THE LAUGHING COW HISTORY
The birth of the Laughing cow
A family adventure
The story begins in Orgelet in the Jura where Jules Bel established himself at the age of 23 (1865), as a master cheese refiner. He bought “white” wheels of Gruyère and other hard cheeses from cooperatives called “fruitières” to age them.
Ambitious, dynamic, a local man who inspires respect and confidence, Jules Bel was able to pass on to his sons the demands of a difficult profession. He was only 55 years old when in 1897 he entrusted his business to his two sons Henri and Léon, respectively 29 and 19 years old. The company then became “Bel Frères”.
In 1897, the company moved to Lons-le-Saunier, taking advantage of the proximity of the railway line and the Montmorot salt mines. Henri left the company in 1908 and the company was renamed “Léon Bel, Gruyère en gros”.
Léon Bel and the First World War
Léon Bel, mobilized at the age of 36, was assigned to the “Train” squadrons, to the “Fresh Meat Supply”, whose mission was to transport meat to the soldiers at the front on board City of Paris buses requisitioned for the occasion!
The soldiers began to draw “badges” on the vehicles, often humorous, to identify the different units. The commander of the RVF B70, wrote to Benjamin Rabier, a famous illustrator, who sent him back the image of a smiling ox, which an irreverent soldier had the idea of calling “The Wachkyrie”, in reference to the Valkyries so dear to the Germans…
The melted cheese
At the same time, in 1917, Emile, Otto and Gottfried Graf, Swiss, imported to France the technique of making processed cheese, developed in Switzerland in 1907 by Gerber. The new cheese was still unknown, but it had a future: it was good, economical and its tasty paste packaged in metal cans could withstand long trips and hot climates.
The first Laughing Cow
Back in Lons in 1919, Léon Bel took over the reins of his company. His farsightedness was to work wonders: he foresaw the immense success of processed cheese in the post-war world. To launch his own brand, he called on the expertise of Emile Graf and moved into the workshop known as “de l’Aubépin.
On April 16, 1921, Léon Bel registered the brand name La vache qui rit. He was inspired by the RVF B70 badge to represent a cow standing with a hilarious expression.
Léon thinks big. In 1922, he founded the “Société Anonyme des Fromageries Bel”, a company that he managed until 1937, and which he passed on to his son-in-law Robert Fiévet. Faced with the rapid success of his new brand, Léon Bel equipped the workshop with modern machinery in 1924 to increase production while improving the working conditions of the workers. This was also the opportunity to develop the triangular portion casting machine, initially wrapped in tinfoil and now placed in cardboard boxes. In the first year, 12,000 boxes were sold per day.
The birth of a brand image
Léon Bel sought to change the image of the Laughing Cow. In 1923, he took the plunge by using Benjamin Rabier’s drawing, which gave it the friendly, human aspect it lacked. He asks the printer Vercasson to tint this cow’s head in red and on the advice of his wife, Anne-Marie, to adorn it with earrings in the shape of a Laughing Cow box. A way to feminize this cow that gives its milk to make good cheeses.
The new factories – 1926-1933
The first installations were quickly outdated, and he had a new ultramodern factory built in Lons, which was inaugurated at the end of 1926. The most original aspect of this plant was the creation, in 1926, of an “advertising office” that managed the brand’s “advertising” in-house. Léon Bel understood that advertising drives sales.
This factory was designed to produce 120,000 boxes of Laughing Cow per day, and very quickly the company sought to open up to the world. As early as 1929, the Fromageries Bel marketed the cheese in England. From 1933, they set up production units and marketing companies in Belgium, and gradually in other European countries.
To get the cheeses to the retail outlets, Bel uses wholesalers, retailers and cooperatives, i.e. about 3,000 major customers. It has its own warehouses in all major cities in France, a network of representatives and a fleet of vehicles with the Laughing Cow logo. These retailers are particularly pampered by the company: it provides them with advertising material that will decorate the store. Enamelled plates, calendars and clocks indicate that the company sells the famous Laughing Cow.
From these early years, The Laughing Cow communicated with a smiling, offbeat tone that would never leave it. It became a starlet that Joséphine Baker enjoyed. It was advertised in the press and took part in the first beginnings of radio advertising: the song “C’est la Vache qui rit” (It’s the Laughing Cow), by Jean Rodor and sung by the aptly named Constantin le Rieur, could be heard on the airwaves… In 1935 and 1936, the brand also organized major contests to win great prizes. From 1933 onwards, the VQR boxes contained collectable pictures that made it a successful brand for children.
The Laughing Cow was the first to support sporting events, thanks to the popular cycling race, the Six Days of Paris in 1925, before participating in the Tour de France Caravan in 1933.
Numerous trade fairs allowed the brand and its products to be known in constructions that were as ephemeral as they were inventive (Salon des Arts Décoratifs in 1925, Salon des Arts ménagers in 1930 and the Foire de Paris in 1935).
After the war
After the Second World War, Léon Bel handed over the reins of the company to his son-in-law Robert Fiévet. He remained CEO until 1996. The severe shortages of the war years were over. The fat content increased to 40% in 1948, and new products such as Belébon and Bonbel (1947) were launched on the market.
The Laughing Cow regained its carefree character and its place among the young public thanks to the slogan “The Laughing Cow is a friend of children”. In 1949, it was a supportive and relieved Laughing Cow that put its face on the boxes in the V of victory. The red head was to stand out against a stylized landscape and was to be accompanied by new names: “Tendrébon” and “Fromage pour tartine”.
