Sun, May 08, 2011 - Page 11 News List

Mexican microbrewers fight for space at the bar

In some dark corners of Mexico you’ll find a revolution taking place, a bitter battle of the palate, as artisanal beer brewers battle against market giants Corona and Dos Equis

By Cristian Salazar  /  AP, MEXICO CITY

In the US, craft beers account for about 5 percent of the volume of beer sold and 1,600 brewers operate all over the country. Multinational giant Anheuser-Busch InBev enjoys a nearly 49 percent share of the US beer market, while MillerCoors LLC, a joint venture of SABMiller PLC and Molson Coors Brewing Co, is No. 2, with about 30 percent of US market share.

Mexico’s top brewers, Grupo Modelo and Heineken’s Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma, -produce Corona, Dos Equis, Tecate and dozens of other mainstream brands, all of them either bright pilsners or darker Vienna-style lagers. There’s hardly a nightclub or restaurant in Mexico that doesn’t serve one of their brews.

And while some US beachgoers still find those beers exotic, to connoisseurs they’re the Coors and Budweisers of Mexico.

Miguel Fimbres, who blogs about beer and wine in Mexicali, said most big brewers in Mexico produce products with generic flavors that slate thirst and nothing more.

Grupo Modelo and Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma said they embrace competition in the Mexican beer market.

“The Mexican market is an open market and, as in many countries, artisanal beers are niche beers that have experienced good growth in the last few years,” Grupo Modelo said in a statement.

Grupo Modelo and Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma go back generations, starting from industrialist families in the 19th and 20th centuries; today they are transnational giants. Grupo Modelo is half owned by Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev, makers of Budweiser, and commands more than a 60 percent market share. Dutch brewer Heineken bought Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma from its Mexican parent company last year.

Vertically consolidated conglomerates, they each own dozens of subsidiary -distributors, bottlers and malt producers. Competitors have long accused the companies of engaging in monopolistic practices.

In 2006, the federal government’s competition watchdog found Grupo Modelo had engaged in antitrust activity by entering into exclusive rights agreements with sites selling its bottled beers. The company successfully appealed the decision.

Authors of a 2009 World Bank report found that because of legal tactics favored by big companies in Mexico, “the regulatory system is not a credible, independent threat to the behavior of large business interests.”

The report specifically cited Grupo Modelo as an example.

Mexican lawmakers approved changes on April 28 aimed at strengthening the country’s antitrust law.

Ivan Franco, an economist with Euromonitor International, said the sheer size and longevity of Mexico’s two giant beer producers make it unlikely that small brewers could compete any time soon.

Craft brewers’ best hope might involve turning to another giant — Walmart de Mexico, which has been adopting new suppliers every year and isn’t beholden to longtime relationships with the big brewers.

“Walmart could be the key to expansion,” Franco said. “More than the bars and cantinas and restaurants.”

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