Latin America’s Experience with Refillable Beverage Containers

Refilling takes place just across the border from El Paso, Texas. In Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, a plant owned by Embotelladora Argos, S.A., packages Coca-Cola products in refillable bottles. In Mexico and in other Latin-American countries, refilling has made packaged beverages affordable to more people [FEMC, p. 8][SAPH, p. 199]. Until the 1990s, refillable glass bottles dominated the packaging mix in Latin America [GLAS]. Refillable PET bottles entered the soft-drink market in the early 1990s, but one-way PET bottles are now conquering the markets of some countries. Among packaged beer, meanwhile, the market share in cans is surpassing 20 percent in some countries. Indeed, these packaging trends indicate a decline of refilling in Latin America. The concurrence of this decline with changes in the retail grocery market suggests that these changes are one of the forces that is causing the decline in refilling, especially for soft drinks. In many Latin American countries, foreign-owned supermarkets and hypermarkets are slowly conquering a market that small, family-owned grocery stores have traditionally dominated [SMNR]. Refillable bottles have enabled these grocery stores to compete with the supermarkets [FEMC, p. 6], who generally prefer to sell large quantities of beverages in one-way containers at the lowest possible prices. In its supercenters in Mexico, in fact, America’s largest retailer sells no soft drinks in refillable bottles and sells only a limited amount of beer in refillables.


Among the countries considered here–Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina–Mexico apparently has the strongest market for beverages in refillable containers but has experienced a decline in refilling. The percent of soda pop in refillable bottles from Embotelladora Argos has declined from 77 percent in 1998 to 62 percent in 2000, and most of its new presentations have been in one-way containers [EA99][EA00]. Argos and its subsidiaries package Coca-Cola products for markets in Northwestern Mexico, which includes states that border the United States. In Southern Mexico, Coca-Cola FEMSA sold 45 percent of its soda pop in refillable bottles in 2000 but sold 88 percent in refillables in 1994 [FEMC, p. 9]. However, refillable multiple-serving bottles are still outselling their one-way counterparts: the 2-liter refillable PET bottle accounted for 33 percent of FEMSA’s total sales volume in 2000, but the 2-liter one-way PET bottle accounted for only 15 percent [FEMC, p. 8]. The company plans to use refillable bottles to thwart the entry of “non-branded” products into its market and to maintain its strong sales in the small grocery stores. These small, mainly family-owned stores make up about 67 percent of the market in FEMSA’s Mexico City territory [FEMC, p. 19].

Throughout most of the 1990s, refillable glass bottles have held between 79 and 84 percent of the total sales volume in the Mexican beer market [AGRI]. Literature from Mexico’s major brewers, FEMSA and Grupo Modelo, suggests that refillables held between 75 and 80 percent of the market share in 2000 [FEMB][GM, pp. 9-10]. The most popular refillable beer bottle is the 1-liter size, which accounted for 41 percent of the total sales volume in 2000 [GM, pp. 9-10].


Over the 1990s, Brazil’s beverage markets saw a deluge of one-way containers: one-way PET for soft drinks and cans for beer. In the soft-drink market, meanwhile, the volume percentage in refillables plummeted from 96 percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 1998. Refillable PET bottles began to appear in 1990, held 6 percent of the market in 1995, but held only 3 percent in 1998. In the beer market, the volume percentage in refillable glass bottles dropped from 95 percent in 1990 to 67 percent in 1998, and canned beer rose from 2 percent to 25 percent during the same period [DTMK]. While supermarket chains have been slowly capturing the retail grocery markets from the traditional stores in Brazil, beverages in one-way containers have been capturing more shelf space [GLAS]. In Brazil, the top five supermarket chains controlled about 38 percent of the retail market in 1999 [SMNR].


Coca-Cola FEMSA also operates a bottling plant near Buenos Aires, Argentina. An examination of the company’s 2000 report [FEMC] suggests that one-way containers are taking over Argentina’s soft-drink market. In its Buenos Aires market, Coca-Cola FEMSA sold 10 percent of its soda pop in refillable bottles in 2000 but sold 70 percent in refillables in 1994. In low-income parts of the Bueno Aires metropolitan region, FEMSA offers its products in 1.5-liter refillable PET bottles and had planned to offer some new presentations in refillables in 2001 [FEMC, p. 9]. On the other hand, more affluent Coke drinkers are probably buying their beverages in one-way containers at supermarkets and hypermarkets, which provided about 31 percent of the market for FEMSA’s products in Argentina in 2000 [FEMC, p. 19]. The control of almost half of the retail grocery market by the top five supermarket chains in Argentina [SMNR] may be limiting the market for beverages in refillable containers. This discussion focuses only on one bottler’s experience in the Buenos Aires market, and therefore may not fully represent the packaging trends for the entire Argentine soft-drink market.


For more information about some of these sources, go to the annotated bibliography (B) or to the links.


  • [AGRI] Team Canada Market Research Centre, Canadian Trade Commissioner Service. The Beer, Spirits, and Wine Market in Mexico. Ottawa: Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, 1998.
  • [GLAS] Frisancho, Jorge. “Breaking the Glass.” Beverage World Sept. 1996: 144.
  • [DTMK] Datamark. “Food and Beverage Packaging Outlook in South American Economies.” Presentation for Bev-Pak South America ’99. August, 1999.
  • [EA99] Embotelladora Argos, S.A. Fourth Quarter, 1999, Report.
  • [EA00] Embotelladora Argos, S.A. Fourth Quarter, 2000, Report.
  • [FEMC] Coca-Cola FEMSA, S.A. “Coca-Cola FEMSA 2000 Annual Report.”
  • [FEMB] FEMSA. “FEMSA Brewery.”
    Americans who like Mexican beers may be familiar with FEMSA’s Carta Blanca, Tecate, and Dos Equis brands.
  • [GRUP] Grupo Modelo. “2000 Annual Sales and Exports Report.”
    This brewing conglomerate’s flagship beer is Corona, which has been popular in the US.
  • [SAPH] Saphire, David. Case Reopened: Reassessing Refillable Bottles. New York: INFORM, Inc., 1994. (B)
  • [SMNR] Datamark. “The New Reality of the Brazilian Packaging Industry.” Presentation to the Brazil-USA International Packaging Seminar. June, 1999.