A Scoop on Mexican Ice Cream

I got nothing today, i have been sitting here all morning trying to think of something to write about, and I got squat. Mind is not working good today, can’t get in the mood. So I opened my email, and I got this article sent to me from a newsletter I belong to here in Mexico.

Yesterday I was with my new friend from the Ukraine, and she was wanting some ice cream. So when I saw this article about ice cream in Mexico this morning, I thought some readers may be interested in ice cream since it is summertime, and hot everywhere.

It sometimes seems that every time you look around there’s a new ice cream parlor or store offering the latest in exotic flavors. The proliferation of fancy brands — Haagen Dazs, Ben and Jerry’s, Santa Clara — might lead you to the wrong conclusion about just how much ice cream Mexicans consume.

According to some reports, Mexicans only eat on average 1.5 liters of ice cream a year, a small fraction of what Americans and New Zealanders — the world’s top consumers — guzzle down.

Also somewhat surprising, for a relatively low-wage country, is the amount of business done by ice cream brands of which a single serving cone or tub can cost anything from three to four US dollars.

Market studies here can be incomplete in a country where there is a large informal economy, and products such as ice cream and popsicles are often made by individuals whose sales are off the marketing experts’ radar screens.

It’s ice-cream franchises, however, that are expected to generate the growth in product consumption in the country.

If you visit or live in a large city or tourist resort, the most likely place you’ll find ice cream is at one of these chains, many of which are located at malls. Local grocery stores—las tienditas—convenience stores such as Oxxo and 7-Eleven, as well as a majority of pharmacies have fridges with prepackaged ice creams and popsicles, mostly in single servings. Multi-packs and larger presentations are found in the freezers at supermarkets.

The best known brand of ice cream in Mexico, and apparently the one with the largest market share is Helados Holanda. These tend to be cheaper than the boutique brands, whether bought in individual servings or in larger packages. This makes a lot of sense when buying ice cream for a family, but for those particular about quality—all natural ingredients, for example—this apparently won’t do, and those who can afford it prefer to buy the expensive stuff.

It’s almost impossible not to come across a popsicle shop — paleteria — called La Michoacana. These shops sell a wide range of fruit-flavored paletas as well as cream ones, paletas de crema. A word of advice, go for the water ones. Although originally from the state of Michoacán, apparently just about anyone can call their paleteria La Michoacana, as this interesting report suggests.

In small towns, and still occasionally in large cities, you can find the traditional ambulant purveyors of helados, or nieves in the case of lime sorbets, being served from a push cart or from a container placed in ice on the front of an adapted bicycle. These vendors are famous for crying out “de limón la nieveeeeee!!!”

Soft ice cream from a machine is also growing in popularity, not only because of the flavor but also because of the price. McDonald’s offers a range of these ice creams at its restaurants, but also has external ice cream counters at many of its outlets for those who just want to pick-up some passing refreshment. If your budget is somewhat strained and it’s hot out, this can be quite a useful option.

The Story of Mexican Beer

The Spaniards were the first to introduce barley and wheat based beers to Mexico although production was limited in the early days, in part due to the lack of available grains.

The first official concession to brew European-style beers was issued by the Spanish authorities in the middle of the 16th century; however, despite the brewers’ attempts to expand the business by growing more crops locally to increase the supply of barley at a lower price, heavy regulation and high taxation imposed by Spain on locally-produced beers and wines stymied the industry’s growth.

After Mexico’s War of Independence saw-off the European regulators and their taxes, beer production began to flourish in Mexico. During the latter part of the 19th century, an influx of German immigrants brought additional knowledge and expertise to the field which caused the local market to diversify and improve its products.

By the turn of the 20th century, beer had become big business in Mexico, helped also by prohibition in the United States at that time, which gave rise to a brisk and profitable trade of beer and other alcoholic beverages along Mexico’s border towns and cities.

By the time the Mexican Revolution was over, there were more than thirty-five breweries operating in Mexico.

Consolidation of the industry began in the early 1920’s and kick-started a process that brought about the beer market we see here today. During the period of consolidation, smaller breweries were absorbed into the one of the “big-two” breweries, Grupo Modelo and Cerveceria Cuautehmoc-Moctezuma, which emerged as the dominant players of the Mexican beer market.

Successful beers were mass-produced and distributed regionally or nationally, and less successful beers disappeared from the market altogether. Smaller breweries that were not bought-out were forced to close as they could not compete with the economies-of-scale brought about through consolidation.

Between them, Grupo Modelo and Cerveceria Cuautehmoc-Moctezuma now control over 90% of the Mexican beer market, with annual domestic sales totaling some 6 billion US dollars—exports add around 1.2 billion US dollars to the total.

The majority of beers sold today in Mexico are lagers, pilsners, Vienna-style light and dark beers, as well as Munich dark beers. A small number of local micro breweries produce a limited range of ales, sold in niche markets.

Beer in Mexico is served cold, or taken as a Michelada: beer with lime juice, or lime juice mixed with a variety of spicy sauces like Worcester, chili, or soy sauce.

The beverage is still regularly supplied using returnable bottles, although disposable cans and bottles are becoming increasingly common. If you are visiting Mexico and purchasing beer from a local store, choose the disposable bottles which don’t require a deposit and can be recycled after use.

When you’re living in Mexico, it’s worth building up a supply of returnable bottles which you can take back to the store when you want refills. Building up a rapport with your local store keeper might earn you the privilege of being able to take beer bottles without paying a deposit, as the store keeper trusts that you will return the bottles and, presumably, buy more beer from that store.

Most beer bottle sizes are 325ml, although some brands of beer are also available in larger 925ml, 940ml and full 1-liter sizes. In Mexican slang Spanish, the larger bottles are called to as caguamas (sea turtles) or if you’re in north-eastern Mexico you might hear them referred to as ballenas (whales); in Mazatlan, ballenas refer specifically to the Pacifico brand of beer sold in the larger-sized bottles.

For a detailed guide, further information and a summary of the principal beer brands sold here, read the Guide to Beers in Mexico.