Top U.S. Food Imports by Origin Country
The U.S. is a major producer and exporter of food products, but did you know that it’s also one of the world’s largest food importers?
Due to seasonality and climate, some foods can’t be grown on home soil, at least enough to fulfill consumption demands. Indeed, many familiar grocery items come from other countries.
This infographic from Julie Peasley uses data from the Chatham House Resource Trade Database (CHRTD) to show where the U.S. gets its food from, highlighting the top exporting countries of various imported food items.
The Types of Imported Foods
The U.S. imported around $148 billion worth of agricultural products in 2020, and according to the USDA, this has since risen to $194 billion in 2022.
Around 50% of all U.S. agricultural imports are horticultural products like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and more. Other large import categories include sugar and tropical products, meat, grains, and oilseeds.
With that context in mind, we break down each category and highlight the five foods with the largest single-origin import value.
Farm Fresh: Fruit and Vegetable Imports
U.S. fruit and vegetable imports have been on a steady rise since 2000. In fact, between 2011 and 2021, fruits and nuts imports made up 44% of domestic consumption, while 35% of vegetables consumed in the U.S. came from outside the country.
Mexico is by far the largest exporter of fruits and vegetables to the United States.
|Fruit or Vegetable||Largest Exporting Country||U.S. Import Value (2020)|
The U.S. imported $2.5 billion worth of tomatoes from Mexico in 2020, representing 31% of international tomato trade. Avocados, native to central Mexico, were nearly as popular with $2.1 billion worth of imports.
Generally, the largest exporters of fruits and vegetables to the U.S. are North and South American countries, with products often coming from Guatemala, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, and Brazil.
Beefed Up: Meat Imports
The U.S. is the world’s largest overall consumer of beef (or bovine meat), and the third-largest per capita consumer at nearly 37.9 kg (84 lbs) per person per year.
Therefore, despite being one of the top producers of beef, the country still imports a lot of it.
|Meat||Largest Exporting Country||U.S. Import Value (2020)|
|Bovine Cuts||🇨🇦 Canada||$1.4B|
|Bovine Cuts, Frozen||🇳🇿 New Zealand||$839M|
|Sheep Meat||🇦🇺 Australia||$643M|
|Swine Hams, Shoulders, and Cuts||🇨🇦 Canada||$559M|
|Bovine Cuts, Bone In||🇲🇽 Mexico||$449M|
Precisely, The U.S. imported $8.7 billion worth of meat in 2020. Canada was the largest source of imported beef, with the U.S. accounting for more than 70% of all Canadian beef exports.
The sources of meat imports are more geographically diverse than fruits and vegetables, with billions of dollars of imports coming from New Zealand and Australia.
Making Waves: Seafood Imports
Despite plenty of coastlines, the U.S. imports 70–85% of all its seafood and accounted for 15% of global seafood imports in 2020 at $21.8 billion.
Frozen shrimp and prawns were the top seafood import, with $1.9 billion worth from India.
|Fish and Seafood||Largest Exporting Country||U.S. Import Value (2020)|
|Shrimp and Prawns, Frozen||🇮🇳 India||$1.9B|
|Fish Fillet or Meat||🇨🇱 Chile||$1.4B|
|Fish Fillet or Meat, Frozen||🇨🇳 China||$884M|
|Crabs, Frozen||🇨🇦 Canada||$719M|
The largest source of U.S. seafood imports overall with $3.1 billion total was Canada, which leads in lobster, crab, and whole fish imports. It was followed by Chile at $2.1 billion, primarily for parts of fish (fillet or meat, fresh or chilled).
Other Foods: Oils, Grains, Coffee, and More
There are plenty of other types of foods and agricultural products that the U.S. relies on other countries for. Here are the largest single-origin U.S. food imports for the remaining categories:
|Food||Category||Largest Exporting Country||U.S. Import Value (2020)|
|Canola Oil, Refined||Oils||🇨🇦 Canada||$1.4B|
|Coffee, Not Roasted||Stimulants/Spices||🇨🇴 Colombia||$1.0B|
|Cashews, Shelled||Nuts/Seeds/Beans||🇻🇳 Vietnam||$960M|
|Raw Sugar, Refined||Sweetners||🇲🇽 Mexico||$723M|
Some of the highest and potentially surprising exports? Imports of refined Canadian canola oil totaled $1.4 billion in 2020, while Vietnam exported a whopping $960 million worth of cashews to America.
A Global Plate: The Diversity of U.S. Food Imports
The amount and value of food imported to the U.S. highlights the diversity of consumer preferences and the importance of global food stocks, considering America is one of the world’s leading food producers.
With countries having to rely on others to satisfy demand for limited production supply or exotic foods, the interconnectedness of the global food system is both vital and delicate.
What’s clear is that the U.S. food plate is indeed a global one, with many foods taking remarkable journeys from farm to fork.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Ranked: The World’s Top Cotton Producers
As the most-used natural fiber, cotton has become the most important non-food agricultural product.
Ranked: The World’s Top Cotton Producers
Cotton is present in our everyday life, from clothes to coffee strainers, and more recently in masks to control the spread of COVID-19.
As the most-used natural fiber, cotton has become the most important non-food agricultural product. Currently, approximately half of all textiles require cotton fibers.
The above infographic lists the world’s top cotton producers, using data from the United States Department of Agriculture.
Originating from the Arabic word “quton,” meaning fancy fabric, cotton is a staple fiber made up of short fibers twisted together to form yarn.
The earliest production of cotton was around 5,000 B.C. in India, and today, around 25 million tons of cotton are produced each year.
Currently, five countries make up around 75% of global cotton production, with China being the world’s biggest producer. The country is responsible for over 23% of global production, with approximately 89 million cotton farmers and part-time workers. Cotton’s importance cannot be understated, as it is the primary input for the Chinese textile industry along with many other nations’ textile industries.
|Top Cotton Producers||2020/2021 (metric tons)||2021/2022 (metric tons)|
|🇺🇸 United States||3,181,000||3,815,000|
The United States is the leading global exporter of cotton, exporting three-fourths of its crop with China as the top buyer.
Despite its importance for the global economy, cotton production faces significant sustainability challenges.
The Controversy Over Cotton
Cotton is one of the largest users of water among all agricultural commodities, and production often involves applying pesticides that threaten soil and water quality.
Along with this, production often involves forced and child labor. According to the European Commission, child labor in the cotton supply chain is most common in Africa and Asia, where it comes from small-holder farmers.
In 2020, U.S. apparel maker Patagonia stopped sourcing cotton from the autonomous territory of Xinjiang because of reports about forced labor and other human rights abuses against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities.
L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, has also committed to eliminating Chinese cotton from its supply chain. Whether these changes in supply chains impact China’s cotton production and its practices, cotton remains essential to materials found across our daily lives.
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