Are you planning a trip and wondering about the grocery stores in Mexico? Keep reading for the details on what to expect when grocery shopping in Mexico, how to shop, cost comparisons to the US, what you can’t find in most Mexican grocery stores and where you can buy specialty items.
Table of Contents
- Preparing for Grocery Shopping in Mexico
- Setting Expectations
- Are groceries expensive in Mexico?
- What are grocery stores called in Mexico?
- Main Grocery Store Brands in Mexico
- National Chains
- Regional Chains
- Differences between grocery shopping in Mexico and the US
- Product Selection
- Store Experience
- Nutrition and Product Labels
- What you should buy when grocery shopping in Mexico
- Short Visits
- Long Visits
- What food to bring from the US to Mexico
- Grocery Stores in Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point)
- Do I need pesos?
- Conclusion: Are groceries cheaper in Mexico?
Preparing for Grocery Shopping in Mexico
I know most people consider grocery shopping a chore but I really enjoy it. For me, it’s guilt-free spending. We are vigilant about reducing food waste so I know the money spent won’t be wasted.
When we travel, I love to visit food markets and grocery stores around the world. The types of products, packaging and varieties are intriguing.
As adventurous eaters, we don’t usually have problems finding good food in most places. We especially enjoy trying snack foods around the world.
In many countries, the smells and colors in markets cause sensory overload for an American accustomed to big box stores full of processed foods. Picky eaters who haven’t spent much time outside the US might not appreciate the more natural presentation like fresh fish on ice, dirty lettuce, room temperature eggs and regional meat cuts.
Setting Expectations for Grocery Shopping in Mexico
Before you head to your first shopping trip at a Mexican grocery store, let me help set some realistic expectations.
Mexicans buy and eat fresh food. Don’t expect a lot of shelf-stable items. The key categories of non-perishables available are junk food, tomato paste, bouillon, oil, tuna, rice, and beans. Ready to eat shelf-stable items are available but you’ll pay a premium for most of these.
Expect to shop more often. Fresh bread and tortillas are best when they are fresh. It is best to shop every few days in Mexico instead of once a week or every other week like most Americans.
Selection changes regularly. If you see something you like, buy it right then, because it might not be there next time. This applies to all kinds of food including fresh produce.
Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t plan to cook the same recipes you make in the US, because you may have a hard time finding ingredients. Instead, get creative and cook what’s fresh at the store. For instance this week, we plan to grill stuffed poblano peppers, make our own bean dip with fresh herbs and limes, and enjoy chorizo and eggs in tortillas for breakfast.
Be open to substitutions. It can be difficult to find specific brands or specialty products. If you cannot live without a specific brand, either bring it with you, do without, or prepare to settle for whatever you can find.
Try something new. If you don’t know what something is, maybe buy a small portion and try it. It might be your new favorite thing and you would have never known. Seriously, we’ve found some really great items by going out on a limb and buying something we’ve never seen.
Eggs are not refrigerated in Mexico or most of the world. They are perfectly safe to eat at room temperature. Eggs have a natural protective layer that is removed in the US as part of the sanitization process. Once the natural protective layer is removed it must be refrigerated. Eggs are usually located along the perimeter of the grocery store in Mexico but not in coolers.
Dairy in Mexico: What to Expect
Dairy is not as much of a dietary staple in Mexico as it is in the US.
Sour cream is not available in most of Mexico but crema is a good substitution. Crema has a milder tang and it is a bit runnier than sour cream.
Cheese in Mexico is primarily fresh and mild flavored. Finding tangy-aged cheddar, blue cheese or feta is pretty difficult. We’ve found Walmart owned stores in Sonora have a small variety of American and European cheeses.
Meat in Mexico is Different than the US
There will likely be unpackaged meat on ice or in a cooler case waiting to be selected by shoppers before being packaged by the butcher.
Don’t be surprised to see tongues, hooves or other whole-body parts we don’t usually see in a US grocery store. Keep an open mind because some of these cuts are delicious.
Lengua is tongue meat and most authentic tacos shops carry tacos de lengua. I’ve tried them at multiple places and thought they were pretty tasty.
