Cheers or no cheers? New Belgium Brewing gets guzzled by Big Alcohol

By Zlati Meyer

New Belgium Brewing, the fourth-largest craft brewer in the U.S., is being acquired by Lion Little World Beverages of Australia, which is owned by Kirin Holdings, a Japanese company.

New Belgium will remain a certified B Corporation but will no longer be employee-owned, according to company cofounder Kim Jordan’s public letter today. She said 300-plus employees will get more than $100,000 of retirement money and some significantly more. Plus, many of New Belgium’s initiatives will remain, such as striving to become carbon neutral and its on-site wellness clinic.

“Little World is committed to strategies to broadly share the wealth going forward, like profit sharing, best-in-class healthcare and a generous family leave policy,” she wrote. “We are as committed to being a vibrant, values-driven enterprise as we’ve ever been, and we look forward to having a beer with all of you along the journey!”

The all-cash transaction is expected to close by the end of the year, subject to approvals by regulators and the employee stock ownership plan, according to Lion’s press release on the deal. No dollar amounts were disclosed.

New Belgium is probably best known for its Fat Tire offerings, though the Voodoo Ranger line is also popular.

In her letter, Jordan outlined some of the money challenges New Belgium faced. The company needed cash for the employee stock ownership plan and to pay shareholders who were selling, but also had to up its physical capacity to make beer and to grow the brand. Raising capital proved tough:

“Some of the most widely used options by craft brewers were going to compromise a lot about what makes New Belgium great; environmental sustainability, and a rich internal culture. Some of these were going to lead to cost-cutting or a lack of focus on sustainability. Having the support and resources of Lion Little World Beverages, allows us to attend to those competing priorities and utilize our brewery capacity to its fullest.”

The Fort Collins, Colorado-based company opened a brewery in Asheville, North Carolina, in 2016.

“We’re excited to welcome New Belgium Brewing into the Lion fold and take a significant step forward in the largest craft beer market in the world. We’re confident that our shared values and commitment to purpose and culture will provide the foundation for a great partnership in the U.S.,” Lion CEO Stuart Irvine said in a statement.

Fast Company recently featured a profile of New Belgium in its special issue on the New Capitalism.


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