In 1865, Jules Bel set up his comté cheese ripening and trading business in France’s Jura region. His son, Léon Bel, took over the business following his death in 1904. After World War I, the nascent cheese-making industry began to take off, and Léon Bel envisioned the tasty, affordable, easy-to-carry and easy-to-keep potential of processed cheese. In 1922, he embarked on a manufacturing adventure and founded Fromageries Bel, a French corporation (société anonyme).
Good in its time and even a little ahead
In 1921, Léon Bel trademarked The Laughing Cow®, a product new to France at the time owing to its original recipe, soft texture, individual portion presentation, triangular format and packaging.
By commissioning Benjamin Rabier, the famous animal illustrator, to draft the red cow, Léon Bel proved to be an advertising innovator as well. He thus began building the unique bond between his new brand and consumers.
From the Jura Mountains to Dakota: a family history
The Laughing Cow entered mass production in 1924, when Leon Bel launched the first processed cheese machines at a factory in Lons-le-Saunier. Two years later, he built a new, state-of-the-art factory in Lons. In 1937, Leon Bel’s son-in-law, Robert Fievet was appointed CEO. He took charge of the company in 1941 and directed its national and international growth until 1966. Today, such values such as dare, commitment and care remain at the heart of the Bel Group’s strategy. The course of development that has brought the Company success continues to this day, ensuring the Group’s growth. Headed by the descendants of Leon Bel and Robert Fievet, the Bel Group continues to take on new industrial and commercial challenges today. Those include the construction of the first The Laughing Cow manufacturing unit in Asia in 2011 and the Mini Babybel plant in the United States in 2013.
While manufacturers saw no point in wasting money on promotion, Leon Bel was not afraid to launch funny and eye-catching advertising campaigns. From the very beginning, the brand experimented with television, radio, and movie theater ads. Over time, the cute cow became a true advertising icon. Today, Bel’s achievements include Mini Babybel’s mini-revolution with its wheel-shaped red wax packaging and success of The Laughing Cow on Facebook. It is a testament to the innovative marketing and advertising techniques that underpin the promotion of the Bel Group products and brands.
Conquering international markets
Processed cheese is smooth and has a long shelf life. That is why people across the world consume it every day. Leon Bel began producing his products abroad in 1929 when he opened his first factories in the UK and Belgium. Since then, the distribution of Bel Group products has expanded. After becoming successful in Western Europe, in the early 1970s, the Bel Group expanded its presence to the United States and Morocco, and later to Syria, Japan, and China. In addition to its quite bold international expansion, Bel has pursued a selective strategy for external growth, acquiring the Leerdammer in 2002 and the Boursin in 2007.
It’s not just cheese
Bel is constantly evolving to meet consumer’s sentiment and trends. This approach combines innovation and continuous improvement, bringing products closer in line with the daily needs of consumers worldwide. For example, Mini Babybel has become an alternative to candy. At the same time, The Laughing Cow’s Cheese Dippers has diversified its selection of healthy snacks for children. These changes forced the Bel Group to move beyond cheese production. In 2015, it acquired a stake in a Moroccan company Safilait, which produces Jibal dairy products. In 2016, Bel acquired the MOM Group, which owns such brands as Materne, Pom’Potes, GoGo squeeZ, and Mont Blanc.