Cabeza tacos are made with cow head meat which can include tongue, cheek and brains. Cabeza requires a long cooking process but results in very tender meat. Many Mexican families make this treat for special family gatherings and pick the meat directly off the skull. It might sound gross but it reminds me of my childhood in North Carolina eating pulled pork directly from the grill at a pig pickin’ or hog roast.
What are grocery stores like in Mexico?
We’ve found shopping at grocery stores in Mexico to be a lot like it is in other parts of the world including the US. The stores might not be as shiny and new but they stock food for people to buy.
Produce, meat, baked goods and dairy are located on the store’s perimeter just like the US.
Prices are clearly marked on nearby signs.
Items are stocked and organized logically.
Are groceries expensive in Mexico?
Groceries are not expensive in Mexico if you are flexible and willing to cook.
Produce is ridiculously cheap. I bought 0.5 kg (1 lb) of fresh Roma tomatoes yesterday for ~$0.50.
If you want the US brands, expect to pay excessive prices. Simply Natural orange juice is ~$11 a bottle in a Mexican grocery store. A more sugary Mexican orange juice is ~$0.50 for the same quantity. We chose to eat fresh citrus fruit instead of buying juice because it was very affordable.
The US dollar to peso exchange provides Americans good buying power in Mexico. Grocery shopping in Mexico is definitely cheaper for Americans.
What is a grocery store called in Mexico?
Stores are called a variety of names because there are a variety of places to go shopping for groceries in Mexico. Regional dialects may also use other terms for the grocery stores but we’ll focus on the most universal terms.
Shopping Tip: We’ve found specialty stores, such as fruiteria and carniceria, have the best selection and competitive pricing.
- Mercado means market and it is used generically for all kinds of shops including those that sell items other than food.
- Supermercado is a big supermarket that sells primarily food. You’ll also find cleaning supplies, paper products, pet food and alcohol at a supermercado, the Mexican grocery store.
- Hypermarket is a massive super stores with other items (appliances, clothes, etc) in addition to groceries.
- Fruiteria is a produce store with primarily fresh fruit and vegetables. Fresh produce is exponentially cheaper in Mexico than the US. Some fruiteria may also carry spices, eggs, milk and other essentials.
- Carniceria is a butcher shop or meat market. We’ve found this to be the best place to buy good quality meats. We saw the butcher grinding the ground beef earlier this week and it made me feel very good about the quality. Some might also sell seafood and few other essentials like spices, limited produce and dairy.
- Panderia is a bakery. In a panderia you’ll find yeast breads, puff pastry, cakes, turnovers and cookies. Baked goods are very affordable in Mexico compared to US bakeries. The fresh baked individual loaves of bread called bolillo are perfect for sandwiches. A single fresh bolillo cost ~$0.10 USD today and is the equalivalent of a 10″ sub roll in the US.
- Pescaderia is a fish market. In seaside towns, the pescaderia are located near the fishing docks and have the freshest seafood.
Main Grocery Store Brands in Mexico
Different regions of Mexico are serviced by unique regional grocery store brands just like the US. For instance, in the US you won’t see a Safeway in the Southeast, a Publix in the Pacific Northwest or an HEB in New York.
Mexico has a lot of mom and pop’s food stores but chains are also common. Walmart sales made up 68% of all grocery sales in Mexico in 2020.
National Mexican Grocery Chains
According to Wikipedia, national grocery chains with hypermarkets in Mexico include:
- Casa Ley, associate of Safeway Inc.
- Controladora Comercial Mexicana operates:
- Bodega Comercial Mexicana
- City Market
- Comercial Mexicana
- Costco 50–50 joint venture with Comercial Mexicana
- Grupo Chedraui
- H-E-B Mexico – wholly owned subsidiary of the H.E.Butt Grocery Company, San Antonio, Texas
- Organización Soriana operates:
- City Club
- Soriana Mercado
- Wal-Mart de México operates:
- Bodega Aurrerá
- Sam’s Club
Regional Mexican Grocery Chains
Based on Wikipedia, regional grocery store chains in Mexico (including Mexican coverage territory) are:
- Aladino’s (Coahuila, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Querétaro, State of México)
- Alsuper (Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango)
- Arteli (Tamaulipas, Veracruz, San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo)
- El Asturiano (Querétaro)
- La Bodega Herlomex (Baja California)
- Calimax (Baja California, Sonora)
- La Gran Bodega (Oaxaca, Puebla, Tlaxcala)
- Marinero (Durango)
- Nena’s (Baja California, Sonora)
- S-Mart (Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas)
- Welton (Baja California, Sonora)
Differences between grocery shopping in Mexico and the United States of America
I know I previously said grocery stores in Mexico are similar to US stores but there are several differences. I highlight them by category below including differences related to pricing, product selection, store experience, and nutrition information on packaging.
