Bar owners, retailers and marketers are currently in overdrive in their efforts to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the holiday that has become Mexican beer’s unofficial launch date for the summer selling season.
With 41 locations in 14 states, Abuelo’s Mexican Restaurants make Cinco de Mayo a centerpiece. Abuelo’s venues offer specials on Mexican beers, pricing brands like Corona and Dos Equis at $3.25 a 22-ounce pour compared to the usual $6. Mexican brews at Abuelo’s account for about 65 percent of total beer sales at the chain, which offers as many as 20 bottled brews and nine drafts from the country. “Mexican beer is our point of differentiation, so we carry as full an array as possible,” says vice president of beverages Brian Bell.
But Cinco celebrations are no longer for Mexican restaurants alone. At Chicago-based bar and restaurant O’Donovan’s, the Cinco de Mayo festivities are spread across three days, and the venue even offers special dishes like a breakfast burrito, pozole soup and a jalapeño burger, along with buckets of Corona (five bottles for $16). “Mexican beers are now mainstream,” notes general manager Frankie Zela. O’Donovan’s typically stocks Corona Extra, Modelo Especial, Tecate and Negra Modelo in bottles and cans ($4 to $6) year-round, and the venue adds Mexican brews like Dos Equis and Negra Modelo on draft ($5 a 16-ounce pour) during the summer.
There’s plenty of Cinco de Mayo action in the off-premise as well. “Cinco is the time when our Mexican beer sales spike most,” notes Brian Bowden, senior vice president of spirits, beer, tobacco and beverages at BevMo, the 158-unit chain with locations in California, Arizona and Washington. BevMo’s Mexican beer sales have increased over the last few years, prompting the company to allocate more display space and cross-merchandise with Tequila and food offerings. “The marketing boost at the supplier tier has definitely resulted in greater sales,” Bowden says. BevMo carries about 40 Mexican beer SKUs, priced from $7.49 to $10.49 a six-pack.
Patrick Brophy, beer buyer at the 33-unit Chicago-area chain Binny’s, says Mexican brands now account for about 6 percent of total beer sales. Binny’s offers about 80 Mexican beer SKUs, priced from $12 to $15 a 12-pack. “These beers appeal to everyone—macro beer drinkers, import drinkers and craft drinkers,” Brophy says.
Since 2013, Mexican beer shipments have risen by around 21 percent, reaching 266.4 million 2.25-gallon cases last year, according to Impact Databank. Constellation Brands dominates the category with seven labels, led by Corona Extra and Modelo Especial.
The top five Mexican beers—Corona, Modelo Especial, Dos Equis, Corona Light and Tecate—comprise around 90 percent of the category. Last year, all except Tecate posted growth. Category leader Corona surged by about 8.5 percent to 116.2 million cases, a rise that Constellation chief commercial officer Bruce Jacobson partly attributes to redesigned can packaging. Prior to that revamp, cans accounted for 2.5 percent of Corona’s total sales, but that share has since grown to 6 percent.
Corona Light, the top-selling imported light beer in the United States, increased 7.4 percent to 15.5 million cases last year. “Draft has played a major role in Corona Light’s growth,” Jacobson notes. Constellation began offering the brand on draft in select markets in March 2012, and draft distribution is being expanded nationally this year.
No.-3 Mexican beer Dos Equis has also performed strongly, with depletions for the Heineken USA label jumping 8 percent to 20.8 million cases last year. The brand’s popular advertising campaign will undergo a change this year as the longtime “Most Interesting Man In the World” played by actor Jonathan Goldsmith is replaced by a new character. Meanwhile, Heineken-owned Tecate, the market’s No.-5 Mexican brew, slipped 3 percent last year to an estimated 14.4 million cases, but combined with No.-7 Tecate Light—which surged 46.3 percent to 29.7 million cases—the franchise increased 6 percent in 2015. Generally priced at parity with premium domestic beers, both Tecate and Tecate Light will unveil redesigned packaging this year, as will Dos Equis.