Coronavirus leaves Mexico without beers and jobs


Due to the health crisis, the Government ordered the closure of the production plants of the world’s largest beer exporter, an industry that generates 650,000 jobs.

Three weeks ago, Mike Garcia made what he considers to be a wise decision: stock up on beers through an app that delivers food to your home. This 30-year-old engineer from the municipality of San Pedro Garza García, close to the industrial city of Monterrey (northern Mexico), was surprised to see how neighbors lined up long lines at convenience stores, supermarkets, and gas stations to desperately buy beers. This after the Government of Mexico decreed contingency measures to prevent the spread of covid-19, including the closure of the breweries. “Panic shopping,” says Garcia, who cataloged what he saw as “an extreme situation.” A month after the measure was enacted – which does not affect other similar products, such as tequila – it can be said that the coronavirus has left Mexico without beers.

In Monterrey, Ramírez explains, it is not easy to find the drink, an elixir for Mexicans, who are among the largest consumers in the world with 68 liters per capita per year. Ramírez is privileged because he still has reservations, but the country is indignantly attending a shortage that he never imagined. Social networks buzz with the hashtag #SeAcabaronLasChelas . Ramírez is also saddened by the shortage due to another more dramatic situation: he has friends whose job was to buy and sell them and with the closing of the factories they have lost their jobs. “Beer is not something that is needed to subsist, but there are many families that make a living from this,” he says.

The government established a contingency plan in late March to prevent the spread of the pandemic, which has already infected more than 27,000 people and left 2,704 dead. That plan urges people to stay home and suspend all activities that are not considered essential, despite the fact that 42% of its 126 million inhabitants live in poverty and tens of millions depend on the informal economy. The decree excluded beer production from essential activities, which surprised and alarmed producers, who saw that similar measures were not taken in other nations. Mexico is the world’s leading beer exporter: Last year it sold 40.1 million hectoliters (one hectoliter equals one hundred liters), according to industry calculations. In 2018, it generated revenue of $ 4,288 million. Its main markets are the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Guatemala and Canada.

The brewing companies complied with the order and stopped the production of an industry that generates 55,000 direct jobs and 650,000 indirect jobs, in a long value chain that in addition to producers and plant workers includes barley and hops farmers, distribution and the points of sale. Although the government has not clarified why the reopening of such an important industry has not been allowed, the manufacturers maintain contact with the authorities to allow them to restart production, stating that they have all the hygienic and protective measures to prevent the COVID-19 spread. While beer is scarce, you can buy cigarettes, a wide variety of wines and spirits and soft drinks in any Mexican store, despite the fact that 40 die each year.

A man with a pack of beers outside a commercial establishment in Mexico.
A man with a pack of beers outside a commercial establishment in Mexico

“We comply despite being a very safe industry,” explains Karla Siqueiros, CEO of Cerveceros de México. “Other countries that, like us, are going through a similar emergency, have not stopped production. We have been unemployed since April 5. And we are waiting. We are an essential part of agribusiness because we represent 25% of the sector’s exports ”.

Siqueiros says that, in order not to affect barley producers – an essential ingredient in beer – the breweries have already bought the autumn-winter production, but that sector has also been in uncertainty because they depend on manufacturing. In Mexico, 5,000 farming families benefit directly from the purchase made by brewers. “We entered into communication with various authorities and we have no response. We are seeing that the impact is reflected in the income of people in the value chain. For stores, the sale represents up to 40% of their total income. So the important thing is to take care of that value chain. We hope to be considered an essential industry ”, adds Siqueiros.

In Mexico, there are 1.2 million grocery stores, family businesses that are the direct contact with consumers in neighborhoods and rural areas. At least five million Mexicans depend on them, according to calculations by the National Alliance of Small Merchants, an organization that groups 85,000 businesses of this type. Its president, Cuauhtémoc Rivera, explains that many of his partners are desperate because the sale of beers translates into the strongest part of their income. “We are in crisis,” says Rivera. “That decree [of the Government] has never clarified for sure what is essential and what is not. People demand the product, so we ask the authorities to guarantee supply: we supply 50% of national demand. The only thing that increases is speculation,

For this merchant – who recalls the days of Al Capone when alcohol was banned in the United States – the government’s measures are “doomed to failure.” He claims that the criteria taken by the authorities are not explained. “If it was a moralistic criterion, the consequences are very serious. Isolation is very hard. Beer is a moderation drink and more when you drink it alone. It helps people to quarantine. ” An opinion shared by Mike Ramírez, the young engineer from northern Mexico, who still has “chelas” left after stocking up before the shortage. “I like beer and being locked up [drinking it] is a form of distraction,” he says.

Mexicans offer toilet paper in exchange for beer

The stoppage of beer production and marketing, as part of the health emergency generated by COVID-19, has made Mexicans who love this drink nervous

“It is bad news for Mexican (consumers),” said Félix Méndez, owner of a beer depot near the Miguel Hidalgo mayor’s office in Mexico City.


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