Mexico fertile for functional food imports, says USDA

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

The Mexican market for health foods is set for steady growth, which presents good export opportunities for US manufacturers, according to a government report.

Currently, around 30 percent of Mexico’s $1bn health foods market is thought to come from imports, with the US accounting for around 65 percent of those.

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA FAS), the market has grown rapidly over the past decade as a result of increased consumer awareness and higher incomes. The agency’s new report, Mexico, Market Development Reports, Market Snapshot: Health Food Market, 2009​, predicts a continued annual growth rate of 10 percent over the next five years.

What are health foods in Mexico?

The health food market in Mexico is made up of products consumed because of their perceived health benefits, such as low-calorie, low-fat, low-carbohydrate, high-fiber, high-protein, vitamin-enriched and gluten-free goods.

Domestic production, which accounts for around 70 percent or $700m of the overall market, is primarily focused on bakery products, power bars, cereals, nut or grain mixes, soy milk and juices, low fat ice-cream and other low fat dairy products.

According to USDA, some of the best prospects for this market include breakfast bars, snack/lunch bars, and bar meal supplements for athletes, diet/fiber supplements and meal replacements, diet meals, soy products, whole grain bakery products, breakfast cereals, pastas and nut/grain mixes.

The fastest growing sector, says the report, is soy, which is being used extensively in the manufacture of meat, cheese, soymilk and juice products.

Export opportunities

“The health foods market will grow and offer good opportunities for US exporters, though as popularity grows, domestic production will increase and expand into new products. Domestic production will remain the primary competitor for imported US products,”​ writes the report.

There are currently no official import figures for health food products since they enter Mexico through general food product tariff codes, making it impossible to determine exact import amounts, explains FAS.

However, estimates suggest that imports currently account for around $300m, the majority coming from the US. The main imported products are soy products and ingredients, food and fiber supplements, power bars, and ready-to-eat meals.


Consumers aged between 20 and 50 are the most health conscious segment of the population.

These consumers are generally part of the growing middle and upper class, with the budget to purchase health food products. They tend to live in major metropolitan areas and make up around 5 percent (or 4-5 million people) of the total Mexican population.

Import regulations

Under NAFTA, imports of health foods considered as food supplements require a special import permit, the FAS report explains.

“A Sanitary Previous Import Permit is required, along with a Sanitary Certificate and a questionnaire on Good Sanitary Practices must be completed. This Secretariat of Health requirement is administered by a newly formed agency called COFEPRIS-Federal Commission for Health Risk Protection (see contact section for more info),”​ writes the report.

To obtain this permit, the importer has to present a chemical analysis of the product, specifying each product contained in the formula and the quantity. In addition, two product labels as presented in the country of origin must also be presented. The product is then analyzed and defined as a food supplement or a medication.

“The basic Mexican import document is the Pedimento de Importación (customs entry document), which must be presented to Mexican Customs along with the commercial invoice in Spanish and a bill of lading. Products qualifying as ‘North American’ must be accompanied by the NAFTA certificate of origin to receive preferential treatment. This is issued by the exporter and does not have to be validated or formalized.”

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