Mexican beer has become increasingly popular in the United States over the past few decades. Here are some quick answers to common questions about this trend:
Why do Americans drink so much Mexican beer? Mexican beers like Corona, Modelo, and Dos Equis are refreshing lagers that pair well with hot weather, spicy foods, and casual gatherings. Their easy-drinking taste profile appeals to American palates.
When did Mexican beers get popular in the US? Mexican beers started gaining popularity in the 1980s and 1990s as more American tourists visited Mexico and brought a taste for the beers back home. Brands like Corona Extra and Dos Equis Ambar became fashionable to drink.
What are the most popular Mexican beer brands? Today, the top Mexican beer brands drunk in the US are Corona Extra, Modelo Especial, Dos Equis Lager, Tecate, and Pacifico. Corona is by far the most popular, accounting for over half of Mexican beer sales.
History of Mexican Beer in the United States
While Mexican beers are ubiquitous in the US today, this was not always the case. The consumption of Mexican beer brands stateside is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Origins of Mexican Brewerias
Beer brewing in Mexico has roots dating back to the Aztecs. When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, they brought brewing techniques from Europe. The two traditions combined to form Mexico’s unique beer culture. By the late 1800s, German immigrants had helped establish lager breweries across Mexico, like Cervecería Cuauhtémoc and Cervecería Moctezuma.
Introduction to the US Market
For years, Mexican beers were mostly regional products. Brands like Carta Blanca, Superior, and Tecate enjoyed popularity near the border. But it wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that Mexican beers started gaining nationwide distribution in the US.
Rise of Flagship Brands
The shift was led by the introduction of flagship brands like Corona Extra, Dos Equis Amber Lager, and Tecate. Heineken took control of Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma and targeted a US audience. Between 1976 and 1986, Corona Extra’s sales rose from less than 50,000 cases to over 2 million cases in the US. Its simple ad campaigns focused on relaxation and lime wedges. By the mid-1990s, Corona had surpassed Heineken as the #1 imported beer in America.
Niche Market to Mainstream
As they expanded distribution, brands like Modelo Especial positioned themselves as affordable imports for blue-collar drinkers. Young college students also embraced Mexican beers as fun party drinks compared to mainstream domestic lagers. Their popularity continued rising through the 2000s. By 2018, Mexican beers represented over 75% of imported beer sales in the US. What originated as a niche foreign import had transformed into a mainstream American choice.
Why Mexican Beers Appeal to American Tastes
There are several key factors that have made Mexican beers so popular with Americans over the past few decades:
Affordable Price Point
Mexican beer brands are relatively inexpensive compared to domestic and other imported beers. This makes them accessible options for price-conscious consumers. A 6-pack of Modelo Especial typically costs under $10, which is on par with beers like Budweiser. This affordable price point helps drive Mexican beer sales.
Refreshing Flavor Profile
Most leading Mexican lager styles like Corona Extra, Victoria, and Pacifico Clara have light, crisp, subtly malty flavors with minimal bitterness. This highly drinkable, refreshing profile appeals to American consumers drawn to easy-drinking beer. The hot climate and beach culture of Mexico inspired a thirst-quenching beer sensibility that translates well stateside.
Mexican beer brands invest heavily in marketing that taps into consumers’ aspirations. Corona’s ads evoke tropical vacations and relaxation. Tecate’s “born bold” slogan suggests anti-conformity. These brands successfully associate Mexican beer with fun, sun, and freedom in consumers’ minds. Targeted digital marketing and influencer campaigns further this branding today.
Growing Hispanic Population
The surging US Hispanic population has driven sales growth of Mexican beers. Brands like Modelo Especial and Tecate connect with Hispanic pride and identity. As this demographic expands its spending power, Mexican beers become lifestyle staples that remind them of celebratory times.
Favorable Trade Terms
NAFTA helped reduce trade barriers between Mexico and the US in the 1990s. This allowed more affordable Mexican beer to flood the US market tariff-free. Updated terms in the USCMA trade agreement keep this favorable access in place. As a result, Mexican brands can competitively price and market their beers in the US.
The Rapid Rise of Corona Extra
No brand better illustrates the growth of Mexican beer in the US than Corona Extra. A closer examination of its history and positioning sheds light on why it has emerged as America’s favorite imported beer.
