If you are planning on living and working abroad, you might be wondering whether some of the little things that make up all the comforts of home will still be available to you, and this might include your favourite brands. Brits abroad say they often pine for things like Marmite and Walkers crisps, but it isn’t just food items for which a person can be nostalgic. Effective or prescription medication is obviously often essential, and newspapers – even if now usually online – can provide a much-needed window into what’s going on at home. These things, small though they may be, can be a lifeline and make a difference to your mental health: encountering a familiar product in a foreign supermarket can be, in times of stress, something of a lifeline.The situation can, however, be confusing: some brands are known by different names abroad. “Poos! Pas!” might baffle you if you see it in a Belgian supermarket, but Rice Krispies will remain familiar. Hellman’s mayo morphs to the Best Foods brand in parts of the US. The aforementioned Walkers crisps have all sorts of name changes: go for Lays in European supermarkets and you should be on firm ground. Different logos can also be confusing.
These days, online shopping can fill in a good many gaps, and so can care packages from your home-based relatives and friends, but it depends where you are: postage may prove prohibitively expensive and the prices of products online may also not be cost-effective. This means that you are once again limited to local shops – so how do you locate your favourite brand? Bearing in mind possible name changes, your options are really trial and error, asking around the expat community – who should prove very helpful – or contacting the manufacturer. Unilever, for example, run a website which shows which of their products are available abroad.
You can also check the larger local supermarkets to see if they have a ‘foreign food’ section. This will depend on the size of the supermarket and the local demographic: areas with large Chinese or Indian populations, for instance, often have a section for Asian brands.
Some US supermarkets will have a ‘British foods’ section (although the products displayed are sometimes rather random: one Californian display featured shortbread, which was fair enough, but also a bafflingly large range of Union Jack-packaged vodka).
A sample of British foodstuffs in one grocery store revealed quite a comprehensive selection of Robinsons Squash, Bisto, Ribena, HP Sauce, Heinz Salad Cream, Heinz Baked Beans, Branston pickle, Chivers jam, Coleman’s Mustard, McVitie’s Digestives, Jacob’s Cream Crackers and Bird’s Custard. Not a jar of Marmite in sight, though! Both American and Australian supermarkets may include some Irish options in this section, such as Taytos.
As workers move around the world, local demographics are reflected in the speciality shops in any one area: the recent prevalence of Polish and general Eastern European grocery stores in the UK is an instance of this. However, this does not apply to every cultural group and finding a British food store in, for example, the Midwestern USA may prove a little more difficult, and this is where the digital option can be a lifesaver.
Online, you may want to check out specific options, such as the British Food Depot (‘run by expats’) in the US and the British Corner Shop. These offer individual products and in the case of the BFD a ‘Brit-Pak’ subscription box for around $35 a month, featuring standard British brands. They say that they may not ship some items (such as meltable chocolate) during the warmer months, but contact them if you are in search of anything particular.
Conversely, companies such as American Fizz offer hard-to-get US food items to homesick Americans resident in the UK, where basics such as grits can be virtually unknown. They stock cake mixes, pasta, sauces and pickles, among other items. Even familiar varieties will vary. American bacon, for instance, is very different to the British kind, and you might want to shop around.
Most British/American expats are aware that we are two nations divided by a common language, as George Bernard Shaw put it: ‘biscuits’ are an entirely different thing in the States and it is possible to live most of your life without realising that popovers and Yorkshire puddings are remarkably similar. So if there is something that you especially like, make sure you’re aware of the correct category, as well as the actual name.
The Australian Food Store offers a similar service to expat Aussies around the globe, and in fact companies in many countries have not been slow to take advantage of the opportunities offered by online shopping: you can order Scandinavian pickled herrings from specialist online shops if you are in the UK, and Russian equivalents such as the Babushka Deli offer a limited range of Russian beauty products and medicines as well as food items. Most of these online stores will also ship a range of frozen goods, allowing you to stock the freezer with your favourites.
The British Corner Store reported to the Daily Mirror that “Weirdly, many of our expats have baby milk on their minds, as well as the odd Brit-centric snacks and treats we seem to have a taste for here, like Frazzles, Jaffa Cakes and a good buttery crumpet. It gives an interesting insight into the diet of the typical Brit, who when taken out of their natural habitat still craves Heinz baked beans, Robinsons squash and McVities gingernuts.”
If it’s medication you’re after, make sure you bring the packaging of your original meds with you. Your new GP or pharmacist will be able to identify the same brand under a different name, or a local generic which does the same job (not all generics are the same, however, so make sure your pharmacist understands your requirements).
Finally, if you are intending to order something in your home nation and have it shipped or posted to your new home, make sure that it is legal to do so: Australia, for example, is very strict when it comes to the items that you are permitted to bring into the country, and some foodstuffs may be prohibited. Similarly, some medications, particularly opioids, will be on the banned list in many countries, so do your homework before you travel, especially if an item is essential for your health.