccer-ball-shaped “football” Cheetos feels like doing a mental agility test
- Nerds candies seem to be a cornerstone of the ‘American’ section in UK grocery stores
- Twinkies are an expensive pastry
- Canned pumpkin is only in the American section
- Certain flavors of Pop-Tarts are pricey
- Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels are ubiquitous in American sections
- Surprisingly, peanut butter isn’t in the American section
- Truly American boxed macaroni and cheese isn’t available, either
Expats hoping for a wide variety of American snacks and products in the UK may be disappointed
There’s usually a small endcap of items.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
The standard American section in a large grocery store is usually just a few shelves, not a full aisle.
It typically won’t include any refrigerated or frozen goods, only packaged snacks and drinks.
Hot dogs in brine are a staple of the American section
The hot dogs in a jar are not actually made in Brooklyn.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
A juicy ballpark-style hot dog fresh off the grill is definitely American. But according to UK supermarkets, true American hot dogs come swimming in salty water.
Two popular brands are Dino’s Brooklyn All-American Style Big Dog (made in Europe) and Ye Olde Oak American Style Hot Dogs in Brine.
A jar of eight Dino’s hot dogs costs £4, or about $5.70.
Breakfast cereal is one of the most expensive American imports in the grocery store
American cereal can cost over $7 per box.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
If you want to eat American breakfast cereal every day in the UK, you better be prepared to remortgage your house.
A single box of Fruit Loops at a large suburban Sainsbury’s costs £5.25. That’s about $7.45, before milk.
The UK has its own brands of sugary cereal, though none are so blatantly dessert-like as Hershey’s Kisses cereal, which also retails for £5.25.
Pancake mix is a luxury product
Bisquick is basically a luxury item here.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
If you thought cereal was expensive, you may want to gird your wallet for the sight of Bisquick pancake mix for £5.85, or $8.30 per box.
Pancakes in the UK are what Americans would call crepes. They’re thin, floppy, and often served with fruit syrup or lemon and sugar.
The fluffy pucks that Americans call pancakes are hard to find in the UK, so it makes sense that Bisquick mix costs roughly as much as gold leaf, gram for gram.
Marshmallows are apparently an American thing
The marshmallows are pink.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
UK stores sometimes offer those tiny marshmallows used for baking or hot chocolate.
But if you want large marshmallows, like the kind you’d use for s’mores (also a very American treat), you’ll usually have more luck in the “American” section.
Before I moved to the UK, I thought marshmallows, which were invented long ago in Egypt, had no nationality. I assumed their availability in supermarkets was a universal constant, like gravity or “Law and Order” reruns.
But it turns out big, puffy marshmallows are an American thing.
A bag of Giant American-Style Toastin’ Marshmallows costs £3, or $4.30. They’re also pink, not the standard white color you find in the US.
Gatorade looks a little different in the UK
Gatorade is a popular American item.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
When my husband first visited America, he bought enough Gatorade for a convention of Olympic sprinters. He said he had never seen a drink that came in so many neon colors.
Gatorade in this UK grocery store costs £1.50, or about $2.20, for a 500-milliliter, or just under 17-ounce, bottle.
Some flavors of Gatorade are impossible to find in the UK, such as Glacial Cherry or grape. Curiously, I’ve noticed grape-flavored food or drinks are almost nonexistent in the UK.
The ingredients in the US version of Cool Blue Gatorade include artificial flavor. The version of Cool Blue I found in the UK is made with only “natural flavoring.”
The ingredients are different from bottles in the US.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
The UK limits the use of certain artificial dyes and colors in food, which may have something to do with my husband’s shock at seeing a beverage aisle with all the colors of a supernova.
The rest of the drink section just includes cans of A&W root beer and bottles of 7-Up.
The drink section is pretty small with just a few types of soda.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
Doritos’ flavors have different names
Doritos have different names than their US counterparts.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
For reasons that must make sense to the cabal of marketing wizards at Frito-Lay, the classic US Doritos flavors Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch don’t exist in the UK.
Instead, they’ve been rebranded as Tangy Cheese and Cool Original.
Cool Original and Tangy Cheese taste pretty much the same as their US counterparts, though they seem to be slightly less loaded with flavor powder.