- Don’t freak out if you see triple digit prices when grocery shopping in Mexico. Prices are in Mexican pesos even though the labels use the same currency symbol, $, as the US dollar. If anything is priced in US dollars, it will be clearly marked as $XX USD. At the time of our visit, 20 Mexican pesos was equal to one US dollar so a $200 item was close to $10 USD.
- Weights are in kilograms which is equal to approximately 2.2 pounds. This applies to any items priced by weight including produce and meats.
- Use the your phone calculator to convert pesos to dollars and kilos to pounds if you are curious about how pricing compared to America. Example using Mexican Pesos and Kilograms : 200 pesos for 3 kilograms = (200 pesos / 20 conversion rate to USD) / (3 total kilograms * 2.2 pounds per kilograms) = $1.51 per lb
- Specialty shops are not overpriced. Buying fresh meat at a carniceria doesn’t mean you’ll pay more than buying it from a supermercado. We’ve found prices to be similar but quality and variety tend to be better at specialty shops.
- Mexicans eat fresh food so you’ll find a lot fewer canned and frozen items at grocery stores in Mexico.
- That is not saying you won’t find packaged items in a Mexican grocery store. They have some canned items and packaged foods but you’ll notice the locals are spending the majority of their money on fresh items.
- Unlike in the US where shelf stable packaged food items are cheaper, in Mexico fresh, real food (meat, veggies, rice and beans) is actually cheaper.
- Junk food is still a thing in Mexico but the varieties of junk food are different than in the US. Try a few items and you might find some new favorites while in Mexico.
- Family owned food shops are more common in Mexico. It is very rare to find a mom and pops grocery store in the United States unless you visit a remote location that doesn’t have enough business to support a chain store. However, mom and pop food stores are more common in Mexico. Most carniceria, fruiteria, panderia and pescaderia are family owned and operated.
- In Mexico, generally shops are closer together which means it’s easier to walk from the carniceria to the fruiteria when grocery shopping. You might even be able to do all of your shopping on foot. This varies from town to town but walkable shopping districts in Mexico are much more common than in American.
- Bags are not provided at grocery stores in Mexico so bring your own. Some stores have reusable bags for purchase but not all.
- Some Mexican grocery workers do not receive a salary and rely on tips such as baggers and parking attendants in Mexico. So carry coins to tips those who help you. We usually tip grocery baggers in Mexico around five pesos for a couple bags of groceries.
- Supply chain logistics are more challenging in Mexico so don’t expect to find the same items every time you visit the store. This includes meat and vegetables. If you see something you want, buy it right then.
Nutrition & Packaging
- In 2020, the Ministry of Health (Secretaria de Salud) started adding front of package dietary warnings in Mexico. These are quite disturbing and I am sure that is the intention.
- This applies to packaged products and we’ve primarily noticed the warnings on junk food.
- Front of package warnings include excess calories, excess sodium, excess sugar, excess saturated fats, excess trans fats and contains sweeteners.
- On the back of packages, the nutritional information is presented in a similar format to American products.
What you should buy at Mexican grocery stores
You might be wondering what you should buy when grocery shopping in Mexico and the answer varies. Are you visiting for a weekend, staying for a few weeks, or moving to Mexico?
What to buy on short visits
If you are visiting short-term, you should not miss out on buying a few quintessentially Mexican items at the grocery store to take home. I know grocery shopping in Mexico on vacation might not sound like fun but it’s a cheap place to get souvenirs that people can actually use.
- Mexican vanilla is very affordable and much better quality than basic vanilla extract in the US. It makes a great gift for friends and family.
- Hot sauces are very personal and my favorite is probably not your favorite. To find the ones I like, I try multiple hot sauces when I am eating out in a new region. Taco stands are a great place to try a few brands and pick your favorite. Once you find your favorite, buy a few bottles to take home from the local grocery store in Mexico. This way you’ll remember your vacation for a long time to come.