Early Distribution Challenges
Corona Extra was first brewed in Mexico City in 1925. However, it was originally produced for domestic consumption only. Strict import laws and inadequate refrigeration and transportation prevented Corona from expanding beyond northern Mexico. Internationally, its distribution was limited.
This changed in the 1970s when Heineken took ownership of Corona’s parent company Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma. Heineken had the marketing savvy and distribution network to launch Corona more widely abroad. After failures trying to sell other Mexican brands in America, Heineken targeted Corona to mainstream audiences.
Lime Wedge Marketing
Heineken’s advertising presented Corona as synonymous with relaxation and escaping the ordinary. Their most impactful move was associating Corona with a lime wedge to convey refreshing taste. They touted the “beach in a bottle” imagery we now take for granted.
Explosive US Growth
By 1986, Corona was the #1 imported beer in America. Its sales skyrocketed from 1.7 million cases in 1980 to over 20 million cases by 2000. Corona’s growth outpaced all imports and domestic beers.
Becoming Synonymous with Mexican Beer
Due to its incredible popularity, Corona has practically become synonymous with Mexican beer for many Americans. Its branding dominates the sector. While other Mexican beers maintain devout followings, no rival has dethroned Corona as top import.
Top Mexican Beer Brands in the US
While the Mexican beer segment continues expanding in the US, a few core brands make up the bulk of sales. The leading labels illustrate the diversity of styles and price points within the category.
Part of the Constellation Brands portfolio, Corona Extra holds a commanding 55% of Mexican beer market share in the US. At well over $2 billion in annual sales, its growth seems unstoppable. Corona Familiar and new seltzer spin-offs further extend dominance.
Constellation’s Modelo Especial has surpassed Heineken as the #2 import thanks to strong positioning as an authentic brand for bilingual drinkers. Loyal Hispanic consumers and savvy digital marketing maintain its momentum.
Heineken’s Dos Equis was once the fastest growing import brand thanks to its “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign. Though past its peak, stock-keeping unit (SKU) innovation and on-premise tap sales keep Dos Equis popular.
Heineken’s Tecate produces both the Original lager and Light versions, appealing to value-focused drinkers. Sponsorship of boxing matches and demographic-targeted social media aid its continued resonance.
Modelo’s Pacifico Clara lager offers a crisp, slightly more bitter lager profile. Its branding around surf towns in Northwest Mexico gives it an adventurous, hip image that attracts younger consumers.
|Corona Extra||Constellation Brands||55%|
|Modelo Especial||Constellation Brands||13%|
How Authentic Heritage Drives Branding
One key to Mexican beer’s popularity in America is how the major brands project a sense of exotic authenticity and cultural heritage. This provides them with an edge over domestic beers in an increasingly fragmented market.
Positioning Around Provenance
Many Mexican lagers directly emphasize place of origin in their branding. Corona is “La Cerveza Mas Fina” or “the finest beer” from Mexico. Victoria evokes the tastes of Mexico’s beer capital with its “Monterrey”-style lager.
Watch a Mexican beer ad, and you’ll likely see shimmering beaches, lively plazas, or traditional cuisine that evoke the country’s culture. Even when not directly stated, visual context drives home the connection between the beer and its Mexican roots. This imagery provides built-in appeal.
Many Mexican beer brands incorporate Spanish into packaging, serving as shorthand for authenticity. Bilingual branding caters to English and Spanish speakers while reinforcing cultural relevance. For example, Pacifico Clara uses the subtitle “Cerveza Claro” below its name.
Sponsorship of Traditions
By sponsoring events like Mexico’s Day of the Dead, Cinco de Mayo, and Mexican rodeos and soccer leagues, brands immerse themselves in cultural traditions. This lets them organically embed themselves as icons of identity and heritage.
Localized Marketing Approaches
Brands take nuanced approaches to different US demographics. For young English speakers, Corona is a carefree choice. For Hispanic consumers, Modelo Especial taps into national and regional pride. This shows how cultural branding resonates across generations.
Pairing with Mexican Cuisine
Another major factor driving the appeal of Mexican lagers in America is their inherent drinkability with Mexican food, which has also exploded in popularity in recent decades. The crisp taste profiles pair perfectly with spicy dishes.
Refreshment for Heat
The light body, mild flavor, and effervescent carbonation of Mexican lagers provides refreshment when eating mouth-searing tacos, chili con carne, and enchiladas. Icy beers help extinguish the fire.
