Mexicans have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic in many ways, including beer lovers finding it particularly difficult to quench their thirst as supplies run dry due to reduced production.
Fernando Rodriguez wanted to have a beer while taking part in a virtual party, one of the only ways to celebrate under containment measures.
After searching several stores in his Mexico City neighborhood, he eventually had to pay almost double.
“In one shop… it was hidden away. They told me they could sell it to me at a much higher price. It was among the last supplies,” the 33-year-old told AFP.
In the end he bought a bottle that would normally cost 33 pesos ($1.35) for nearly double at 60 pesos.
It’s a common problem in Mexico where a month ago two major brewers — including Grupo Modelo, which makes Corona — drastically reduced production after the government said beer-making was not an essential economic activity.
For a while, stores could sell their remaining stock but refrigerators are now almost empty and the few bottles and cans left are sold with a huge markup.
“People still consume it. It costs what it costs, it’s like cigarettes,” said Diana Lopez, 47, who owns a store in a central Mexico City neighborhood.
“It seems absurd to me, people complain about the rise in the price of eggs but not beer,” said Jorge Puente, 33, another grocery store owner.
– Like prohibition –
The shortage is no small matter in a country where 70 percent of households buy beer, according to Kantar Worldpanel consulting group.
Mexico is also the fourth-highest consumer of beer in the world, at an average of 68.7 liters (18.1 gallons) a year per capita, the Kirin Beer University says.
With the drink in short supply, an internet-based “black market” has sprung up, said Cuauhtemoc Rivera, president of the National Alliance of Small Shopkeepers, who says beer represents 40 percent of business for many such stores.
In the town of Tijuana, on the US border, people can buy beer from websites selling it at three times its original price.
One vendor was offering 12 beers that would normally cost 120 pesos for 400 pesos.
The sites offer brands such as Bud Light and Coors, which can be brought over the border from San Diego, California without restrictions.
“There’s no beer in the shops so the black market abounds or you ask someone you know (to bring it from the United States) because over there they have it, and on top of that, it’s always been cheaper,” said Usiel, a car mechanic.
In the seaside resort of Cancun, people use social media to try to find stores selling beer, although less-desirable artisanal versions and cheap foreign brands such as Belgium’s Martens can be found.
Meanwhile in Sinaloa, the former fiefdom of drug kingpin Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, authorities have warned that stores set up in homes or garages to sell beer are illegal and will be dismantled — just like during US Prohibition during the 1920s.
Some people have even converted their car trunks into liquor stores.
– ‘Huge pressure’ –
Grupo Modelo and Heineken’s Mexican subsidiary Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma — which makes the Tecate and Dos Equis brands — are waiting for the government to lift restrictions to reboot their operations.
It’s particularly important with summer approaching, when demand usually rises, according to Kantar Worldpanel.
Mexico’s federal consumer protection agency says beer production could be reactivated in mid-May.
“Right now there’s huge pressure on the last reserves,” Ricardo Sheffield, who is in charge of the agency, told TV network Milenio.