If you’re following me on Instagram you’ll know that last weekend I was in Budapest. I had a fabulous time there; if you like coffee and books, it’s the ideal city! Antiquarian book shopping along Muzéum körut (one of my absolutely FAVOURITE book streets!), sampling espressos in various Budapest cafés, eating roast duck with red cabbage and dumplings, discovering the amazing variety of Tokaj wines and, of course, I also spent hours in various drugstores and supermarkets doing store checks! And whilst doing so, I came across a very interesting domestic health food retailer: Bio-Barát.
It’s always interesting to discover the retail structure of a city. The three big German drugstore chains DM, Rossmann and Müller have a strong presence in Hungary, as does German perfumery chain Douglas.
On the supermarket side of things, the Dutch Spar chain is probably one of the biggest international supermarket retailer in Hungary – there are few Spar stores in Germany so I used to the opportunity to check out the different store formats operated by the chain in Budapest! – and you’ll also find the UK’s Tesco chain in several locations across the city. French supermarket retailer Auchan has a number of stores in Budapest and German discounters Aldi, Lidl (Schwarz group) and Penny (Rewe group) are also present.
The biggest domestic supermarket chain seems to be Coop and there are several smaller supermarket retailers – I visited outlets of the G’Roby and CBA Prima chains. As far as organic supermarkets are concerned, there do not seem to be any large chains; I mostly came across small, independently operated organic stores.
Gluten-free & substitutes
One thing that I noticed in the bigger supermarkets was the strong presence of gluten-free/substitute foods – by this I mean wheat-flour substitutes like coconut or almond flour, or sugar alternatives. Every Spar seemed to carry at least a small selection of Xylit or Erythritol and this is something you rarely find in German supermarkets. If you want to purchase crystal sugar substitutes, you need to visit a Reformhaus or at least one of the larger organic supermarket.
I was also struck by the presence of Paleo products in Budapest – I saw quite a few bakeries that offered Paleo cakes (advertising this fact on large signs in the store window) and every organic store that that I visited carried Paleo confectionery and snacks brands. Gluten-free was another product claim which I saw in various store/café windows, as was Vegan – I can’t read Hungarian, but “gluténmentes” as a claim is pretty much self-explanatory! And Vegan is “végan”.
Considering that free-from foods, substitute foods, Vegan and Paleo products are not cheap and that the average income in Hungary is quite low, this consumer interest is even more remarkable. Of course this is very much an urban thing and I’m pretty sure the whole Paleo/Vegan/free-from trend is much more present in an international city like Budapest than in other Hungarian cities.
And now we come to Bio-Barát!
I was actually checking out a large Müller drugstore in Europeum shopping mall when I noticed the bright green Bio-Barát store sign. It looked intriguing so I went in – and was bowled over by the product choice!
Bio-Barát sells organic delicatessen foods, Paleo foods, Raw foods and Vegan foods; there were entire shelves dedicated to flour substitutes, sugar alternatives (stevia, xylitol, erythritol, coconut sugar) and pasta alternatives (algae pasta, konjac pasta, chestnut flour pasta), dried herbs, flowers and spices, nuts and dried fruits, nutritional supplements, Superfoods, all the way to organic cosmetics. Plus a shed-load of Raw, Paleo, Vegan and sugar-free confectionery and snacks.
All of these product categories are available in Germany, of course, but never in one single store. For organic foods you visit an organic supermarket, supplements and organic beauty are available in drugstores, sugar and flour alternatives you’d find in a Reformhaus, dried herbs in pharmacies and so on.
Basically, whether you like to eat healthily, suffer from food allergies/intolerances or simply follow a particular nutritional lifestyle/diet (Vegan, Paleo, Raw, Vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose-free, sugar-free), you can find most of the stuff you need at Bio-Barát. In fact, the store name translates as “bio friend”.
There are three Bio-Barát stores in Budapest (the chain belongs to the Naturae group): each store is centrally located (Margit körút 60, Szent Istvan körút 8 and József körút 3-7/Europeum mall). I visited the outlets in Europeum and on Margit körút. I was struck by how stylish the Bio-Barát stores looked, much more spacious and elegant than the “normal” organic shops I saw in Budapest (which basically look like organic stores did in Germany in the 1970s!). And the product choice! Amazing. Let’s start with the cosmetics.
I was particularly interested in checking out the organic cosmetics selection as Bio-Barát carries some interesting Hungarian niche brands. I had already seen UK brands Dr. Organic and Faith in Nature in DM, Rossmann and Müller; and Hungarian brand Biola was also present, as well as all the usual German brands like Lavera, Weleda etc. However, Bio-Barát also sells Coconutoil Cosmetics and Wisetree Naturals, two brands which are primarily available in small herbal and health food stores.
