New Belgium sale to end employee ownership, not community involvement

Serena Bettis

It’s no secret that craft beer production in Fort Collins is virtually spearheaded by New Belgium Brewing Company, which hails as the fourth largest craft brewer in the country.

But major changes are in store for the local craft beer powerhouse. 


New Belgium announced its acquisition by international company Lion Little World Beverages Nov. 19. This acquisition puts an end to New Belgium’s employee-owned status, as they will become a member of the larger Japanese beverage company Kirin, which owns Australia-based Lion Little World Beverages, by the end of the year.

At a community forum Nov. 22, New Belgium employees and enthusiasts voiced concerns over how the sale will change the identity, earnings and community-based structure of the brewery. 

“We won’t continue on in the same way as employee-owned, but I look at it and say, ‘That dedication, that hard work from all kinds of people actually built an amazing company,’” Chief Executive Officer Steve Fechheimer said. “So I think of it as a huge success.” 

Employee-owned companies allow employees to have a financial stake in the company, whether it be stock options or profit-sharing programs. At New Belgium, employees have profit sharing opportunities based on company performance, and other benefits increase as employees reach certain milestones

There’s no planned layoffs as part of this. There’s no brewery closures. There’s nothing like that at all.” -Steve Fechheimer, New Belgium chief executive officer

Part of New Belgium’s identity is consistent involvement and support in the local community and within the company.

Director of Social and Environmental Impact Katie Wallace explained all supportive programs, including the coworkers’ fund that provides monetary assistance to employees going through difficult times, will stay in place. 

“Throughout our history at New Belgium, we have donated over $5.2 million to our local community in Northern Colorado,” Wallace said. “The programs that have provided those numbers historically are robustly in place. That was actually one of the things Lion liked so much about us and why they wanted to partner with us.” 

Fechheimer stressed the only thing changing is the business model of New Belgium. He said they do not look at this as a failure of the employee-owned structure, but rather an opportunity for employees and the community to capitalize on the success of the company. 

“There’s no planned layoffs as part of this; there’s no brewery closures; there’s nothing like that at all,” Fechheimer said. “We think we’ll see continued investment in the brewery, continued investment in the jobs, continued investment in the community.”

In addition to providing more opportunities to export their products internationally, the sale will allow New Belgium to continue with sustainability efforts


I think this is a great thing for New Belgium; I think this is a great thing for Fort Collins.” -Joe Davis, New Belgium chief operating officer

Wallace said Lion Little World Beverages and Kirin committed to follow the Paris Agreement and become carbon-neutral by 2020. This will help New Belgium with its goals of keeping the Cache la Poudre River clean and reducing water consumption. 

“They’re putting all those investments back into systems that will help to progress transportation and farming, so we can actually, all together across the supply chain, reach carbon neutral,” Wallace said. 

Chief Operating Officer Joe Davis said the company explored selling to a large corporation in 2015 but ultimately decided nothing would be the right cultural fit at the time, and remaining employee-owned would be best for the business.

Davis said someone from Lion reached out to Fechheimer May of this year to start a conversation, and the New Belgium leadership team took many months to reach its decision. 

“As the dialogue unfolded, it became clear that these guys thought about the world in a different way than the people we had previously spoken with and that they valued the things we did as a brewery,” Davis said. “The last thing we want to do is stand up in front of our coworkers and tell them we think this is the best if we can’t absolutely own that. I think this is a great thing for New Belgium; I think this is a great thing for Fort Collins.”

Serena Bettis can be reached at or on Twitter @serenaroseb