This morning one of my friends said to me: “I have been celebrating Mexican Independence Day since Thursday night and my head is killing me today”. I though he was probably still intoxicated as Mexican Independence Day is not until four months from now; nevertheless, after associating his drinking behavior with this particular date, I realized there is some historical significance that goes beyond Mexico and explains the reason behind his drunkenness today.

Last Thursday was May 5th, 2011, also known as “Cinco de Mayo”, the day millions of people around the world gather to celebrate one of the most important days on their calendar. There are big parades on the streets, festivals and celebrations of the Mexican heritage, except of course, that most of these people aren’t Mexican and they are not commemorating heroes who fought for their country’s independence. Thinking that May 5th is Mexico’s Independence Day is a common misconception of the nature of this day. Regardless, the day presents the perfect excuse for drinking Mexican beer despite the reasons behind the celebration.

The truth is that on May 5th streets in Mexico look the same as they do any other day, no parades take place and no humongous flags are displayed. It is in fact a holiday, but only regionally; celebrated only in the Mexican state of Puebla where a battle took place in 1862 in which 8,000 heavily equipped Frenchmen were crushed by 4,000 really angry Mexican soldiers. The victory had little impact on preventing the French from establishing an Empire in Mexico, but it is in fact significant in the way that it was the first defeat suffered by the French army (the strongest at the time) in over 50 years and marks the milestone that no country in the Americas has been invaded from an European army ever since.

The reason behind how that isolated battle became such a big celebration every year in the U.S. goes back to the Chicano movement, which initialized the modern “Cinco de Mayo” celebrations back in the 40s and 50s and was later popularized by beer companies in the 80s who seized the opportunity to market themselves and capitalize on the nature of the day. Since then, beer companies have promoted the celebration in order to spike their sales. Their influence has been so powerful during the last decades that in 2005 the U.S. Congress issued a concurrent resolution to observe over a hundred official celebrations across the country.

A very interesting fact today is that breweries realizing better sales during these celebrations are not necessarily Mexican; for the Latin American community in the U.S., popular Mexican beer brands are premium beers that come at higher prices; imported Mexican beers are most commonly purchased by non-Hispanic Caucasians, whereas “substitute” local beers are taking over the Latin American communities due to lower prices and similar taste.

But during the 80’s the story was different, “Grupo Modelo” (makers of Corona beer) was the leading promoter of the celebration in Texas and California. By using catchy slogans such as “The Drinko for Cinco”, the company raised its sales from 1.5 million cases a year in the mid-80s to over 12 million only a couple of years later. Grupo Modelo positioned itself as a leading brand and consolidated a competitive position in the American market within the next decades. Today Corona beer alone stands in fourth place in global sales, and Modelo Group has come to compete head to head with the Belgian giant InBev and provided advice to Anheuser Busch while the company was unsuccessfully battling the foreign takeover.

Cinco de Mayo to Mexican breweries and particularly to Grupo Modelo is a reason to celebrate, as in the same way the Mexican army defeated a foreign army, Grupo Modelo has taken over international markets coming from a disadvantaged position and pleasantly surprising even its own executives. Cinco de Mayo will continue to be an increasingly important celebration in the U.S and a clear opportunity for Mexican breweries to rebrand their products, market their companies and takeover foreign competitors.
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Diego De la Garza

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