Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Self-catering in Switzerland?? What you need to know about shopping Free From...

Sometimes those of us in the Free From community in the UK have been known to have a little grumble, from time to time, about how supermarkets define and cater for our needs. Me? Yes, me too! However, shopping in Switzerland has certainly made me a little more appreciative of what we do have - although that said, I also acknowledge that shopping for Free From in the UK can still be a post code lottery! 

Migros supermarket in Zermatt


Basically, in Switzerland, 'Free From' (which seems to be labelled 'Reform' in so-called 'Bio' or health food shops) seems only to refer to foods that are 'gluten frei' (gluten free) or 'lactose frei' (lactose free). The main supermarkets certainly seem to think so, anyway! Although they do stock a few dairy free milks, the only ones I've been able to spot are only soya or rice-based - even the almond milk was blended with rice! 

You can find soja/soya milk in most supermarkets

You can, to be fair, find dairy free margarine, if you look carefully, and other 'normal' products made without milk - but there may be no guarantee that these products are actually dairy free (Original Pom Bears was a case in point)! The term 'lactose frei' is the only term used. Some of these products are in fact made without dairy, but some i.e. 'lactosefrei' ice cream, cheese, yoghurt, milk etc. definitely is NOT!

This one is dairy free!

Co-op on the whole, was a better source of Free From products than Migros (these are the two major supermarkets in Switzerland). Co-op was where (following a panicked tweet to Heddi, aka Dairy Free Switzerland), we finally found a loaf of bread suitable for 'Baby.' 

This loaf was dairy free!

All the Migros loaves had 'may contain milk' warnings. 

One of the things I found was that the size of the store usually seemed to correlate to the amount of Free From food that they were likely to sell. Moreover, there's no Free From section, so you literally need to comb the WHOLE store in order to find your Free From products. 

Normal and Free From foods are stacked together

Gluten free bread is found next to the bread, gluten free biscuits next to the other biscuits, gluten free flour next to the other flours etc. etc. Some allergy friendly foods are marked with the 'AHA' logo to help inform those with allergies (see this blog post, for an explanation), but none of the products marked in this way, that I saw in the stores were suitable for me!

The gluten free flour is a bit pricey!

In general the supermarkets seem to be able to cater for those with gluten issues - Schar products are stocked in most, but if this is combined with milk, soya or lupin (which is used in a lot of gluten free products) or if you have a problem with cow's milk protein, then you're better off looking for some of those 'Bio' or health-food-cum-pharmacy shops, which often sell a wider range of Free From goods, along with some Vegan products. 

Health Food Shops

Thankfully, as we had relatives who live in Switzerland, they were able to be point us, fairly early on in the trip, in the direction of Egli - which I think are a chain, of health food stores - somewhat like Holland and Barrett, but a lot smaller. The store which we visited was at Zurich station, on the floor under the main concourse. See here, for a link to a list of their other shops.

Behold! Egli!

Egli had a superb range - including Schar gluten free. Schar products are a Godsend for the gluten free, however, most of them were useless to me, as although some are also dairy free, a lot of these contain/may contain soya in some form or another. Soya is a 'no-go' for me, unless it's just the soya lecithin. However, the range available at Egli was sufficient for me to be able to locate a few products that were suitable for me!

Just look at the size of this gluten free section!

They also sold a number of vegan (soya-based) dessert products such as Provamel and Bio Vegan, that would do for 'Baby', but also some rice-based desserts that were suitable for Me!

It was thick and gloopy but tasted alright!

Check out these desserts on the bottom shelves!

Egli also stocked a fabulous range of dairy free milks and even cream! 

Check out Isola Bio - met them at the London Allergy Show last summer!

They also sold a whole range of other Vegan products, which were no good for me (intolerant to soya) or 'Baby' (as she's such a picky eater) but would be ideal for a travelling Vegan!

The top row here is great, if you're okay with soya!

Not only that, but Egli also sold dairy free Booja Booja ice cream and chocolates - although at an eye-watering price! Unfortunately for us, we were facing a train journey of three to four hours, so I couldn't risk taking the ice cream (for 'Baby', not me, as I can't eat cashews). And I already had some choccies stashed in the luggage, so I passed on those also. 

Dairy free but pricey!

They also sold raw chocolate, which of course is also dairy free. I've had raw chocolate before and it was fine, but I think this one requires a more educated palate! It was too raw for me!

Pretty pricey!

Egli even sold Kettle Chips! Nope I didn't see those anywhere else in Switzerland!

A taste of home!

It was from Egli we obtained these Schar rolls for the rail journey from Zurich to Zermatt (three hours, more or less). Not sure quite what 'Baby' or Me would have eaten otherwise, as the rest of our food was already en route!

