A behind the scenes look at the Bel saga

There's no better way to grasp Bel's personality than to delve into its history. It's the story of a cheese-maker from the Jura region of France who becomes a major international player, while maintaining its penchant for daring and good-naturedness.

Made in Jura: Bel's beginnings

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 to the Dakota, a family story

The commercial and manufacturing launch of The Laughing Cow® got under way in 1924, when Léon Bel installed the first processed cheese mills and portion machines at the Lons-le-Saunier plant. Two years later, Bel built a new, ultra-modern plant in Lons. In 1937, Robert Fiévet, Léon Bel’s son-in-law, was named General Manager. Appointed company chairman in 1941, he guided Bel’s national and international growth until 1966. Today, the company’s values of dare, commit and care remain at the heart of Bel’s strategy. The spirit that has made Bel a success has endured, and it continues to steer the Group’s growth. Still managed by the descendants of Léon Bel and Robert Fiévet, Bel continues to take on new manufacturing and commercial challenges, such as the construction of the first The Laughing Cow® production unit in Asia in 2011, and the Mini Babybel® plant in the United States in 2013.

Advertising pioneer

Bel ran humoristic and offbeat ad campaigns at a time when few risks were taken to promote a product. Taking advantage of TV, radio and movie theaters, the brand was open to new media and new formats from the get-go. Little by little, its sympathetic cow became a true advertising icon. Even today, Apericube®’s appetizing experience, Mini Babybel®’s mini-revolution with its round, red wax-coated shell, and the success of The Laughing Cow® on Facebook illustrate the innovative technical, marketing and advertising mix at the heart of the Group’s products and brands.

Do you speak Bel? A taste for international markets

Processed cheese has the homogenization and conservation qualities needed for an everyday and international food. Léon Bel began sending his products abroad in 1929, setting up his first foreign-based plants in the UK and Belgium. Since then, nothing has stopped the advance of Bel’s products. Initially present in Western Europe, the Group moved into the US and Moroccan markets in the early 1970’s, and later tapped into Syria, Japan and China. Along with its often daring international expansion, Bel has pursued a selective external growth strategy, acquiring Leerdammer® in 2002 and Boursin® in 2007. Uncontrolled growth has never been a part of the equation. The idea has always been to grow while respecting Bel’s values and spirit.

Going beyond cheese

Bel constantly develops its products in tune with consumer trends. This approach brings together innovation and continuous improvement to make products more responsible and closer to the daily needs of families around the world. Mini Babybel®, for example, has emerged as an alternative to a sweet snack, while Cheez Dippers® has diversified the choice of afternoon snacks for kids. These changes have led Bel to go beyond cheese. In 2015, the Group purchased a majority interest in Moroccan-based Safilait and its Jibal® brand of dairy products. In 2016, Bel acquired the MOM Group, which owns the Materne®, Pom’Potes®, GoGo squeeZ®, and Mont Blanc® brands.