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Products You Cannot Find in Chinese Supermarkets

Updated on October 31, 2018

Immigrating to a new country isn't always as easy as it might seem. One such hurdle could be something that we take for granted in western countries and that's when we walk into a supermarket and we know what we will find. One of the major differences I noticed in China is that they have not embraced the culture of a one-stop shop, you can expect to but your bread at a bakery, your meat and the butcher and your vegetables next to the road at the vendor. Walmart is starting to implement one-stop shops but I think it will be still some time before they completely change their ways. One thing that we as westerns must remember is that Chinese supermarkets cater to a whole different culture. Here are some of the most common western items you will not easily find in a Chinese supermarket.


On my trip to China, this was one of the things that caught me off guard. I would have thought that chocolates were the one thing that would be in every supermarket worldwide. In China, you would be lucky to find a decently wide range of chocolates. Chinese culture is known for not eating a lot of sweet things and it is evident in their variety of sweet snacks as well. If you are a sweet tooth I would recommend that you start mentally preparing yourself. The most common chocolate brands you will find in China is Dove and Snickers.


Cheese is another item on the list that I don't fully understand why it is not found commonly in China. My best guess would be that their food is more oil/water based compared to more creamy flavours. If you are lucky you might find one or two grated cheeses but never a block of cheese.

Fresh milk

As in the case with cheese fresh milk is also not a product that you will easily find. But fresh milk must not be confused to UHT milk as it is available everywhere, but as I'm sure all of you would agree that it is not the same as a glass of cold fresh milk.

Non-bleach skincare products

I first thought that it is a myth but later learned in my own travel experience that this could not be closer to the truth. Chinese people had a sort of an obsession to have a more fair skin tone to the extent that they add bleach to all their skincare products to achieve that perfect white glow. You might need to stock up on skincare products before leaving for China.

Ground coffee

Ground coffee was definitely a sad item and the only reason to why I think it is not available so readily would be that fact that China is a tea-drinking nation and the demand for coffee is not as big as for tea. I must, however, add that you will find instant coffee available as a substitute.


Before I travelled to China I read so many blogs and post where people spoke about this and I was convinced that this is the one item that I'm sure Wallmart will sell but after walking up and down the aisle I came to the same conclusion. Chinese supermarkets do not sell deodorant. Some people speculate it is because Chinese people have a gene that gave them the ability to have odourless sweat and as with the basic economic principle of supply and demand if there is a weak demand for deodorant you can expect a weak supply.

The good news

I do however have some good news, you can order most of these products online on stores like Taobao and Alibaba but I must add that you can expect to pay more for them.

Weirdest things

Just as its normal not to get deodorant in China they see it as normal to stock live fish and crabs. And I can still understand it to an extent but what totally blew me away is the fact that they sell life freshwater turtles and frogs. I am sure that its part of their culture but it's definitely something to get use to. As we all know Chinese culture is big on tea but what amazed me is how relatively difficult it was to find a kettle in China, but instead, they sell tea kettles that keep the water the perfect temperature for the tea to brew. And along with the lack of kettles, you will not really find cold water dispensers as they believe that it's good for your health to drink hot water rather than chilled water.

© 2018 Stefan Reitsma


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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      19 months ago from UK

      This gives an interesting insight into shopping in China. I remember visiting British people living in France over 40 years ago. They always gave us a list of products from the UK to take over for them. But now most things are widely available and we often take it for granted that we can get what we like abroad.


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