- Fresh tortillas are cheap and make a great souvenir from Mexico. In addition to grocery stores, you’ll also see roadside stands selling both corn and flour tortillas and nearly every food store in Mexico sells them. If you have food allergies, be aware some tortillas are made with a blend of corn and wheat. Obviously, if you have a long journey home then fresh tortillas might be a waste.
- Mexican candy is an adventure all on it’s own. You’ll find sweet candy covered in spicy chilis or salty, spicy Tajin seasoning, and many other varieties. Candy generally travels well and doesn’t cost much if you are planning to buy a lot of gifts.
- Marizapan is a sweet fudgy textured candy in Mexico that can be flavored vanilla, caramel or nutty. Kids sell individually wrapped marzipan candies around town and you can get enough to share with several friends for $1.
- Tamarind candy is difficult to find in other parts of the world but is available at most Mexican grocery stores. Tamarind is a sour fruit that most people either love or hate. I cannot think of anything that compares. Try some tamarindo when in Mexico to see if you fall into the love or hate camp.
What to buy on long visits
If you are staying a bit longer and are grocery shopping in Mexico for daily meals, then you’ll want to focus on different items at the supermercado.
- Fresh produce is the best bang for your buck in Mexican grocery stores.
- Vegetarian meals with beans will keep you full and happy. Even the most elaborate veggie recipes, will likely costs very little to feed a family when grocery shopping in Mexico.
- Keep in mind, the selection of produce varieties at a Mexican supermercado. It may be limited compared to a supermarket in the US.
- Skip the loaf bread. Buy fresh rolls or tortillas instead. They are much better tasting and considerably cheaper.
- Rice and beans might sound boring but they are cheap and plentiful.
- Browse around the interior aisles for fun sauces to dress them up. If pre-made sauces are limited, consider using fresh produce to add variety. We rely on fried rice or asian inspired stir fry dishes when we get tired of Mexican spices and flavors.
- Pouches of pre-made refried beans are a great substitute if you don’t have the time, desire or tools to cook your own.
- Chorizo is an easy and affordable meal ingredient if you are craving meat. Grocery stores in Mexico have dozens of chorizo options. We’ve used it for soups, breakfast burritos, pizza toppings and more.
- Skip the American options and find something local. A pack of Johnsville brats costs around $8 or you can buy two whole chickens from the meat counter for the same price.
- People watch. Seriously, look in a few locals carts to see what they are buying. If everyone is buying corn on the cob, it’s a pretty good bet that it is in season and will be delicious.
- If you are in a coastal city, definitely get fresh seafood.
- Talk to a local to see what’s in season in your region.
- I recommend buying from a pescaderia near the commercial fishing docks. Be cautious of scams, watch the scales closely to make sure you are getting exactly what you pay for.
What food to bring to Mexico from the US
We are traveling in our RV through Mexico for a few months, so we had space to bring a few items with us. Based on my research, I determined my priorities and packed a few American items.
If you don’t have space, don’t worry. You will not go hungry in Mexico but you might get tired of cooking and eating the same flavors over and over. This is especially true if you are traveling in more remote areas. Most tourist areas in Mexico offer restaurants and grocery items catered to Americans traveling.
If you are visiting Mexico for a month or longer, I would recommend bringing a few American things with you to make the trip as comfortable as possible.
- We love stong cheese so we brought extra sharp cheddar and feta with us.
- Since arriving in Mexico, we have found some American and European cheeses but the options are limited. We’ve found the best cheese options at Sams Club. At the time we crossed into Mexico, aged cheese in its original packaging was allowed.
- Like many Americans, I love peanut butter. Did you know that Americans eat an average of three pounds of peanut butter per year? In Mexico, peanut butter options are limited. The only peanut butter our local supermercado had was Skippy Reduced Fat when I checked this week. I recommend bringing your own to Mexico if you think you’ll miss peanut butter.
- As previously stated, Mexico has an abundance of veggies and meat but the sauces, herbs and spices are limited. I recommend bringing a few different spice blends or sauces to mix it up when you get tired of eating Mexican flavors. Poppy seeds are not permitted in Mexico so skip any spice blends containing them.
