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MONTERREY, Mexico -- It took 7-Eleven Mexico a dozen years to open its first 100 stores in northern cities like Monterrey. It took just a year to open the last hundred, reported the Dallas Morning News .

Cramped mom-and-pop mini-marts are giving way to brightly lighted 24-7 convenience stores preferred by a new generation that embraces a more American lifestyle -- and the businesses that have long been a part of it, the Morning News reported.

According to the report, the joint venture between Grupo Chapa of Monterrey and Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. isn't just growing rapidly in the Americanized north. It's also a hit in the Mexican capital, bringing Cafe Select and Big Bite hot dogs to one of the world's most populous metro areas.

Luis A. Chapa, chairman and CEO of 7-Eleven Mexico, told the Dallas Morning News that Mexicans have quickly become used to a higher level of service. "That is the new standard, the new benchmark: cleanliness, freshness, hygiene, good lighting, security, quality products," he said.

Ever since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994, an open question has loomed over Mexico: Would Mexicans embrace American retailers on a mass scale? In the case of 7-Eleven, the answer is clear.

"Big companies see in these emerging markets an opportunity to serve a market that is relatively underdeveloped in its standards," Chapa told the Dallas Morning News . "They see an economy with more than 100 million people. They see a growing economy. They see an economy with great possibilities of increasing per-capita income. They see an economy of young people where lifestyles are becoming more like those in other big cities in other nations."

As a privately held company, 7-Eleven Mexico doesn't give out official sales figures, but Chapa told the Dallas Morning News they are upward of $350 million annually.

One of the company's strengths, he added, is offering products the competition can't: ready-to-eat Big Lunch sandwiches and Big Donuts, specially formulated Cafe Select coffee and, of course, Slurpees.

Chapa expects by year's end to have 600 stores for the joint venture, which was started in 1976 with just four units, according to the report.