Mexican beer a star import

By Heather Wells

The uniform-clad first graders stood outside the beer factory sipping from small paper cups.

The children had just finished touring Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma, but in deference to their age, were given grape juice instead of the real stuff.

The first graders may be too young to drink beer, but no one here thinks they’re too young to begin appreciating the importance of beer to Mexico’s culture and economy.

While U.S. goods, from low-rider bicycles to Levi jeans, inundate Mexican markets and more Mexicans shop at Wal-Mart than any other single store, beer is a vital hold-out.

Mexicans still drink Mexican beer. And so do Americans.


Since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, Mexican beer imports to the United States have grown nearly fivefold, according to the Wall Street Journal. Sales of American beer to Mexico, in contrast, have grown at a fifth of that pace and are only 1/20th of the amount of Mexican beer sold in the United States.

According to the Beer Institute, the United States imported more than 15 times as much beer from Mexico than it exported in 2003. The figures are impressive: 317,405,372 gallons of beer coming in from Mexico; 20,324,257 gallons going out.

"The cerveceria (brewery) is a tradition here in Monterrey," said Jose Luis Arredondo Hernandez, promotion coordinator for the Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma brewery in this northwestern Mexican city. "It's the pioneer of the different industries that have been born here in Monterrey and that have internationalized.”

Beer brewing is said to have been brought to Mexico by the Germans in the 1800s, when Mexico was briefly part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. They used early mechanical refrigeration units to brew their beloved lagers, which proved to be a hit in the hot Mexican climate, according to beveragebusiness.com.

One of reasons Mexican beer does so well against American brands is because it has more flavor, a result of ingredients that other breweries don’t use, Hernandez said.

"American beers are a little bit lighter, a little less flavorful."

Almost 90 percent of CCM’s exports are sold to the United States and Canada, according to its parent company FEMSA. Since 1995, U.S. sales of CCM brands have risen 17 percent on average, while the total imported beer market in the United States has grown at an average annual rate of 5 percent to 6 percent.

Beers exported by FEMSA include: Carta Blanca, Sol, Dos Equis, Tecate, Tecate light, Indio, Superior and Bohemia. Tecate is the No. 1 imported canned beer in the United States.

And FEMSA isn't the only Mexican brewing company doing well in the United States.

Corona, the No. 1 imported beer in the United States, is produced by Mexico City-based Grupo Modelo, the world’s eighth largest brewer. Out of about 115 million cases of Mexican beer sold in the United States each year, Corona accounts for 85 million, according to beveragebusiness.com.

At Dos Gringo’s, a popular Tempe bar and restaurant, Mexican beers are the top seller. Bartender Casey Russell said the bar sells about 300 cases of Mexican beer a weekend.

Matt Brown, 30, said he likes to microbrew his own beer, but when he goes out to drink, he prefers Mexican beer, particularly Pacifico, to American beer.

"It's more refreshing," Brown said while drinking a Corona at Dos Gringos. "Plus, they're cheap. American beer is more watered down."

For Randi Hagen, 22, the case for Mexican beer is even more fundamental.

"You can't put a lime in a Bud Light," Hagen, 22, added while downing a Corona. "You never see an American beer in Mexico."

Coors hopes to change that. With a fast-growing Hispanic population in the United States, U.S. brewing companies are working hard to market to Hispanics and compete with Mexican brewers inside the United States and in Mexico.

In June 2004, Coors announced an agreement with FEMSA to make CCM the sole importer, distributor, marketer and seller of Coors Light beer in Mexico. This past December, Coors teamed up with Hispanic non-profit organizations in three cities across the United States to supply food to families in need as part of their "Cena en el Barrio" program.

And in July, Coors Light sponsored a soccer match between Mexican soccer team Club Deportivo Guadalajara and Club Atlético Boca Juniors from Argentina.

Anheuser-Busch also has been forming strategic alliances, particularly with Grupo Modelo, since the early 1990s. According to Anheuser-Busch’s web site, the company now owns a little over 50 percent of the Mexican company.

Still, when it comes to winning over beer lovers, the U.S. companies don’t come close to their Mexican counterparts.

"Beer is a big part of Mexican culture," Martin Torres, 22, of Chihuahua, Mexico, said. "It's not going to be easy for U.S. beer makers to come in and take over."

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©Crossing Borders
December 8, 2004