Bell’s Brewery Announces Sale to New Belgium’s Parent Company
Two of America’s legacy craft beer brands are joining forces after a bombshell announcement this morning that Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery has been sold to Australia’s Lion, a subsidiary of Kirin Holding, and the parent company which also acquired New Belgium Brewing two years ago.
Bell’s founder Larry Bell noted that the decision to sell came down to two major factors; namely that he had been experiencing health issues in recent years that impacted his desire to retire, and that New Belgium shares a similar ethos and approach toward brewing beer. Bell’s letter to the Kalamazoo community and his Bell’s family emphasizes that Bell’s is still a Michigan-based operation and while they are partnering with New Belgium, they both align on many of the same values and commitments to craft beer and the world around us.
“This decision ultimately came down to two determining factors,” Bell said. “First, the folks at New Belgium share our ironclad commitment to the craft of brewing and the community-first way we’ve built our business. Second, this was the right time. I’ve been doing this for more than 36 years and recently battled some serious health issues. I want everyone who loves this company like I do to know we have found a partner that truly values our incredible beer, our culture, and the importance of our roots here in Michigan.”
Bell’s, which was founded in 1985, grew in notoriety with flagship brands like Oberon, Two Hearted and Hopslam, now joins New Belgium, which was founded in 1991 by Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch, to unite the 11th and 16th largest breweries by volume from 2020. However, the more significant impact from today’s announcement is a continued trend of pioneer breweries who were previously staunch advocates for independence in craft beer who have now sold to larger conglomerates. That said, both brands have also been and continue to share similar missions of sustainability, company culture, and community development. Bell’s noted that today’s acquisition also seeks to further their ongoing efforts toward B Corporation certification, 100% carbon neutrality by 2030, $1 per barrel philanthropy, and 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index.
“In Bell’s, we see a like-minded group of people dedicated to making the world’s best beer – doing business in a way that improves the wellbeing of the people who power our success,” said New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer, a Michigan native and longtime Bell’s drinker. “We couldn’t be happier to welcome the entire Bell’s team. Joining together will immediately strengthen our ability to serve and expand the craft community, deliver more value for our partners, and continue to redefine how business is done in a world facing historic economic, social, and environmental challenges. Personally, I can’t wait to celebrate Oberon Day in 2022!”
In light of today’s acquisition, Bell’s reiterated that no major structural changes will take place internally for the brewery with Executive Vice President Carrie Yunker continuing to oversee day-to-day operations, reporting to Fechheimer, while also joining the leadership team alongside VP of Operations John Mallett, who has been with Bell’s for over 20 years, to focus on integrating the two brewing organizations.
For Bell’s, today’s union creates obvious long-term opportunities. The most notable being the opportunity to grow in alignment with a similar national brand in New Belgium. Bell’s currently produces approximately 550,000 barrels a year with a distribution footprint across 43 states as well as DC and Puerto Rico, where New Belgium now produces over 840,000 barrels a year with full distribution across all 50 states.
Long seen as a family-owned and operated business, perhaps the one warning sign that an external sale could be possible and viable came in 2018, when Larry Bell’s daughter Laura Bell announced that she would be relinquishing the role of CEO, which she stepped up to helm a year earlier.
As for the greater impact on craft beer as a whole, this continues a greater trend of larger pioneer legacy brands foregoing their status as independently owned breweries to focus on the longer-term financial security of the company. 2019 delivered two major shockwaves on that front, firstly with Dogfish Head merging with Boston Beer in May of that year, followed shortly by New Belgium’s acquisition by Kirin Holding’s beer subsidiary Lion. Over the past decade, this shift away from independently owned breweries now includes the likes of Brooklyn Brewery, 21st Amendment and Funkwerks, which are also owned by Kirin; fellow Michigan-based brewery, Founders, and Avery Brewing which are now owned by Spanish-based Mahou San Miguel; Lagunitas, which is owned by Heineken; Goose Island, Elysian, 10 Barrel Brewing, Blue Point, Breckenridge, Wicked Weed, Golden Road, Devil’s Backbone, Karbach, and Four Peaks, which are owned by Anheuser Busch InBev; Terrapin, Hop Valley, and Revolver, which are owned by Coors, as well as Firestone Walker, Boulevard, and Ommegang owned by Duvel Moortgat.