When you live overseas or you spend a lot of time traveling in countries outside of your own, even the most mundane daily tasks and errands can feel more exciting. Buying groceries in Mexico means that you often have the fun of discovering new ingredients, fruits, salsas, and other foods that you probably don’t find very often in your own country.
Of course, this task isn’t without its challenges too. But for the most part, shopping for groceries in Mexico is not too dissimilar from the experience of grocery shopping in the US or Canada, and you can generally find a lot of your home comforts here too.
I have been living in Mexico for the last two years and doing the “weekly shop” at Mexican Walmart and local mercados is just another part of my routine. You’re in good hands here and in this post, we will look at the best places for buying groceries in Mexico, key differences and things to be aware of, etc.
Buying groceries in Mexico
When I first moved to Mexico, I had idealized the romantic notion that I would do all of my grocery shopping at traditional local mercados and shop at independent stores. The reality is that in the residential areas of most Mexican towns and cities, it is usually much more convenient to just go to the supermarket.
There might not be a mercado close to where you live, and while it is great to support local businesses and shop at Mexican fruterias, querasias and other independent stores where you can, you will probably find that you end up finding it easier to go to the store.
There are a bunch of different supermarkets in Mexico but the best one in terms of size, variety and produce quality is usually Walmart. Other Mexican supermarkets are as per the below:
- Bodega Aurerra (owned by Walmart but often slightly cheaper)
- Soriana – Discount grocery store with over 500 branches across Mexico, selling international, Mexican, and own-brand products
- Chedraui – Mexican supermarket chain headquartered in Veracruz with over 438 stores across the country
- Abarrotes Willys – cheapest option but not much selection unless you are cooking Mexican foods from scratch)
- Dunosusa – budget-friendly supermarket in southeastern Mexico (Yucatan peninsula)
- Ley – cheaper alternative to Walmart
- Costco and Sam’s Club – Members-only supermarkets selling products in bulk
- HEB (only in Guanajuato, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and a handful of other locations)
- La Comer – High-end supermarket chain offering a wider selection of gourmet items
Shopping for fruits and vegetables
Fruits, vegetables, and other fresh produce are generally much better quality in Mexico than they are north of the border, especially if you shop at local fruit and vegetable stores.
Independent stores offer much more bang for your buck as supermarkets usually mark up the prices of fresh produce. (Just like supermarkets in many countries.)
Many delicious seasonal tropical fruits in Mexico are only sold at certain points of the year, and many are native to certain regions like the Yucatan. One thing to be aware of is since many Mexican farmers use sprays and pesticides on their crops, you need to soak fruits and vegetables in an antimicrobial solution before you eat them.
You will usually find little bottles of a solution known as Microdyn in the fruit aisle of the supermarket and you just need to add a couple of drops of the solution to a bowl of clean water, place the fruits inside, and wait 10-15 minutes. Of course, you can avoid this by only enjoying fruits where you don’t eat the skin, or making your own vinegar solution.
Home comforts and imported items
You will find it very easy to find the foods and snacks from home that you love in Mexico, particularly if you are from the US and Canada as tons of American foods are imported and enjoyed here. (For us Europeans it can be a little more challenging but I generally find that I can easily find the things I need to make dishes I enjoy at home).
Walmart, Soriana, Bodega Aurrera, and other supermarkets sell things like pasta sauces, cereals, candies, beverages, and snacks. Costco and Sam’s Club are great places to look for imported goods.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that these kinds of “members-only” supermarkets don’t always have consistent stocks of certain items. Obviously, most things here are sold in bulk anyway, but sometimes they might stock a particular tea or a particular cereal, and then you won’t find it again for months.
It is interesting also to note that Sam’s Club and Costco are much cheaper in Mexico than in the US. The annual membership tends to be around $25 whereas in the US it is around $60.
You will find “food hunt” expat Facebook groups for most Mexican cities which are a useful resource to find a specific item or ingredient you can’t track down.
