Bell’s Brewery founder, Larry Bell announced that he has reached an agreement with Lion, an Australian-based brewer, for the sale of Bell’s. Lion acquired Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing in 2019. The move will see the Michigan-based craft brewer come together with New Belgium ― aligning the two American craft brewers.
Bell, who founded Bell’s in 1985 and brewed its first beers in a 15-gallon soup kettle, shared the news ― and announced his own retirement from the company he turned into a household name ― at the company’s annual all-employee event.
“I’m so proud of what we've been able to accomplish together,” Bell said in a statement. “From our wonderful fans, to the amazing team that has helped share our beer with the world, to the ways we’ve been able to invest in causes we believe in ― this has been an absolutely incredible journey.
“This decision ultimately came down to two determining factors,” he continued. “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.”
The combination of Bell’s and New Belgium places the expanded company at the top of the U.S. craft beer market in sales volume and growth, with an extraordinary lineup of brands including the No. 1 IPA brand in the United States, Voodoo Ranger, along with Fat Tire, Two Hearted Ale and Oberon Ale, according to the company.
Bell’s decision to join New Belgium was based on the company’s commitment to the future stewardship of Bell’s iconic beer brands, its dedication to the ongoing successful operations of Bell’s in Comstock, Mich., and Upper Hand in Escanaba, Mich., and excitement around the opportunity to grow corporate social responsibility initiatives.
By aligning with New Belgium, Bell's will expand on its own commitments to coworkers, communities, and customers by adopting many hallmark, human-powered business practices, including seeking B Corporation certification, 100% carbon neutrality by 2030, $1 per barrel philanthropy, and 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. Bell’s consumers can expect the same meaningful involvement with the Michigan community, driven by events like Oberon Day and supporting Kalamazoo Pride, which have been core to the company’s vision and values from the beginning, it adds.
“In Bell’s, we see a likeminded 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.”
During its 30 years in business, New Belgium has pioneered a “human-powered” business model grounded in the idea that building the most successful and resilient business requires prioritizing the prosperity of coworkers, communities, and customers across the company's operations. This approach has been the foundation for New Belgium's growth and ability to reach younger, more diverse beer drinkers, it says. That model now will grow to include Bell’s approximately 550 employees, 500,000-barrel brewery in Comstock, Mich., and beloved brands like Two Hearted.
After the sale closes in the coming months, beer drinkers should expect no changes to Bell’s current beers, which are distributed across 43 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Bell’s Executive Vice President Carrie Yunker, who maintains an 18-year tenure with Bell’s, will continue to lead day-to-day operations for the brand, reporting to Fechheimer and joining the combined company's leadership team. Vice President of Operations John Mallett, who has been with Bell’s for more than 20 years, will join the leadership team to focus on integrating the two brewing organizations. Bell’s coworkers will keep working primarily out of Kalamazoo, with their breweries operating as usual.
“As a shareholder and board member, I am excited to support the sale of Bell’s to Lion and to join forces with New Belgium. Our job as owners is to ensure the best future for Bell’s and I believe this step is an important and critical part of our journey to continue the Bell's legacy long into the future,” said Laura Bell, daughter of Larry Bell.
“We are thrilled to be taking this next step in the United States, bringing these two great names in craft brewing together,” said Matt Tapper, managing director of Lion’s global craft beverages business. “We look forward to continuing to support both Bell's and New Belgium in this next phase of growth.”