Coconutoil Cosmetics offers a small yet comprehensive range of oil-based cosmetics. The primary ingredients in every product is coconut oil which is combined with a various other fatty plant oils and essential oils. A rather interesting product concept: there is a face oil, a hair oil, a nail oil…one oil for each skin/body care need. The range even includes oil cleansing wipes!
And this is the product line-up: after-shave oil (coconut, wheatgerm and macadamia oils, tea tree oil, lavender oil, vitamin E), nail oil (coconut oil, castor oil, neem oil, tea tree oil, vitamins E and A), massage oil (coconut and almond oils, mandarine and sweet orange essential oils, vitamin E), hair repair oil (coconut, argan and castor oils, vitamins A and E) and a belly & baby oil (coconut, jojoba and almond oils, mandarine essential oil, vitamin E).
The range also includes a face oil (coconut, wheatgerm, grapeseed, safflower and argan oils, vitamin E), a cleansing oil (coconut and grapeseed oils, palmarosa, tea tree and lavender essential oils, vitamin E) and oil cleansing wipes (the same composition as the cleansing oil but as a saturated wipe). In addition there are three coconut-oil based deodorant roll-ons, several lip balms and a lip scrub, a baby nappy balm and a few other body care products.
Wisetree Naturals is another interesting organic brand: the company manufactures cosmetics and herbal supplements. The cosmetics range comprises five anti-ageing face care products, three body lotions and three aluminium-free deodorant sprays.
I found the skin care line-up particularly interesting: the face care range includes two moisturising creams (one for dehydrated skin, one for anti-ageing), a serum with apple stem cells and hyaluronic acid, an anti-wrinkle eye cream and a “cycle cream for women” (a skin cream claimed to contain natural progesterone/having a progesterone effect on the hormonal cycle) with yam extract and vitamin E.
I couldn’t find any information about when Wisetree was launched but I’m willing to bet that the cosmetics were introduced within the last few years or so. Rather stylish packaging, too, unlike several other Hungarian pseudo-green cosmetics ranges that I have seen.
Ok, where do I start….well, the Bio-Barát stores carry a good selection of European organic food brands (mostly from Germany) as well as selected food brands from Hungary. There was the most beautiful range of macerated Hungarian honeys, for example, honey with lavender, honey with bourbon vanilla….also a wide range of oils and vinegars (nut oils, herbal vinegars and so on), jams and jellies and dried foods like noodles, flour and rice. These were primarily German and European brands which I was already familiar with.
Much more interesting were the substitute and free-from products! There was an entire shelf full of grain-flour alternatives which included coconut flour, almond flour, hemp flour, linseed flour, arrowroot flour, tapioca flour, psyllium husk flour, flax flour, chestnut flour, plantain flour and rice flour (there was even a bag of powdered sea buckthorn in the flour substitute shelf!) – all of these flours are available in 200/250 gr and 500 gr packs. As far as I could see the majority of these flour alternatives were own label products of the Naturae Group. Which probably explains why they were comparatively affordable.
There was also a whole range of Paleo ready-made baking mixtures (which you rarely find in Germany. Paleo is still very much a niche thing here) for muffins, pizza and bread; Paleo-friendly flour mixtures and even freshly baked Paleo breads! And while we are talking about baked goods: I also saw a seriously impressive range of Raw breads.
Next up, sugar substitutes! Coconut sugar, stevia, xylit, erythritol, birch sugar (or combinations thereof); again in 200/250 gr and 500 gr packs and mostly from the Naturae Group own label brand. I was also interested to see the range of pasta alternatives Bio-Barát is offering: from chestnut flour pasta over algae spaghetti all the way to konjac noodles. Then there are the powdered Superfoods which include all the usual suspects: maca, baobab, spirulina, wheat grass, chlorella, acai, goji, sea buckthorn and so on.
The Bio-Barát stores also sell a very wide range of dried fruits and nuts, both packaged and non-packaged. And although the primary focus lies on dried foods, Bio-Barát also has a few chiller cabinets with dairy products (or rather, mostly non-dairy foods!): tofu, lactose-free milk, plant milks, margarines and butter; sausages and sliced meats (I saw a buffalo-meat product range which looked intriguing). The beverages section includes all sorts of juices, waters and soft drinks (mostly organic/natural) and there was also a small selection of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Now we are coming to the dried herbs and flowers: an entire shelf full; ditto for spices and nutritional/herbal supplements in general. A huge range of confectionery and sweet/savoury snacks in Raw, Vegan or Paleo (or a combination of all three!): mostly Hungarian brands although I also saw European brands like Roo (Netherlands) and Rapunzel (Germany). The selection of Paleo sweets was particularly interesting: Paleo cookies, Paleo drageés, Paleo fruit bars, Paleo muffins….marvellous.
I stocked up on Paleo baking mixtures, green banana (plantain) flour and psyllium husk flour while I was there. Also couldn’t resist the fresh Paleo bread. I like Bio-Barát!