China's answer to Costco (until Costco arrived), German chain METRO doesn't have the nicest locations, but their distance from the downtown means that the warehouse spaces are absolutely massive. Vertigo-inducing shelves of pallets loom overhead while you're picking out 10-gallon drums of soy sauce. They also have the largest beer selection we've seen in China to date. This is where you shop when you need to do a dinner party for 20 teenagers and need chicken in party packs. Downside is that you have to sign up for a membership the first time you check out, but there’s no added cost, just a bit of irritation and some WeChat promotions.
Alibaba's food court/food market/bid for grocery domination Hema isn't a grocery store. It’s an experience. The selection is exhaustive, the staff is friendly, and the conveyor belts rumbling by overhead are just cool. They are particularly good at live seafood at discount prices, plucked right out of the huge tanks. Otherwise, it's the everyday option for stocking up on fresh vegetables and fruits, and whatever dry groceries you might need. Also: Hema is the best place in town to buy avocados. They partner with Mr. Avocado (a brand from California's Mission Avocado) to make sure the avocados are ripened professionally before they hit the store. Sounds picky but you'll never get a half-ripe, brown-stained, fibrous avocado from Hema. That's if you end up going to the store at all — the app is fiendishly convenient and delivery is usually within an hour, if you're within the 3km delivery range.
New arrival from Germany, ALDI, has two shops. There's one in Minhang, which we didn't go to, and the one we shopped at, on Jiangning Lu. It's small and has a limited selection compared to the other chains. We hear the one in Minhang is similar in size. The thing here is that most dry goods are Aldi's private label, meaning you've never heard of them and may have to take a blind shot on them. Still, prices are cheaper than most of the other import supermarkets, and the vacuum-packed beef brisket is a good deal. Eggs are cheap too!
A 5,000 sqm food court and import supermarket. Pudong's Deli Life is trying to be a combination of City'super and HEMA, with a fancy import supermarket grafted onto a food court. Or maybe the other way around. There's a Mammamia in here, plus many regional Chinese stalls. If you're in need of some very expensive fruit and a chocolate bar, and you're near the Century Link mall, Deli Life would probably come in handy.
Hong Kong-based City'super has four locations around town and they are as lavish as supermarkets come. They have a sparkling seafood counter, a big selection of fresh meats including a counter for expensive, expensive beef, some wildly overpriced Manuka honey, a good selection of Japanese groceries, and high-end staples. It's where you come when you want to buy expensive Iberico ham and nicely packaged herbs and maybe some Royce chocolate from just outside. You could do a whole shop here but then you could do a lot of things... with 5,000rmb.
City Shop was the OG import grocery store before any of these others came into the market. Their signature item is the loss-leader rotisserie chicken (38rmb as of summer 2019) and their flagship store is probably the one in the basement of Shanghai Centre on Nanjing Xi Lu. They have a deli counter with meats and cheeses, and it's fine, though it has been shown up by the swisher grocery chains that have opened in the last five years or so. Doing a full shop here requires a bit of savviness. Prices on some things here are eye-watering (cereal or imported ice cream) while others are actually quite a bargain (the freshly made laffa bread, great for wraps or dips at home). Forget the bakery. Also notable, their fruit section. While on the pricey side, City Shop often gets in really good varietals of tropical fruit. Their supply chain is capricious and unreliable, so they only ever have 70% of what you came for; if you find what you want, buy in bulk, because you never know if they'll be in stock on your next visit.
Ole is the supermarket brand from Vanguard, which has thousands of stores in Hong Kong (ultimately owned by huge conglomerate China Resources). In Shanghai, they have seven branches, mostly in fancy, high-end locations, where they target fancy, high-end people shopping for fancy, high-end imported food. It's all quite fancy. And high-end. They do have a decent butcher counter that will cut you thick steaks of expensive beef (American, once upon a time) for a special occasion, but this is probably not a place to do the weekly shop. It's on par with City'super, at least in the exclusivity vibe.