The beer markets of Central and South America paint a very diverse picture with total consumption, consumption per capita and consumption by segment varying widely from country to country.

Despite the political scene being more stable than it has been in decades, many countries continue to suffer economic fall-out following the relatively strong growth of the 1990s. In turn, this has affected beer consumption, which has traditionally been closely correlated with economic growth.

According to a brand new report from leading beverage industry analysts Canadean, total consumption remained almost static in 2002, dipping only slightly compared with the previous year. That said, the story is extremely interesting when viewed on a national basis. Performance by country fluctuated between the sparkling 17% growth seen in Peru to the less than impressive 17% decline in Uruguay.

Big boys reap rewards of concentration The beer market in this region is highly concentrated with 94% of consumption attributable to the leading seven countries. Furthermore, the two largest markets, namely Brazil and Mexico, enjoy a combined share of almost 70%. Compared with some of the other countries, consumption in Brazil and Mexico was relatively flat in 2002, increasing and declining by 1% and 2% respectively.

As a result of lower pricing, consumption grew fastest in Peru. Colombia was the only other leading country to expand, rising by a very encouraging 7% after several years of decline. The market in Argentina was affected by the continued economic recession, which also had negative implications for neighbouring Uruguay.

In addition to being dominated by the leading countries, the market is characterised by the presence of several very powerful brands. Over 60% of consumption comes from the top 10 brands and 80% from the top 20. Imports have found it extremely difficult to gain any sort of foothold and the penetration of imported beer is less than 0.6%. International brands have enjoyed noticeable success in recent years through licensed brewing arrangements. Exports continue to perform strongly, growing by a healthy 8% but are comprised almost entirely of Mexican beer, which is particularly popular in the US.

Mainstream or standard type lager is the best selling segment in each of the major markets but large national variations are again in evidence. Mainstream beer enjoys a share of throat ranging from 66% in Argentina to more than 94% in Colombia. The "Discount" segment is the second largest with one very notable exception being Super Premium beer - a favourite among Mexican consumers.

Looking forward, per capita consumption of beer is relatively low, suggesting that there may be plenty of growing room still left in the market. However, the political and economic climates could continue to threaten future growth and must be observed carefully. Canadean believe that consumption of beer will overcome this in 2003 to increase by around 3% overall.