The Bel Brands USA Timeline
Though our history starts across the ocean, we’ve since firmly planted roots in Chicago and across America.
Our Birthplace Across the Sea
In 1865, Jules Bel began cheese ripening and trading in France’s Jura region. Following his death in 1904, his son Leon Bel took over the business. In 1921 Leon trademarked The Laughing Cow, and the tasty, affordable, portable potential of processed cheese was born. Completely new to France, it was unique in recipe, texture, and individual portion presentation. Leon also proved to be an advertising innovator, commissioning famous illustrator Benjamin Rabier to draft the friendly red cow we know and love so well.
Arrival in America
In 1970, The Bel Group made its start in America by purchasing the Avalon Cheese plant in Leitchfield, Kentucky. Avalon Cheese became “Bel cheese,” and began producing cheddar by the barrel. The Leitchfield, KY plant began making The Laughing Cow cheese wedges in 1974 and never looked back, moving on to Mini Babybel waxed semi-soft cheeses.
Movement Further West
In 1974, top brand Kaukauna Cheese moved to its present facility in the Little Chute Industrial Park in Little Chute, Wisconsin. Bel maintained its Little Chute presence through to 1996, when Fromageries Bel and WisPride joined forces with Kaukauna Cheese to form Bel/Kaukauna U.S.A. in Little Chute.
Bel Brands USA moved its corporate headquarters from our manufacturing facility in Little Chute to Elk Grove Village, Illinois in 2006. In 2011, we moved to the heart of the business district in downtown Chicago, Illinois, where we’re headquartered today.
2010 – 2012
Original flavors were just the beginning. In 2010, The Laughing Cow launched three new flavor varieties including Blue Cheese, Queso Fresco & Chipotle, and Mozzarella, Sun-Dried Tomato & Basil. The Boursin Gourmet Spreadable Cheese line launched in 2011, and The Laughing Cow Smooth Sensations Cream Cheese line launched in 2012. Mozzarella Mini Babybel also joined the family in 2012, along with White Cheddar and Chive and Onion. Not to be left out, Boursin spiced things up with the launch of Red Chili Pepper.
Planting Deeper Roots
Bel announced plans to build a new state-of-the-art Mini Babybel plant in Brookings, South Dakota in 2012 to meet the growing consumer demand for Mini Babybel in the US. Ground broke in July, and construction was completed in 2014 with nearly 250 new employees.
Looking to the Future
150 years after the Bel family adventure began, our success continues. Present in over 130 countries, backed by 12,000 employees worldwide and bringing smiles to over 400 million consumers, Bel ranks third worldwide in branded cheeses. The Bel Group aims to double its size by 2025, and Bel Brands USA is honored to be one of its strongest arms.