Last year, Constellation Brands, most well-known as a wine empire, bought Corona, and the company that imports it to the US. Since then, profit for the company almost doubled. Whether they’re having a cookout in your backyard or munching on nachos at a Mexican restaurant, Americans love Mexican beer. Even if it isn’t the best beer by far, Corona is the most popular by far, and is currently the fifth best-selling beer in the US. In a market where most of the bigger beer brands have suffered from the rise of craft brewing, the sales of Corona are actually growing.
As a mass-produced beer distributed by a publicly-traded company, Corona is the very antithesis of everything that the craft beer revolution stands for. And objectively speaking, it isn’t even that good of a beer. On the website ratebeer.com, Corona has a grade of 1.69 out of 10. On the popular review site Beer Advocate, Corona is given an “awful” rating of 55 out of 100, and is described with such phrases as “faded aromas of sulphur, faint skunk, mild cooked veggies”. Corona is not only a bad beer, but it’s also one of the worst Mexican beers; most Mexicans don’t even drink Corona, and the beer’s main consumer base is north of the Mexican border. Bohemia, Negra Modelo, Dos Equis, Victoria, Modelo Especial, Pacifico, Tecate and Sol all have higher ratings than Corona on Beer Advocate.
Even with the rise of craft brewing, Americans continue to drink plenty of bad beer; one in five beers drunk in the US is Bud Light, which is hardly a paragon of quality. However, beers such as Bud Light and Coors Light are so popular because they’re cheap. Yet Corona sells for an average of $30 a case, almost twice the cost of Natural Light, another well-selling (and not very good) beer. So, how is it that Corona sells so well? The short answer is marketing. While Corona has always had a strong advertising campaign, Constellation has ramped it up aggressively since taking over in June, with a goal of boosting the beer’s return in colder months. Constellation worked on campaigns featuring NFL coach Jon Gruden, as well as a Thanksgiving promotion with turkey companies Woodbridge and Butterball.
It’s no surprise that Constellation has recently been playing up Cinco de Mayo, a vital day in Corona’s marketing. Robert Sands, Chief Executive Officer of Constellation, refers to the holiday as “Corona de Mayo”, hardly a subtle hint as to where he wants this marketing campaign to go. However, an emphasis on marketing isn’t a new strategy in the beer business. A lot of big beer brands have been working on advertising campaigns, although they have recently yielded poor results. What makes Constellation’s Corona strategy so successful, however, is its consistency. The ads never talk about taste or ingredients, and their formula is astoundingly simple: sand, sun and lime, all year round. Unlike Coors or Budweiser, Corona isn’t selling beer. It’s selling the idea of sitting on the beach and drinking a beer.
A large portion of Constellation’s current growth strategy depends on pushing Corona Light, especially in keg form. The company is talking about a new type of Corona with higher alcohol content, and recently announced such ambitious expansion plans as $1.1 billion spending to double the capacity of its Mexican brewery. Yet for those more picky beer drinkers, there remains hope. A lot of Constellation’s better beers are growing faster in the US than its other brands. Pacifico, for instance, is on more taps than any other beer owned by Constellation. And Modelo Especial, which many people view as the next Corona, posted a 20% increase in volume last year.