In Mexico, you can purchase hard liquor like tequila, mezcal, whiskey, and basically any other alcoholic beverage you can think of, in supermarkets. You don’t have to go to designated liquor stores like you do in the US and people are less anal about checking your identification.
Convenience stores like Oxxo and 7/11s usually sell beers and ciders in the fridges, as well as a selection of wines and stronger liquors behind the counter.
Liquor laws vary from state to state. For example, where I live in Merida, Yucatan, you can purchase alcohol between 8 am and 9 pm but in Jalisco, you can purchase alcohol at practically any time.
Most Mexican supermarkets have a bakery section where fresh bread, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and other baked goods are made each morning. The quality is actually pretty good, although I still generally prefer to go to the local panaderias instead most of the time.
If you want something from this section, you need to take a steel tray and tongs, pick out the baked goods that you want, and then visit the bakery cashier to have them weigh, wrap, and label the items. You then pay for them when you leave the supermarket.
You will usually see blue hampers lined up on tables that have fresh, homemade tortillas inside and you can opt to buy fresh corn or flour tortillas. Although, it is better to come early as tortillas tend to sell out by the end of the day.
If you want to try something interesting and distinctly Mexican, you can pick up some conchas (a type of shell-shaped Mexican sweetbread that is often enjoyed a breakfast), or some cochitos. (Pig-shaped cinnamon flavor Mexican cookies).
Tipping in grocery stores
Most grocery stores in Mexico have bag packers that work for tips rather than a salary. These are usually elderly people that cannot find work elsewhere so they work for long hours on their feet helping people pack bags.
Some people only give 5-10 pesos or so but I think that it is kind to give at least 20 (circa $1) if you are able to. If you are doing a huge shop with tons of bags, you can give a little more.
Sometimes there are also elderly people or teenagers working “voluntarily” in the supermarket parking lots. You can give them a couple of pesos to help you find a parking space or to wipe your car while you head into the store.
Oxxo and Mexican convenience stores
Oxxos, 7/11s, and independent convenience stores (“abarrotes”) sit on virtually every street corner of most Mexican towns and cities and many branches are open 24/7. If you just need to grab a few bits without trekking to the supermarket, you can usually find all the essentials here.
Oxxos will sell snacks, crisps, and beverages, as well as things like salsas, canned goods, cheeses, luncheon meats, and toiletries. Their coffee machines also sell pretty tasty flavored coffees (Irish cream, caramel, mocha, etc) and they also have a few hot dogs, nachos, and other hot snacks in the food heaters.
Useful tips for buying groceries in Mexico
A few useful, general tips for buying groceries in Mexico are summarised below. These are random things that may help reduce your level of culture shock when you first attempt a grocery shop here.
- Most supermarkets have both cashiers and self-service, although the latter is typically reserved for people with less than 20 items
- Food labels are in Spanish and even if something is imported, it will tend to have Mexican food regulation stickers which can make understanding items’ nutritional value, etc a little challenging
- Most things are measured in grams and kilograms rather than pounds
- The majority of Mexican supermarkets offer online delivery services that work the same as in the US
- Rappi is a super useful app to have on your radar. It is like Uber Eats, except you can pay people to run to the store and grab groceries for you.
- Most large supermarkets sell appliances, white goods, etc and many offer the option to purchase on credit interest-free
- Plastic bags are not used in most Mexican supermarkets but you can purchase fabric reusable bags in a variety of sizes for a couple of pesos
- The 1st and 15th of the month are payday for most Mexicans, and queues can be longer at this time
Final thoughts on grocery shopping in Mexico
Do you have any other questions or concerns about going shopping for groceries here in Mexico? As I mentioned, I have been living in Merida in the Yucatan for the last few years and I am always happy to chat or help out where I can.
Please don’t hesitate to drop me a comment below or connect on social media and I will do my best to get back to you ASAP. In the meantime, safe travels and enjoy Mexico.
Buen Viaje! Melissa xo