of the Laughing Cow
a FAMILY ADVENTURE
The story begins in Orgelet in the Jura where Jules Bel settled at the age of 23 (1865), as a master refiner. He bought “white” wheels of Gruyere 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 house then becomes “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”.
LEON BEL and the FIRST 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!
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 poilu had the idea to baptize “The Wachkyrie”, in reference to the Valkyries so dear to the Germans…
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 is still unknown, but it has a future: it is good, economical and its tasty paste packaged in metal cans withstands 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 this post-war world. To launch his own brand, he called upon Emile Graf’s know-how and moved into the workshop known as “de l’Aubépin”.
On April 16, 1921, Léon Bel registered the trademark La vache qui rit. He was inspired by the RVF B70 badge to represent a cow with a hilarious expression.
Léon thinks big. In 1922, he founded the “Société Anonyme des Fromageries Bel”, a company 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. It was also the opportunity to develop the triangular portion caster, originally wrapped in tinfoil and now arranged in cardboard boxes. In the first year, 12,000 boxes were sold per day.
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 him the sympathetic and human aspect he was missing. He asked the printer Vercasson to tint this cow’s head red and, on the advice of his wife, Anne-Marie, to adorn it with earrings in the shape of a box of Laughing Cow. A way to feminize this cow which gives its milk to make good cheeses.
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 greatest originality of this factory is the creation, in 1926, of an “advertising office” which manages the brand’s “advertising” internally. Léon Bel understood that advertising drives sales.
This factory was designed for a production of 120,000 cans of Laughing Cow per day, and very quickly we tried to open up to the world. From 1929, the Fromageries Bel marketed the fondu in England. From 1933 onwards, they set up production units and marketing companies in Belgium, and gradually in other European countries.
To transport the cheeses to the retail outlets, Bel uses wholesalers, retailers and cooperatives, i.e. about 3,000 major customers. It has its own depots 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 or clocks indicate that the “house” sells the famous Laughing Cow.
From these early years, The Laughing Cow has communicated in a smiling, offbeat tone that has never left it. She became a starlet that Josephine Baker enjoyed. It communicates in the press, participates in the first beginnings of radio advertising: we hear on the airwaves the song “C’est la Vache qui rit” (It’s the Laughing Cow), by Jean Rodor and sung by the well named Constantin le Rieur… In 1935 and 1936, the brand also organizes big contests to win great prizes. Starting in 1933, VQR’s boxes contained collectible images that made it a hit with 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 will remain CEO until 1996. Gone are the severe shortages of the war years. The fat content increased to 40% in 1948, and was accompanied by the launch of new products such as Belébon or Bonbel (1947).
The Laughing Cow has regained its carefree attitude and its place among young people 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 for victory. The red head will stand out on a stylized landscape with new names: “Tendrébon” and “Fromage pour tartine”.
An advertising agency, the Chavane agency, will carry the new face of the brand: with the slogan “The Laughing Cow is a cheese and a good cheese”, it is part of everyday life, it is displayed in the street, in the subway, in 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 1950s, with notebook covers 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 was a technical achievement and a gamble. This makes the Laughing Cow smoother and easier to spread. The packaging is rejuvenated: a blue and white stripe appears around the edge of the box. The contour of the cow’s head is slightly rounded. It is inscribed in a golden shield, crowned with four stars that suggest the quality of the product.
Here again, the laughing cow adapts to its time. She has worked with the greatest poster artists and now launches into photographic advertising campaigns. Between 1961 and 1969, most of the posters show the “good cheeses” that go into making The Laughing Cow.
From 1968 onwards, Bel Cheese Dairies 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, the image of the product, fully positive.
In the 1950s, Robert Fiévet decided to travel around this changing world by setting up more and more offices abroad. Each time, the opening to a new country is based on a flexible adaptation to local habits and is 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 continue to conquer new markets such as Spain (1967).
It is in the small town of Leitchfield in the USA, in the heart of Kentucky, that The Laughing Cow cheese factory is located since 1970. In 2003, the cheese factory was surprised by its success. That year, Dr. Agatstson published a book called South Beach Diet, in which he recommended using a portion of the diet QV as an appetite suppressant snack. The diet is all the rage in the United States, The Laughing Cow lite is slipping into girls’ bags from Manhattan to Los Angeles. It becomes the slimming asset of 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. Tangiers, young and old, have been eating the Laughing Cow since the 70s. 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 plant, which produced between 5,000 and 6,000 tons in the late 1970s, now produces 40,000 tons.
It is found in Egypt, which opened two subsidiaries, in 1998 and 2006, followed by Algeria in 2001 and 2007.
In Vietnam, where Laughing Cow has been produced since 2011, it is common for a host to greet a guest with a portion of Laughing Cow as a sign of welcome!
The original course indicated by Léon Bel is maintained: The Laughing Cow must be present everywhere, for everyone, throughout the world. So it has learned to slip into all countries, to melt into all habits, to fit 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 whatever the country its name on the other hand, is pronounced in each language. Everywhere it is at the same time identical and yet different.
the CHALLENGES of COMMUNICATION
In 1960, Robert Fiévet had been running the company for twenty-three years. It commits it to a new communication policy. In the 1970s, new advertising campaigns helped create a dynamic and modern image of the Laughing Cow among younger consumers: this was the Les Vachequiriphiles campaign, which carried its colors high in a “pop art” style. In another campaign Jacques Parnel also gives a new youth to the icon: he makes her anthropomorphic, disguises her in regional clothes, makes her ride a bicycle or hitchhike with a backpack and a guitar in her hand. It embodies its 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 are now presented from the front.
In 1985, the animated film “The Casting” was inspired by the show business advertising of the time. Calm and generous, the Laughing Cow appears as a diva. “To be a big name in cheese and please everyone, you have to have quite a personality,” concludes the spot, which will travel the world.
In the 90s, we refer 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 exploits sensations, emotions, great references – family, friendship, escape – and reinforces the positioning of the Laughing Cow as a cheese for everyone.
In 2001, the VQR launched a television and Internet campaign and contest entitled “Why does the VQR laugh? The cow goes out to meet foodies and experiences its immense popularity. The famous slogan succeeded in imposing a question on everyone that no one had asked before, and in placing 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 can see The Laughing Cow, for the first time modeled in 3D.