How Modelo dethroned Bud Light to become the top-selling U.S. beer

Modelo Especial’s U.S. owner and distributor wants to emphasize that the brand’s rise to the top of the country’s beer market didn’t happen overnight.

“The fact that we became the No. 1 beer in America due to a competitor’s moves is not accurate,” said Jim Sabia, executive vice president and managing director of Constellation Brands‘ beer division.

“We’ve planned on becoming the No. 1 beer in America over the next couple of years; it just happened quicker than we anticipated,” he said. 

Sabia said the company estimated that Modelo Especial would be the No. 1 beer in the U.S. by 2025. Bud Light’s sales slump changed that.

Modelo Especial took over’s Bud Light’s top spot in the U.S. beer market in May and has held onto the title ever since, according to Nielsen IQ data analyzed by the investment firm Wedbush Securities. The data shows that on the four weeks ended on May 20, Modelo’s share of total beer sales grew to 10.7%, while Bud Light’s fell to 9.6%.

Analysts say Modelo’s rise was accelerated by conservative backlash against Bud Light and its parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, after it partnered with transgender activist and influencer Dylan Mulvaney the month prior. But Modelo was gaining ground in the U.S. beer market for years.

“This was long a matter of, if not when. These trends have been building for a long time,” said Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association. “Modelo has been on a rise and Bud Light’s been on a decline as we’ve seen overall shifts in the beer market in the last 10 years.”

Now, it’s unlikely Modelo will yield the top spot back to Bud Light.

“Now that Modelo has overtaken Bud Light, the growth for Modelo likely will remain stronger,” said Gerald Pascarelli, senior vice president of equity research at Wedbush Securities. “There’s really no scenario at this point where you would see Bud Light regain its No. 1 position.”

Constellation says it saw Modelo Especial’s potential as early as the 1980s, when the company’s beer division was just the U.S. importer for Modelo, Corona and other Mexican beers in the brand family.

“We introduced Modelo Especial into the U.S. in 1982 and it has grown double digits in 37 of 41 years, which is kind of incredible,” said Greg Gallagher, vice president of brand marketing for Modelo at Constellation Brands.  

“This isn’t a phase. This isn’t a flash in the pan. This is a long history of significant steady growth. So we’ve proven we can do this over the long term,” he added. 

Mexican beer has steadily grown more popular in the U.S. over the years. Its dominance shows across multiple brands beyond Modelo. Here are the overall sales, and market rankings, for Mexican brands in the 12 weeks ended July 15, according to NielsenIQ and Wedbush Securities:

  • No. 1: Modelo Especial, $1.02 billion
  • No. 6: Corona Extra, $571.6 million
  • No. 16: Pacifico, $97.9 million
  • No. 17 Dos Equis, $96.6 million
  • No. 19 Coronita Extra $80.2 million
  • No. 20 Corona Familiar $72.3 million

Mexico sends more beer to the U.S. than any other country does. Between 2013 and 2023, U.S. beer imports from Mexico more than doubled, according to data from the Beer Institute. 

But when it comes to success in the Mexican beer market, Constellation is relatively untouchable. 

“Constellation Brands is kind of the only game in town when you look at core Mexican imports,” said Pascarelli. “They are very much a unique brand just given that they have the two largest Mexican imports in the United States.”

According to data from Circana, Constellation’s sales account for 92.5% of dollar shares of the entire Mexican import category.

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