Kirin subsidiary expands US presence with acquisition of Bell’s Brewing

USA – Lion, a subsidiary of Japanese beverage giant Kirin, has agreed to acquire  Bell’s Brewery in an effort to expand its presence in the American craft beer market. 

Founded by Larry Bell in 1985, Bell’s Brewery is Michigan’s largest and oldest independent craft brewer, owning popular craft beer brands such as Two Hearted Ale and the Oberon Ale.  

The decision to sell was prompted by Larry Bell’s decision to retire, according to a statement from the seventh-largest craft brewery in the U.S.  

Australia-based Lion also owns Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing among its portfolio of international craft beer brands. 

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The move will ultimately combine Bell’s, the 16th-largest overall brewer in America by sales volume in 2020, and New Belgium, the 11th-largest, into a “new American craft beer leader,” though both will retain their brands and beers. 

“We couldn’t be happier to welcome the entire Bell’s team,” said New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer. 

 “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.” 

Bell’s Executive Vice President Carrie Yunker will continue to lead day-to-day operations for the brewery but will now report to Fechheimer and join the combined company’s leadership team. 

Vice President of Operations John Mallett will also remain at the brewery but will now “focus on integrating the two brewing organizations”. 

As part of the alliance with New Belgium, Bell’s plans to expand its environmental, sustainability and workplace initiatives, including by seeking to attain Certified B Corporation status, achieve 100% carbon neutrality by 2030 and score 100% on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. 

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Bell’s acquisition follows a recent string of acquisitions by major corporations seeking to enter the craft beer industry. 

 Some notable transactions include the sale of the Anchor Brewing Co. to Sapporo in 2017, the Lagunitas Brewing Co. to Heineken in 2015 and the Elysian Brewing Co. to Anheuser-Busch InBev, also in 2015. 

In Michigan, Bell’s acquisition now means that Holland-based New Holland Brewing Co. is now the largest fully independent craft brewery in the state, based on sales volume, according to the Brewers Association’s Top 50 list.

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