Lion buys major US craft brewery

Lion has snared Bell’s craft brewery in the United States, establishing the Australian company as a leading player in world’s largest craft beer market. 

Bell’s Brewery joins Lion’s New Belgium subsidiary in the US, placing the expanded company at the top of the US craft beer market in sales volume and growth. New Belgium’s line up of brands including the No.1 IPA brand in the US, Voodoo Ranger, along with Fat Tire, Two Hearted Ale, and Oberon Ale.   

Managing Director of Lion’s global craft beverages business, Matt Tapper said that Bell’s history, outstanding brewing credentials and brand appeal would complement New Belgium and support the expansion of Lion’s US operations. 

“In terms of quality, capability and reputation, Bell’s is a standout in the American craft brewing scene,” he said.

“They’re a great match for New Belgium, another pioneering US craft brewer and both companies share a deep commitment to their co-workers, communities and customers. We’re thrilled to be taking this next step in the United States and bringing these two great names in craft brewing together. 

“Just as Lion once crossed the Tasman to establish itself in Australia, now we have crossed the Pacific to form a leading craft beer business in the United States, the largest craft beer market in the world,” he added. 

Founded in 1985 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Bell’s has grown to become one of the largest craft brewers in the country, with distribution across 43 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. 

Bell's craft brewery

Its flagship beers are national brands, and many have developed cult followings, including the Two Hearted Ale, voted the best beer in America on four consecutive occasions by members of the American Homebrewers Association. 

Why Larry Bell chose Lion

Bell’s President Larry Bell, who brewed the company’s first beers in a 15-gallon soup kettle, said that the sale was predicated on the values and passion for brewing shared by Bells and New Belgium. 

“I have made the decision to retire from the business that I have considered one of the best gifts of my life, ever since I was an 18-year-old dreamer,” Bell noted in a letter to the local community. “To keep Bell’s a strong and stable brewery for generations to come, we need someone to run it with the same energy and passion that I’ve had for these past decades.

Bell added in a press release: “This decision ultimately came down to two determining factors. 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,” he said.

“Second, I’ve been doing this for more than 36 years and now is the right time. 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.

Tapper said that Lion’s approach to working with New Belgium, acquired in 2019, had paved the way for strong growth in the United States. 

“Since the successful acquisition of Colorado based New Belgium Brewing in 2019, it’s leading brand Voodoo Ranger has gone on to become the number one selling IPA in the US, propelling New Belgium to be the fastest growing craft beer business in the country,” he noted.

“When we first partnered with New Belgium, we committed to not only support their growth, but protect and nurture their unique human-powered business model. 

“This purpose-led business model and connection to its community were values we shared, and which we’ve continued to build upon since New Belgium became part of the Lion family – with flagship brand Fat Tire becoming the first carbon neutral beer in the United States. 

“We’re pleased that these values and the craft culture we’ve fostered at New Belgium were key factors in the creation of this new partnership with Bell’s, and Lion looks forward to supporting both breweries in this next phase of growth.” 

The transaction will close upon receipt of all regulatory consents, which is expected in the coming months.   

ACCC approves Stone & Wood craft brewery sale

Last week, the ACCC approved Lion’s proposed acquisition of Fermentum, which produces brands including Stone & Wood, Two Birds, Fixation, Little Dragon and Sunly Seltzer.

The ACCC focused its investigation on whether the acquisition would substantially lessen competition in the supply of beer, given Fermentum’s popular flagship brand Stone & Wood.

“The ACCC was initially concerned that the proposed acquisition would remove a large, popular independent craft brewer that has plans to expand its capacity and potentially compete more aggressively against the two major brewers in Australia, being Lion and Asahi/Carlton & United Breweries,” ACCC Commissioner Stephen Ridgeway said.

“However, our investigation concluded that a wide range of alternative independent craft beers will remain available in the market even if the transaction goes through.”

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