Coors Light recently made national headlines when, according to industry trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights, it passed Budweiser as the No. 2 best-selling beer in the U.S. in 2011.
Even with Bud Light keeping a firm grip on the No. 1 position it marked the first time in nearly 20 years that Anheuser-Busch didn’t have the top two selling beer brands.
While Coors Light toppling the self-proclaimed “King of Beers” received a lot of attention, a lesser known beer quietly put up some impressive numbers of its own: Modelo Especial.
It’s one of 13 brands brewed by Mexico’s Grupo Modelo. Modelo Especial is distributed in the United States by Crown Imports, which brings in 11 foreign-brewed brands to the States including Corona, St. Pauli Girl and TsingTao.
Modelo Especial is an old beer making new headway in the United States. Grupo Modelo began brewing and packaging Model Especial in Mexico in 1925, but the brand did not become available in the United States until 1990. Since then it’s been showing consistent year-over- year growth.
“It started at a consumer level with Mexican Hispanics out west,” says Jim Sabia, the chief marketing officer of Crown Imports. “It's their brand and they are very passionate about it.”
Positioned as Mexico’s premium beer brand, Sabia says Modelo Especial has seen double-digit growth annually for the last 17 years. Last year, Modelo Especial sold 35 million cases for the first time and Sabia sees plenty of room for more expansion.
“We've increased our projections to 40 million cases in 2012,” he says. “We're confident there is a lot of growth going forward. The goal is to get to 100 million cases.”
The growth is enough to make Modelo Especial the No. 3 imported beer behind Corona and Heineken. According to market research firm SymphonyIRI Group, Modelo Especial posted a 19 percent gain in dollar sales in 2011, enough to pass Bud Light Lime as the 14th largest beer brand in the U.S.
Up to this point, Modelo Especial’s growth has been achieved with a limited marketing presence.
“This isn’t being driven by a $50 million advertising campaign," Sabia says. "It’s been a very bottom-up approach. We haven’t done a lot of advertising, but what’s happened is that it has expanded to Latinos and now it’s crossing over to the general market.”
Going forward however, Sabia says Crown will be increasing its advertising spending for Modelo Especial and is seeking to raise the brand’s profile in bars and restaurants by making it more widely available on tap. By June 2012, Crown expects Modelo Especial to be available on draft in 41 states, up from 27 right now.
For Sabia, the moves are designed to help speed the growth of a brand that has needed little help thus far.
“Modelo Especial is a very important part of our future at Crown. We believe we have a lot of runway left with this beer.”