I'm a New Zealand local who explored my grocery store's 'American' section. Here's what it's actually like.

tofu on shelf, american section in NZ grocery store
I explored the American section in my local New Zealand grocery store.Petrina Darrah

I'm a New Zealand local who decided to peruse the "American" section of my local grocery store.

Petrina Darrah with Reese's Peanut Butter Cup
The supermarket had Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, but I often reach for the local treats instead.Petrina Darrah

I live in New Zealand and although I've never been to the US, I was curious to see which American foods I could find in my local grocery store.

The selection wasn't what I was expecting. Here's what I found.

The small section had a lot of big gaps and empty spaces on its shelves.

american food section in the new zealand grocery store
I perused the American section of my local grocery store in New Zealand.Petrina Darrah

The American section covered a few narrow shelves in the international aisle, sitting directly beside ingredients and snacks from other countries, like South Africa and the UK.

The shelves in the American section weren't exactly laden with products. Some items appeared to be out of stock, and other boxes were half-empty and dusty.

It was a sad state of affairs that I'm guessing might've resulted from a combination of supply-chain issues and locals' weak demand for these types of goods.

I saw a lot of candy and sugary treats on the shelves.

nerds candy ons shelves
The supermarket had several American sweets, like Nerds.Petrina Darrah

Of the small selection of American products, most were sugary treats or candies, which New Zealanders call "lollies."

I recognized Nerds and Reese's peanut-butter cups and also spotted Pop-Tarts, which aren't common at all in New Zealand.

I've never been to the US, but I know there's a stereotype that American foods are highly processed and sugary, and these products aligned with that idea.

Although to be fair, these items were shipped a long way, so only foods with plenty of preservatives would likely be able to make it all the way from the US to New Zealand without going bad.

The American section stocked some soft drinks that I can't find easily in New Zealand.

welch's grape soda
Welch's grape soda was a rare find in the supermarket.Petrina Darrah

A large amount of shelf space in the American section was dedicated to soft drinks.

Root beer, a beverage created in the US, had its own shelf. It isn't very popular in New Zealand, so I wasn't surprised that it was confined to this section. It was clearly there for expats and tourists.

I also saw Welch's grape soda, another drink invented in the US that I was unfamiliar with. In my experience, it's not easy to buy grape-flavored soft drinks in New Zealand.

I was surprised to see firm tofu in the American section, separate from the other tofu brands.

tofu on the shelves
I found it peculiar that the tofu was right by the chocolate bars.Petrina Darrah

A Japanese brand of tofu, Morinaga, sat alongside the chocolate bars in the American section.

Morinaga does have branches in the US but this placement still seemed odd to me, since the store had a lot of other tofu brands available in the regular dairy-free section.

Tofu is common in New Zealand, so I was surprised this specific brand was on the shelves here and not in a different part of the supermarket with the others.

In the display, the store seemed to loosely define which items qualified as "American."

cans of soft drinks
I found root beer and Welch's grape soda at the supermarket.Petrina Darrah

I thought all of the products in this section would be made in the US, or at the very least, famous in the US.

But underneath the American section, I saw a couple of soft-drink brands that appeared to be British or South African. And just below the Nerds were candies that aren't American at all: Tex, from South Africa, and Wispa, from England.

It's possible that they were just shuffled over into this section because of the empty space.

I usually prefer the store's locally made products over the imported ones.

peanut butter jars on shelves
I usually buy peanut butter that's locally produced.Petrina Darrah

There were some American-style products scattered around the supermarket outside of the designated section.

However, most of the New Zealanders I know, including myself, prefer to buy local products over imported ones, which might be why the American items were few and far between.

For example, you can buy US-made peanut butter, but it's nowhere near as popular here as local New Zealand peanut-butter brands, like Fix & Fogg.

Our local peanut butter is famous for having peanuts and salt as the only ingredients, whereas many American brands have added oils and sugars.

The same situation happened with chocolate.

I recognized Reese's on the shelf but would rarely buy its peanut-butter cups over the peanut-butter chocolate block from Whittaker's, a New Zealand brand. I'm proud of my country's locally made chocolate and consider it to be higher quality than Reese's.

Many New Zealanders are fans of American condiments, and there were plenty of those at the store.

mustard in new zealand grocery store
The store sold a variety of mustards.Petrina Darrah

American condiments are very popular here.

Heinz's mustard is a favorite among New Zealanders, and I spotted it on the shelf beside an Australian-made version of the mustard.

Barbecue sauces are also a hit here. You can even buy Sweet Baby Ray's Hickory & Brown Sugar barbecue sauce.

In New Zealand, we also have some products that are "American-style."

american-style spices on shelf
The store carried Kingpin spices in its American section.Petrina Darrah

We might not stock many American products in our supermarkets, but New Zealanders are happy to take inspiration from the flavors and spices in the US.

For example, you can get American-style hot dogs from a local butcher brand. They're a novelty, as many New Zealanders typically prefer sausages with slices of bread instead of a bun.

Culley's is another New Zealand brand that's inspired by American foods and flavors, stocking a range of sauces and spices that includes American smoked hickory salt.

I'm not sure if these American-style products live up to the original ones, but I like to think they provide some comfort to the Americans in New Zealand, who may leave the American food section empty-handed.

Overall, I think many expats from the US would be disappointed by the selection.

american candies on shelves
The shelf had Nerds, Reese's, and other American treats.Petrina Darrah

Most New Zealanders I know wouldn't typically stop by this section. There weren't any brands here I would reach for since I know I can find similar local alternatives elsewhere in the store.

Sadly, I'm not sure Americans would love this section either.

The products seemed to be aimed at homesick expats, but it's unlikely they would satisfy travelers' cravings for goodies from home.

An American friend living in Wellington told me that New Zealand's specialty stores have a better selection than local supermarkets, but even those have limits. When he does come across his favorite American foods, he immediately stocks up and hoards them since they're so hard to find here.

It was slim pickings in the supermarket, and if you're looking for specific American brands or snacks, like Chips Ahoy or Wheat Thins, you're out of luck.

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