John O’Connell/Capital Press
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Mexico’s growing craft beer industry sent its first delegate to Idaho barley country, as part of a trade team that left Sept. 26 following an overnight visit.
“We for the first time had representatives from the craft beer segment in Mexico, which is small but growing like it is in the U.S.,” said Idaho Barley Commission Administrator Kelly Olson. “They’re trying to figure out what it would take to get barley from this region.”
Jose Ruiz, manager of MI CerveSA and a representative with the Craft Brewers Association in Mexico, said craft brewing in his country has enjoyed recent annual growth above 60 percent.
“Craft breweries in Mexico have grown from 20 five years ago to almost 100 now,” Ruiz said.
He said Mexican craft breweries — known for using no sugars other than malt in their beers and for their small, independent ownership — still have too little volume to contract for U.S. acreage, or buy directly from the big malting companies.
“I see it will continue to grow. We expect it to follow the same trend as in the USA, so maybe in the future we’ll be in a position to buy direct from here,” Ruiz said.
The Mexican trade team also included the country’s two major beer companies — Grupo Modelo, which was recently bought out by Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, recently purchased by Heineken.
Olson said the major brewing companies on the trip have bought Idaho barley for nearly a decade. Grupo Modelo has a malting plant in eastern Idaho. She said CCM buys a small amount of Idaho barley but also purchases a large volume of finished malt from Great Western Malting, which has a plant in Pocatello, Idaho.
“Yes, this was an important stop for them. It will result in business,” Olson said.
Julio Hernandez, country director of the Mexico, U.S. Grains Council, said Mexico will have an excess of barley production this season, but much of the grain won’t meet industry specifications. Furthermore, he said Mexico has already saturated its malting capacity.
“If we import malting barley, it will be a small amount, probably 60,000, 70,000 or 90,000 metric tons, but on top of that we have to import malt. We’re talking probably 300,000 metric tons,” Hernandez said.
In the long term, Hernandez believes barley from Idaho and other major U.S. production states will become increasingly important for Mexican breweries as disposable income continues to rise in Mexico, leading to increased beer consumption.
“The industry is growing in Mexico, and in the case of craft beer, which is a very interesting dynamic in Mexico, it’s growing very fast,” Hernandez said.
USDA projects Idaho’s 2013 barley crop will lead the nation at 57.04 million bushels. Though U.S. production is predicted to be down slightly, Olson said global stocks are up, for barley and small grains in general.
“There’s a good amount of malt barley worldwide, so we’re not in a short supply situation. That means the price is coming down,” Olson said.