As wide open as California’s beer market may be, for brew fans in our Great Neighbor to the South, life is very different. The Wall Street Journal reports this week on the pervasive culture of pay-to-play in the Mexican beer market, with distributors and brewers cutting exclusive deals with restaurants and corner stores, meaning customers may only have access to one or two brands at any given location. So if you step into a store in Mexico City looking for, say, Coors, you might find yourself confronted with a solid shelf of nothing but Bud and Bud Light. And don’t even think about finding a six-pack of Lagunitas or Dogfish Head in the corporate monoculture of the Mexican beer market

But there is hope. Just today, Mexico’s Federal Competition Commission, their version of our Federal Trade Commission, said the two dominant companies – Grupo Modelo, owned by the Bud/InBev crew, and Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma, owned by Heineken – have to “reduce” the number of exclusive deals they cut with stores and restaurants, Reuters reported, but the companies have five years to unwind their iron grip on the Mexican market. If they fail to do so, the state could impose fines amounting to up to 8 percent of the companies’ in country revenue.

At minimum, the  decision will open the shelves to a broader array of major-market beers and might even open a small crack for craft brewers from Mexico, the U.S. and other places to get into the large beer Mexican market, reportedly the fifth largest in the world.

Sean Scully