Dairy and gluten free lunch!

Had I but known it, although I found some Health Food shops/pharmacies that also sold some 'Reform' products in Zermatt, Egli's was the best range of Free From products I was to see during our entire Swiss adventure! However, that said, Muller and some Apothekes were also not too bad, but they didn't have any chilled or frozen section!

This pharmacy/Apotheke in Zermatt had a decent Reform section

However, that said, I was mostly based in Zurich and Zermatt - so I've no idea how you'd fare elsewhere in Switzerland. I would be interested to hear from others, who've travelled that way, so we can compare notes... for next time, of course!! For although it was harder for to find what I wanted there, it certainly wasn't impossible and I would definitely go again!

Seven Top Tips:

1. Take some essential supplies!! Obviously you can buy meat, veg etc in the supermarkets, but if, like me, you are avoiding a combination of products, like gluten, dairy and soya, then I'd strongly suggest that you take your own bread, cakes, and croissants (if required) etc. It's just so tricky finding bread/cakes that are free from ALL of these - it's definitely much easier in the UK. I would also add bring your own sausages, if you can! I didn't find any that I could eat in Switzerland, although The Hub did find some that were dairy free. You may also want to take your own milk, unless you're okay with rice or soya milk and you'll definitely need to take your own dairy free cakes and chocolate!!!

2. If you're taking gluten free bread, buy it as close to the date you travel as you can and freeze any excess rolls/loaves, once you get there, to make sure it lasts for the duration of your trip!

3. Pack your gluten free bread biscuits in a box, that will protect them from being squished, before packing it in your suitcase - you'll thank me for that!! Think about the baggage handlers!!

4. Tightly seal your dairy free milk cartons in plastic bags, prior to packing and make sure you pack them in a suitcase with hard sides - there's no knowing what will happen to your gear when the baggage handlers toss it around!

5. Either arrange with your airline for extra baggage allowance or travel Business class on the outward bound trip, so you get extra baggage allowance. You'll need it for the purpose of carrying your own supplies.

6. Do your homework! Learn to recognise common words associated with milk - in German at the very least - to help you decipher food labels! I found my schoolgirl French and Spanish also came in quite handy. Some Schar products also carried ingredient lists written in English, but not all! This list, compiled by Dairy Free Switzerland is a great place to start!

This mayo was dairy free but I missed the hydrolysed soya protein when I read the label - cue bad tummy!

7. Another piece of homework: research which shops are available in the area to which you're travelling. Migros and Co-op are the two major supermarkets, but look out for shops like Egli (as mentioned) and Muller and even, believe it or not ALDI!

Aldi sells organic soja/soya milk and Vegan hot chocolate

If you have any more top tips, for us, please add them in the comments section below!


If you're travelling within the EU, reading food labels should be fairly standardised, by now, thanks to recent EU legislation (see here for clarification by the Food Standards Agency). Switzerland is not part of the EU, however they do comply with some EU regulations. For the Swiss take on food labelling, here's another post by Heddi, explaining it all.

And... one last thing, before going, check out this website here - it sells British food products in Switzerland, so it may well have something you need!

Related Posts:

Travelling with the Dairy Free 'Baby'

Flying Swiss Air with the Dairy Free 'Baby' (Part One)

Flying Swiss Air (Part Two)... Or thank God for Burger King!


  1. Hello! As I've written before, it's so helpful to learn from your experiences in Switzerland! Thank you for sharing this post. We live on the French-speaking side, but will have to check out Egli next time we cross the Röstigraben! When I travel to the German side, it can be more challenging to read food labels because sometimes they're no longer in French! Here, it's the “Pharmacie” not the “Apotheke“ that can carry gluten-free or lactose-free products. While we can get lots of great food at Coop and Migros, I've never seen a dairy-free cheese, for example, at these grocery stores, so we rely on “bio“ or “reformhaus“ shops that carry more of these free from products.

    Also, I wanted to mention that I've compiled lists of some allergy-friendly restaurants and also accommodations (hotels, hostels, apartments, etc.) with kitchens on my blog, based on our own experiences and recommendations from others – in case it's helpful to others.

    Finally, I am more than happy to try and help folks with questions about traveling (or moving) to Switzerland with food allergies, so please don't hesitate to contact me.

    Thanks again for all your ongoing support and help! I really appreciate it.

  2. Hiya Heddi!

    Thanks so much for your contributions! It's interesting to note how different the regions in Switzerland can be!

    I look forward to reading more of your posts, as I'm sure we'll be back - to visit our rellies at the very least!

    Best wishes