Tangy Cheese tastes like the Nacho Cheese Doritos in the US.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
You’ll find them on the shelf next to Doritos flavors like guacamole, Chilli Heatwave, and the abomination known only as “Lightly Salted.”
I haven’t seen this type of Doritos in the US.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
A medium-sized bag of Doritos costs £2.50, or about $3.50.
As an American, looking at a pack of soccer-ball-shaped “football” Cheetos feels like doing a mental agility test
These are puzzling because of the UK and US differences between football.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
They taste more or less like standard American Cheetos, but with a hint of confusion. In the US, footballs are oblong and brown — these are shaped like soccer balls but called footballs.
Luckily they’re only £1, or $1.35, per bag so you can afford to snack on these perplexing puffs until the packaging starts to make sense.
Nerds candies seem to be a cornerstone of the ‘American’ section in UK grocery stores
I’m not sure why Nerds are so popular in the UK “American” sections.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
I’ve always considered Nerds to be something of a second-string candy, not an MVP like M&Ms or Reese’s Cups.
But grocery stores in the UK seem to think Nerds are a pillar of the American diet.
In one “American” section, Nerds take up one of only six shelves. I also count no less than six different varieties of Nerds products.
For imported candy, they’re pretty cheap. You can pick up a Nerds Rope for £1, or about $1.35.
The rest of the candy section feels kind of random, too. There’s white-chocolate Reese’s but not the popular milk-chocolate original.
There are no milk-chocolate Reese’s, though.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
I also saw WarHeads Cubes and Sour Smog Balls, which I don’t really remember being popular in the US.
Twinkies are an expensive pastry
Twinkies are incredibly expensive.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
In the US, Twinkies are known for being a cheap indulgence. In the American section, a box of Twinkies costs £5.50, which is about $8.
To put that in perspective, in the same UK grocery store, you can buy an organic, 30-day matured premium steak for £4.25.
Canned pumpkin is only in the American section
Tinned pumpkin is pretty rare.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
You’ll have an easier time buying antimatter than premade pumpkin-pie filling in the UK.
Its close cousin, canned or “tinned” pumpkin, is kept exclusively in the American section and usually shoved between crackers and candy, as if the British aren’t sure if it’s supposed to be sweet or savory.
If you want to buy a single can of pumpkin in the UK, you can expect to pay about £1.60, or about $2.25.
Certain flavors of Pop-Tarts are pricey
The UK only has a few standard Pop-Tart flavoes.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
From what I’ve seen, there are only three flavors of Pop-Tarts regularly sold on UK shelves: Choctastic, Apple Blast, and Strawberry Sensation.
If you want any of the 25+ US flavors, you’ll have to check the American section.
A box of Pop-Tarts will run you £3.30, or about $4.70.
Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels are ubiquitous in American sections
Snyder’s pretzels are a common American aisle item.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
I’m not sure if Synder’s of Hanover has some sort of deal going on with UK grocery chains or if the British are just passionate about Pennsylvanian pretzels, but these snacks are often front-and-center in American sections.
A small snack bag costs £1.30, or about $1.85.
In general, I’ve found that pretzels aren’t as popular in the UK as they are in the US. Soft pretzels, in particular, are a rarity.
Surprisingly, peanut butter isn’t in the American section
When I first spent time in the UK back in 2013, I struggled to find peanut butter. I’d sometimes go to an American import store for the thrill of spending half my rent money on a jar of Jif.
Eight years later, peanut butter seems to have migrated out of the American section and onto regular UK shelves.
I still haven’t been able to locate the massive, swimming pool-size tubs you can buy in US grocery stores, though.
Truly American boxed macaroni and cheese isn’t available, either
I would do anything for reliable access to classic, neon-colored, American-style boxed macaroni and cheese in the UK.
Instead, the American section sometimes features Cheesey Pasta that tastes nothing like American macaroni and cheese.
This doesn’t come close to Kraft mac and cheese, in my opinion.Sophia Mitrokostas for Insider
Each box costs about £1.50, or $2.10, which I gladly pay for the chance to taste even the twisted shadow of my beloved American version of mac and cheese.
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