American Grocery Stores

I asked some friends if grocery stores (supermarkets) are the same in every country. You already know the answer – NO. They are very different. Here are some things about American grocery stores that might be new, different, or strange for you.

Weights and Measures

In most of the world, people use the metric system, but in the United States, we use the Imperial system. This system is confusing for everyone, but I hope I can help you understand a little bit today. I will tell you the word, and then I will put the abbreviation (short form) in parentheses.

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

  • cup (c) – A cup measures liquids or solids. A cup of liquid is about 237 ml. In grams, it depends on the food. A cup of butter weighs about 227 grams. A cup of sugar weighs about 200 grams. A cup of flour weighs 136 grams.
  • pound (lb) – A pound measures weight. A pound is 0.45 kg. The abbreviation for pound is “lb.” This comes from the Latin word for pound – libra. These apples cost $1.69/lb. That means one pound of apples costs $1.69.
  • ounce (oz) – An ounce measures liquids or solids. An ounce is about 30 ml (liquids) or about 28 grams (solids). There are 8 ounces in 1 cup.
  • pint (pt) – A pint measures liquid. There are 2 cups in 1 pint. A pint is 473 ml.
  • quart (qt) – A quart measures liquid. A quart is 946 ml. A quart is 4 cups.
  • gallon (gal) – A gallon measures liquid. One gallon is about 3.79 liters. One gallon is16 cups. One gallon is 8 pints. One gallon is 4 quarts.
    – 1 gallon = 4 quarts = 8 pints = 16 cups
  • dozen (doz) – A dozen is 12. If you buy a dozen cupcakes, that’s 12 cupcakes.

Here are some other abbreviations you might see in the grocery store:

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

  • ea – This means “each.” The Brussels sprouts in the picture are in bags. One bag costs $3.99. The sign says they cost $3.99/ea.
  • BOGO – This means “buy one, get one.” You might see a sign that says “BOGO 1/2 price.” That means when you pay full price for one, you can get another one for 1/2 price.


American grocery stores are BIG. In many countries, the stores are small, and you go to different stores for different things. For example, you go to a bakery for your bread and cakes, and you go to a butcher for your meat. In the United States, you can get everything in one place.

  • In the bakery section, you can buy bread, cakes, and other baked foods.
  • In the deli section, you can get meats and cheeses cut fresh for you. You can buy as much or as little as you want. Just tell the person working there how much you want.
  • In the produce section, you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

In some countries, you need to weigh your produce and print a label before you go to the checkout counter. In the United States, you do not need to do this. You can take your produce to the checkout area, and the cashier will weigh it. There are scales in the produce department so you can get the exact amount that you want, but you do not need to weigh your fruits and vegetables if you don’t want to.

In some countries, you pay for different things in different departments. In American grocery stores, you pay for everything at the checkout counter (at the front of the store). You do not pay for your bread in the bakery department, for example.


In general, if a package is closed, or if several things are attached (held together), you must buy them like that. For example, if you see 6 bottles of Coke together (attached with plastic), you must buy all of them. You cannot buy only one. If you only want one small bottle of Coke, look in the refrigerator at the checkout counter.

You CAN separate bananas if you don’t want to buy a bunch.

Saving Money

Saving money on food is important to many people. Here are a few ways you can save money on groceries.

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

  • Price Comparison – Prices are not standard, so the same thing might cost more or less depending on the store. Pay attention to the prices the next time you go to a grocery store, and then compare them to a different store’s prices. You might be surprised.
  • Rewards Cards – Most grocery stores have some kind of rewards card to help you save money at that store. Harris Teeter has the VIC card, Food Lion has the MVP card, and Kroger has the PLUS card. These cards are free, and you can use them every time you shop. If you use your card regularly, the store’s computer will give you coupons for the things you buy or similar things.
  • Coupons – You can get coupons from the store, from inside a package, from the internet, or from the newspaper to save money on food. Just take your coupons with you when you shop, and give them to the cashier.
  • Store Brands – There are two kinds of products: name brands and generic/store brands. Name brand products are more expensive because the company pays for advertising. Store brands are cheaper. This chart will tell you the names of the store brands for several stores here in NC.
    Store Brand Names


The laws for buying and selling alcohol in the state of North Carolina might seem strange.

  • You can buy alcohol Monday-Saturday from 7:00 am until 2:00 am. You can buy alcohol on Sunday from 12:00 noon until 2:00 am. You cannot buy alcohol from 2:00 am until 7:00 am (or until noon on Sunday). If you want to buy wine for dinner on Sunday, you have to wait until the afternoon.
  • Grocery stores do not sell liquor. They sell wine and beer, but if you want tequila, whiskey, vodka, or rum, you must go to the ABC store (alcoholic beverage control).
  • You must be at least 21 years old to buy alcohol. The cashier will ask to see your ID (driver’s license). If you do not have an ID for the cashier to check, you will not be allowed to buy alcohol.
  • You cannot open your alcohol inside the store and begin drinking it.