Dishes like burritos and tamales often have complex layers of meats, beans, cheese, and sauce. The simple tang of lime-garnished Coronas cuts through the richness. This makes beers essential palate cleansers.
Many Mexican beers use adjunct grains like corn and rice that echo ingredients found in tortillas, salsas, and other authentic dishes. Drinking Modelo Especial with ceviche feels like an innate pairing.
Buzzy Mexican restaurants and taco trucks aim to recreate a lively south-of-the-border experience. Mexican beers support the festive mood with their affordable, drinkable formula — it’s fiesta fuel.
Versatile Pairing Ability
While they pair wonderfully with Mexican specialties, beers like Pacifico Clara, Dos Equis Lager, and Victoria are light enough to accompany a wide range of global cuisines. This gives them an advantage over fuller-bodied beer styles.
Savvy Marketing and Brand Activation
Mexican beer brands have become marketing powerhouses, deploying innovative strategies to stay top of mind with American consumers:
Fresh Lime Focus
Corona’s early emphasis on serving their beer with a lime wedge became one of the most powerful visual symbols in alcohol marketing. The brand spends heavily to reinforce this association in every setting.
Outsized Ad Spending
Leading Mexican beer companies devote more money proportionally to advertising than major domestic brewers. Corona spends over 20% of revenue on marketing. The focus on US markets amplifies their message.
In addition to TV and digital advertising, brands host events like beach volleyball tournaments, music festivals, and Cinco de Mayo parties to immerse consumers in their world. These experiences form indelible brand connections.
Corona signs sponsorship deals with beach volleyball stars like Kerri Walsh Jennings to tie their beer to an active lifestyle. Tecate favors boxers and UFC fighters to reinforce masculine branding.
On social media, brands collaborate with travel photographers and trendsetters to showcase their beers in aspirational settings that organically reach targeted demographics. Product placement looks like personal endorsement.
Mexican beer brands craft nuanced messages aimed at multicultural Millennials, bilingual Hispanic consumers, and other urban segments. This personalized messaging helps build loyal followings.
New Product Innovation
While the core Mexican lager styles show no signs of fading, brands are constantly innovating with new styles, packaging, and spiked seltzers to capture more consumer occasions:
Tropical lime, mango, and grapefruit flavors extend Corona’s escapist branding. These appeal to younger drinkers seeking variety and refreshment in a familiar brand.
Beer with Tequila
Combining Mexican lager with blue agave spirits, Dos Equis XX Special Lager speaks to young adults seeking bolder new flavors. The blend archetype could inspire more spirit hybrids.
Mexican Craft Collaborations
To appeal to craft drinkers, Modelo partners with Mexico’s respected Cervecería Insurgente to produce specialty beers only available in America. This adds credibility.
RTDs and Seltzers
Following hard seltzer’s rise, Corona launched Refresca premium spiked seltzers while Victoria entered the RTD market with canned margaritas. These new formats attract casual drinking occasions.
On-the-go convenience packaging like Victoria’s 12 oz. cans, Modelo’s draft-like bottles, and Corona’s Stubby bottles adapt Mexican lagers for American drinking preferences.
The Outlook for Continued Growth
Multiple factors indicate that the popularity of Mexican beer in America shows no signs of slowing:
Expanding Hispanic Population
The surging US Hispanic population essentially guarantees a built-in market for Mexican brands. Their share of the population will reach 20% by 2025, ensuring ongoing demand.
Millennial Brand Loyalty
Drinkers under 40 embrace Mexican beers as affordable go-tos. Their brand loyalty will likely continue as they age, with nostalgia keeping them drinking Coronas at backyard barbecues.
Favorable Distribution Terms
The USMCA trade framework will continue allowing Mexican brands favorable access and distribution terms in the US. Without cost barriers, Mexican beer imports can keep rising.
Consumers increasingly seek more flavorful, innovative beer options. Emerging styles like Mexican amber lagers and IPAs provide room for growth in premium imports.
Outpacing Domestic Brands
Mainstream domestic lagers from brands like Budweiser and Miller are losing market share as consumers switch to imports. Mexican brands stand to benefit most from this shift.
The numbers don’t lie — all signs point to America’s thirst for Mexican lagers continuing unabated. Their refreshing taste, cultural cachet, and smart branding have tapped into consumer demand for affordable beer choices with personality. With Mexican cuisine more popular than ever, a frosty Model or Pacifico will likely accompany meals for decades to come. ¡Salud!