Grocery Shopping in Mexico: Here’s What’s Made in the USA

Trump says Mexico is eating America's lunch. He’s right, in one sense.

By Nacha Cattan | October 28 2016

It was a fixture of Donald Trump’s campaign rallies: Global trade is a problem for U.S. workers, and the source of their pain can be found in some other country. Most often Mexico and China get the blame, but the culprit might also be Vietnam or South Korea. These countries, he likes to say, are “eating our lunch.”

Turns out Trump’s metaphor is, in one sense, objectively true—just not exactly how he would have voters believe.

An American browsing the aisles of a Selecto supermarket such as this one just outside Mexico City would find much that is familiar. Mexicans at this upscale grocery in Naucalpan are scooping Cap’n Crunch cereal for breakfast, eating U.S. beef for lunch, and snacking on Oreo cookies after dinner, all brought across Mexico's northern border.

Nabisco, the manufacturer of Oreos and other snacks, has indeed opened a factory in Mexico—something Trump liked to note in his campaign appearances. But that hasn't stopped discerning Mexican shoppers from buying Oreo, Chips Ahoy!, and another 10 kinds of Nabisco cookies imported from the U.S.

In all, Selecto imports up to 15 percent of its inventory, and most of those imports come from the U.S. The chain, owned by a domestic competitor to Wal-Mart known as Grupo Comercial Chedraui, is one of a growing number of stores that have cropped up in the past five years that cater to Mexico's expanding middle class by offering more variety.

A supermarket offers an unusually clear window into the trade partnership between Mexico and the U.S., in which goods from auto parts to oil cross the border several times, creating jobs on both sides before they’re ready for sale.

Mexico imports far more from the U.S. than from anywhere else, and those shipments have tripled since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994.

Food and beverages are no exception: Of all the food Mexico imports, nearly four-fifths comes from the U.S. Tyson Foods and Coca-Cola are among the biggest sellers of American products in Mexico, according to Mexican government data. Even Mexican beer relies on ingredients made in America: Mexico imports more than six times as much American malt as it did before NAFTA.

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Last updated: January 26, 2017

As much as 15 percent of all the food in this store is imported, mostly from the U.S.

Last year, the U.S. sent Mexico nearly $300 million worth of snack food. That's an awful lot of chips.

The cake and frosting aisle: 100 percent made in U.S.A.

It's not just processed food. Some ingredients the U.S. sends Mexico:

  • Corn – $2.3 billion
  • Soy beans – $1.4 billion
  • Wheat – $650 million
  • More than $1 billion of American dairy products headed to Mexico last year.

    Sorry, Belgium. 70 percent of the waffles section is American-made.

    Among the top U.S. food companies in Mexico: Tyson Foods, Campbell Soup, PepsiCo, and—surprise!—Coca-Cola.

    "Celebrate independence day with a delicious cut of beef from the United States," this poster says. Why not?

    Let’s compare Mexico’s U.S. imports before and after NAFTA.

  • 1993 – $45 billion
  • 2015 – $187 billion
  • Trump demanded a boycott after Nabisco moved some Oreo production to Mexico last year. But of the 15 kinds of Nabisco cookies in this aisle, two-thirds were baked in the U.S.

    Forget salsa. Mexico has an appetite for American condiments, too—8 times more, by value, than in '93.

    Americans eat Mexican limes, and Mexicans eat these most American of fruits—$273 million worth of them last year.

    Sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Division; Mexico Economy Ministry; and Mexico Economy Ministry's NAFTA office at Mexican embassy in Washington, D.C.

    Photographs by Jake Lindeman

    Editor: Thomas Houston, Aaron Rutkoff and Sam Schulz

    Photo Editor: Eugene Reznik

    Design and code: James Singleton, Steph Davidson