Brands from south of the border continue to grow in popularity. And not only during Cinco de Mayo celebrations.
Among many liquor storeowners and bartenders there is a topic of debate that beer geeks may find hard to believe: While craft beer is still immensely popular and the options therein are limitless, has it reached a point of market oversaturation after three decades, and will that kill off a good portion of the herd?
It’s not a debate that can be settled over a few pints, but one point everyone can agree on: There is a specific portion of the market that continues to grow, year after year, despite not having the words “craft,” “India Pale Ale,” or “microbrewery” attached to the brands.
That sector is Mexican beers, including classics like Tecate, Dos Equis and Pacifico, and especially Corona Extra and Modelo Especial, which now sit at Nos. 5 and 9, respectively, in terms of beer sales in the United States. And as everyone prepares for Cinco de Mayo and the warm, lighter beer-drinking months, those popular light lagers show no signs of giving up their market share.
In fact, according to Beer Institute, a trade association for the American brewing industry out of Washington, D.C., Constellation Brands—which owns the four brands mentioned above, as well as Corona Light, Negra Modelo and Modelo Especial Chelado—saw a 20 percent increase in sales in February alone.
In Delaware, Tecate sales are up 53 percent, says Tim Schuler, marketing manager at Standard Distributing. “The Mexican beer market is hot, so much so that [craft icon] Oskar Blues has introduced a beer to take advantage of it.”
So why are Mexican beers like Modelo Especial, Corona, Tecate and Dos Equis still growing? Part of it has to do with the ability to corner the market because most beer drinkers think of the big brand names when it comes to Mexican products.
But Joe Rapposelli, a Brand Development manager at NKS Distributors in New Castle, believes the reason is a little more nuanced, in two ways. First, Rapposelli says the drinkability and relative inexpensive cost drives consumers to the beers. Second, he says, there is a continuing uptick in the Latino population in Delaware.
“These are good, crisp, light beers that people want to drink this time of the year, instead of loading up on high-alcohol IPAs and the like,” says Rapposelli. “But also, we’re not only seeing an increase in the overall Latino population in Delaware, but also a major population boom in the legal age group of 21.”
According to a November 2014 story in The News Journal, Delaware’s Hispanic population will grow the fastest of all demographics, and by 2060 it will double to about 16 percent in farm-rich Sussex County, with similar results forecast for New Castle and Kent counties.
Whether or not Latinos reaching the age of 21 choose the beer their parents and aunts and uncles may have drunk is up for debate, depending on where you look. At Hockessin Liquors, though, where many migrant workers employed at mushroom farms in the Kennett Square area buy their beer, Mexican brands are through the roof.
“With all the Mexican workers at the mushroom farms, and us being right here by the border, we sell a lot of Mexican beers, mostly Corona and Modelo,” says Luis Sedano, store manager at Hockessin Liquors. “I don’t think it has anything to do with age here, because we see all kinds of ages looking for lighter beers they can drink. But I can tell you we go through a ton of those two beers.”
Rapposelli says NKS typically delivers 700 cases of Modelo Especial each week to Hockessin Liquors, as well as kegs of Corona and Modelo to local restaurants like the Mexican Post on Concord Pike. There, General Manager Tony George sometimes feels as if he can’t keep up with the demand.
“Maybe it’s because we’re a Mexican restaurant, but we sell more Dos Equis and Negra Modelo on draft than anything else,” says George. “And we always have an IPA on draft and a few in bottles, but the imports sell here. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that those beers pair better with our food. No one wants to have a big meal of burritos or nachos and then wash it down with a heavy, big-calorie IPA.”
Venu Gaddamidi, owner of Veritas Wine & Craft Beer in Wilmington, agrees that drinking a fully loaded IPA on a 95-degree day isn’t exactly ideal. As for the notion that members of the Hispanic community now reaching legal age are brand-loyal, well, that’s another matter.
“As a second generation Indian living in this country, I spend more money in bars and restaurants than my parents, and I have to believe that second generation Hispanics do the same,” says Gaddamidi. “Corona and Modelo are staples that any segment would drink, whether you’re really into craft or are from some corner of Alabama where PBR and Yuengling might be considered high-end.”
At his shop, Gaddamidi features one specific line of Mexican craft, Day of the Dead. The Mexican line of craft ales and lagers is produced by Cerveceria Mexicana, located just an hour east of Tijuana. Its artistic labels are dedicated to Dia de los Muertos, a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico.
“I carry an IPA from their lineup and the Chocolati Stout, which came through very well, even though they might not be terribly popular,” says Gaddamidi. “They’re Mexican beers, sure, but I stock them because I like them, not necessarily because they’re Mexican.”
No matter what your heritage, this month is a perfect time to try a Mexican beer, as local bars and restaurants celebrate Cinco de Mayo on Thursday, May 5, through that weekend.
Whatever your taste—the lighter Corona or Modelo Especial, the more amber Negra Modelo or Victoria, or craft like Day of the Dead—the options are plentiful. And it looks like they’ll continue to grow in popularity for the foreseeable future.