Borderlands: Cheez-Its, chocolate, candy among top imports from Mexico during pandemic

Borderlands is a weekly rundown of developments in the world of United States-Mexico cross-border trucking and trade. This week: Cheez-Its, chocolate, candy among top imports from Mexico during pandemic; CBP stops wood-munching pests from entering Port Houston; $4.2 million of cocaine seized at border patrol checkpoint; and trucking services firm Liftit expands operations in Mexico.

Cheez-Its, chocolate and candy are some of the top imports from Mexico during the coronavirus pandemic

Logistics professionals in the Texas border city of Laredo said they have been busier than ever since the coronavirus pandemic erupted about a month ago.

Port Laredo ⁠— a sprawling customs district along the United States-Mexico border in South Texas — sees around 14,000 commercial trucks cross its international bridges every day.

Imports from Mexico into the U.S. rose 7% from February to March, said Gerardo Alanis Barrios, CEO of Cold Chain Solutions.

“These are unprecedented times that have definitely altered the transportation and logistics industry in ways I had never seen before,” Barrios told FreightWaves.

Laredo-based Cold Chain Solutions is a refrigerated carrier and refrigerated cross-dock operation servicing the consumer packaged goods, refrigerated and frozen food industries in Mexico, Canada and the U.S.

“In our sector, we have seen our frozen vegetable-fruit, candy and packaging exports sky-rocket, our studies show that panic-buying has been the motor behind this,” Barrios said.

Barrios said his company has seen a drastic spike in imports of Oreo and Chips Ahoy cookies, chocolates, and Cheez-It crackers.

Kellogg’s, which makes Cheez-Its, has four plants in Mexico. Mondelez International, which makes Oreo and Chips Ahoy cookies, has five factories in Mexico.

While frozen foods and snacks are in demand, Barrios said his fresh produce import operation has stagnated due to restaurant closures.

“States such as California and New York have become difficult to service with our third-party logistics division as an important chunk of companies have suspended operations, causing state outbounds to dwindle down, hence making it impossible for companies to have an ongoing circuit between California and Texas,” Barrios said.

As for southbound freight — exports into Mexico — Barrios said his firm has been moving a lot of beef, poultry, Canadian pork and frozen pizzas.

After peaking at 10.58% on March 26, the Outbound Tender Reject Index (OTRI.LRD) has slipped to 7.45% on April 2. Capacity is still tight around Laredo, and OTRI remains higher than at any point in 2019.


Ermilo Richer III, executive director of Laredo-based customs broker Richer, said his company has also been staying busy since the pandemic began in the U.S. 

“In operations, with trucks crossing, and customers calling, it’s business as usual,” Richer told FreightWaves. “Behind the scenes, we are just trying to keep up with the demand.”

Richer is one of the oldest and largest customs brokers along the U.S.-Mexico border. The company, founded in 1917, includes a customs brokerage, as well as transportation, logistics and warehousing operations across Mexico and Texas.

Richer said his employees on both sides of the border have continued to work hard through uncertain times.

“Consumer packaged goods are still moving. They are jumping right now because consumer products stores are trying to keep their shelves filled up for whatever products they sell out of,” Richer said. “It’s hard to predict where the market is headed. What my customers are telling me is they have orders for April and May right now.”

Richer said he expects a drop-off in demand for raw materials associated with the construction and automotive industries, which will lead to lower freight volumes.

“We don’t know what’s coming because the world economy is falling apart, but right now we are business as usual, working hard,” Richer said. “I think it’s going to hit everyone at some point; sooner or later, that bubble is going to burst and it is just going to happen.”

Barrios said his firm is also preparing as best it can for the next few months. He praised his employees — who includes drivers, warehouse workers and customs agents — for their hard work.

“A lot of companies here in Laredo have closed their door, and our team hasn’t. We can’t because we have to be at the warehouse, in the yard, to keep working,” Barrios said. “Our team here has been incredible.”

CBP stops wood-munching pests from entering Port Houston

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents at Port Houston discovered several types of timber pests arriving in packing materials on international vessels.

The pests were discovered during inspections of several container ships March 5-12, according to a release.

During a search of a vessel importing steel from an unspecified country, CBP agents uncovered wood-boring larvae in wood pallets used to secure cargo.

International cargo shipments infested with pests can pose a great threat to U.S. agriculture and national forests, CBP officials said.

Wood boring larvae were found hidden in wood packag-
ing materials that were shipped on international vessels
March 5-12. Image: CBP

“Finding pests that are millimeters in size and that have bored into wood packaging material requires diligence, patience, experience and skill,” said Houston Area Port Director Roderick Hudson.

The timber pests detected included Scolytinae, a type of small bark beetle; Siricidae, also known as wood wasps; and Buprestis, known as jewel beetles.

$4.2 million of cocaine seized at border patrol checkpoint

United States Border Patrol agents recently seized more than 130 pounds of cocaine from a tractor-trailer in South Texas.

The driver of the tractor-trailer was attempting to pass through the Falfurrias immigration checkpoint in the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday night. Falfurrias, Texas, is located 100 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

K-9 dogs alerted the agents to bundles of cocaine hidden in the trailer. The drugs have an estimated street value of $4.2 million.

The driver was arrested and Border Patrol seized the truck. 

Trucking services firm Liftit expands operations in Mexico

Liftit, a provider of logistics trucking solutions, recently announced plans to expand operations into the Guadalajara and Bajío areas of central Mexico, according to a release.

The company said it will be helping to move cargo to and from Guadalajara and the Bajío areas by the second quarter of 2020.

The Bogota, Colombia-based startup already has locations in Mexico City and Monterrey, Mexico. 

Liftit is a last-mile freight exchange. It provides a platform for independent truck drivers by matching them with jobs, as well as providing tools to help drivers organize their businesses more efficiently.

The company also has operations in Colombia, Brazil, Chile and Ecuador. Ángel Celis, Felipe Bentancourt and Brian York founded the company in 2016.