- Vitamins and speciality supplements are not easy to find in Mexico. These are luxury items and most locals don’t have the money to spend on them. Pharmacies do sell most prescription medications but they don’t have protein powder or collagen supplements. Keep in mind any products containing bovine are not allowed in Mexico.
- Healthy cereals are limited in Mexico so bring your own if you are a cereal addict. Sugary American cereals are available at all supermercados. Products containing seeds are prohibited so check ingredients when buying cereal. Nuts and grains are allowed.
- Speciality items such as dark chocolate, coffee or tea are difficult to find.
- I love a cup of decaf green tea each morning and one of our travel companions loves a specific brand of dark chocolate after dinner each night. We both brought enough to last our entire trip.
- If you are not picky, then don’t worry they do sell chocolate, coffee and tea in Mexico but not as many varieties as Americans are accustomed to having at the grocery store.
What grocery stores are in Rocky Point
We are spending a month in Puerto Penasco, also known as Rocky Point, which is approximately 70 miles from Lukeville Arizona in the Mexican state of Sonora. We’ve tried several supermercados since arriving in Puerto Penasco. Here is our round-up.
Grocery stores available in Rocky Point, Puerto Penasco, Sonora are:
- Located near the beaches at Av. Constitución No. 530, Centro, 83553 Puerto Peñasco,
- This is about as close to an American supermarket as you’ll likely find in Mexico. They have a good variety and the store is organized well.
- Parking is limited with low overhangs that are not ideal for tall vehicles.
- Parking attendants and grocery baggers both work on tips so bring small change.
- Located across the street from Sams Club at Blvd. Benito Juárez García 332, José López Portillo, 83556 Puerto Peñasco,
- It smelled like spoiled meat on our visit but the produce looked great.
- They have speciality products like gluten free flour blends.
- Easy parking in an open lot.
- Located at Blvd. Benito Juárez García S/N, Brisas del Golfo, 83553 Puerto Peñasco,
- This hypermercado is a SuperWalmart Mexican style. It is owned by Walmart and you’ll recognize some of the brands.
- The stores interior is concrete and metal. It reminds me of a Sam’s club in the US.
- They have groceries, appliances, clothes and more.
- Prices are slightly higher than Super Ley on most grocery items that I compared.
- Some American items are available at Bodega Aurrera that are not available at Ley or Super Norte.
- No baggers so don’t worry about bringing tip money.
- Big parking lot with no obstacles for tall or large vehicles. Located outside of city center so no window washing or parking attendants in parking lot.
- Located next door to Bodega Aurrera at Blvd. Benito Juárez García S/N, Lagos y Ríos, 83553 Puerto Peñasco,
- Membership is required to enter the Sam’s Club in Puerto Penasco.
- American Sam’s Club membership cards are valid at Sam’s Clubs in Mexico.
- The Sam’s Club in Puerto Penasco is a lot like a US Sams Club with a few different varieties.
- Frozen food options are much less varied than a US warehouse club.
- Best American cheese options in town but still limited compared to US Sams locations.
- Big parking lot with no obstacles for tall or large vehicles. No parking attendants or window washers in this lot when we visited.
Do I need pesos in Rocky Point?
You don’t really need pesos in Rocky Point. But having pesos will save you money.
If you are buying groceries at a supermercado and dining out at a big American-style restaurant, like Manny’s in Puerto Penasco, you can pay with US dollars or a credit card. Therefore, you don’t have to get pesos for a quick trip to Rocky Point.
Rocky Point is very tourist-friendly and most places will accept dollars or pesos but you get a better exchange rate if paying in pesos. Also note that sometimes if you pay in dollars, you may receive change in pesos.
We like food from street vendors, like churros or breakfast burritos. We find having pesos in Rocky Point is a lot easier for vendors and cheaper for us.
Online Mexican grocery stores
Are you sitting at home, wishing you were in a Mexican grocery store?
Conclusion: Are groceries cheaper in Mexico?
In short, yes, groceries are cheaper in Mexico if you shop like a local.
If you buy American brands and varieties then you’ll pay more than you would in an American grocery store.
Keep an open mind and a creative mindset when grocery shopping in Mexico and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.