An advertising agency, the Chavane agency, was to carry the new face of the brand: with the slogan “The Laughing Cow is a cheese and a good cheese”, it became part of everyday life, displayed in the street, in the subway, on the back of buses, in the press, in movie theaters, and even in a radio program for children hosted by Alain Saint-Ogan “The Laughing Cow in Animal Heaven”. She also designed the schoolboy’s kit of the 50’s, with notebook protectors and blotters thanks to the help of the greatest illustrators of the time.
Better than ever..
In 1955, the composition was enriched and the proportion of fat was increased to 50%, which, at the time, represented a technical achievement and a gamble. The Laughing Cow became smoother and easier to spread. The packaging was rejuvenated: a blue and white band appeared around the edge of the box. The outline of the cow’s head is slightly rounded. It is inscribed in a golden crest, crowned with four stars that suggest the quality of the product.
Here again, the laughing cow adapts to its time. The company, which had worked with the greatest poster artists, launched photographic advertising campaigns. Between 1961 and 1969, most of the posters show the “good cheeses” that go into the composition of the Laughing Cow.
From 1968 on, Fromageries Bel made its debut on television. The Laughing Cow anticipates and accompanies the changes in society – never too early or too late – always present at the right time.
The company’s commercial vitality is bearing fruit: after 11 years of lively and diverse communication on the theme of good products, The Laughing Cow is the undisputed leader in its sector with a 56% market share. Its notoriety is excellent and the image of the product is fully positive.
In the 1950s, Mr. Robert Fiévet decided to travel around this changing world by setting up numerous establishments abroad. Each time, the opening of a new country was based on a flexible adaptation to local habits and was accompanied by advertising. In 1965, Bel’s exports accounted for 11% of total French cheese exports […] and in 1964 Bel received the “Oscar for exports”.
A small factory was set up in Odense, Denmark in 1953. Already present throughout the Common Market, Bel’s products continued to conquer new markets such as Spain (1967).
Since 1970, The Laughing Cow cheese factory has been located in the small town of Leitchfield, in the heart of Kentucky. In 2003, the cheese factory was surprised by its success. That year, Dr. Agatstson published a book entitled South Beach Diet, in which he recommended using a portion of The Laughing Cow as an appetite suppressant snack. The diet is all the rage in the United States, and the light Laughing Cow is slipping into the bags of girls from Manhattan to Los Angeles. It became the slimming asset for American women.
In 1974, a new cheese factory opened in Tangier. The Laughing Cow discovers Africa and travels all the way to Madagascar, crossing the Sahara desert and the Central African jungle. Tangier residents, young and old, have been eating the Laughing Cow since the 1970s. Imposing by its size, 30.000 m², and its staff, 1300 employees, it is one of the most important production units of the group in the world. Today, 35% of the production is consumed in the country, 65% is exported to sub-Saharan Africa, the Gulf countries and the Maghreb. The factory, which produced between 5,000 and 6,000 tons in the late 1970s, produces 40,000 tons today.
It is found in Egypt, which opened two subsidiaries, in 1998 and 2006, followed by Algeria in 2001 and 2007.
In Vietnam, where the Laughing Cow has been produced since 2011, it is common for a host to greet a guest by offering him a portion of Laughing Cow as a sign of welcome!
The original course set by Léon Bel has been maintained: The Laughing Cow must be present everywhere, for everyone, throughout the world. So it has learned to slip into all countries, to blend in with all habits, to adapt to the particular taste of consumers here and elsewhere. The Laughing Cow with a thousand faces adapts. Its formula is enriched with vitamin D and lipids in developing countries, while the United States and Canada love a light and even flavored Laughing Cow. If its image is the same in every country, its name is pronounced in every language. Everywhere it is the same and yet different.
The challenges of communication
In 1960, Robert Fiévet had been running the company for twenty-three years. He embarked on a new communication policy. In the 1970s, new advertising campaigns helped to create a dynamic and modern image of the Laughing Cow among younger consumers: this was the campaign Les Vachequiriphiles, which carried its colors high in a “pop art” style. In another campaign, Jacques Parnel also gave the icon a new lease on life: he made it anthropomorphic, dressed it up in regional clothing, and had it ride a bicycle or hitchhike with a backpack and guitar in hand. She embodies her time and the aspirations inherited from May 68…
It is the time when the cow undergoes a new face-lift, its horns are blunted and its curls from now on presented of face.
In 1985, the animated film “The Casting” was inspired by the advertising show of the time. Calm and generous, the Laughing Cow appeared as a diva. “To be a great name in cheese and please everyone, you have to have a great personality”, concludes the spot that will be shown around the world.
In the 90s, references were made to the great standards of the cinema. A child meets his hero, a fighter pilot, and offers him his portion of Laughing Cow. The film exploited the sensations, emotions and great references – family, friendship, escape – and reinforced the positioning of the Laughing Cow as a cheese for everyone.
In 2001, the VQR launched a television and internet campaign accompanied by a contest entitled: “Why does the VQR laugh? “The cow went out to meet the gourmands and experienced its immense popularity. The famous slogan succeeded in imposing a question on everyone that no one had asked before and put The Laughing Cow at the heart of all conversations. And all this without showing the famous red head once!
With “The Factory”, which appeared on the screens in 2010, The Laughing Cow took a new step: this advert succeeds in synthesizing all the previous periods, as we can see the ingredients used to make the cheese, characters full of life and health, smiling and happy to be together. Of course, we see The Laughing Cow, for the first time modeled in 3D.