Why the laughing cow went sailing

Gilles Martin-Raget / Groupe Bel
Why soft cheese maker Groupe Bel back sailing
Soft cheese and the sea – not an association easily made, but a partnership that has proved most successful for French sailor Kito de Pavant and his sponsor Groupe Bel. One might not make an immediate association with the name Groupe Bel, but the French company’s brands of packaged soft cheese are familiar household names globally – Babybel, Leerdammer, Boursin and the Laughing Cow, being the top four of Bel’s 30 brands. Understandably this is not a one man and his cheese mould in a French farmyard operation. Groupe Bel turned over 2.2 billion Euros in 2009 (ie a vast quantity of cheese wedges), they have bases in 30 countries across the globe, they employ 11,500 people and their soft cheese finds its way onto supermarket shelves in 120 countries. The union first came about when Kito de Pavant, winner of the Solitaire du Figaro in 2003, was introduced to Antoine Fiévet, the Chairman and CEO of Groupe Bel back in 2005. The company initially dipped their toe in the water backing de Pavant’s Figaro campaign but warmed to him to the degree that at the end of 2006, they agreed to go ahead with the build of a new IMOCA 60 for the Vendée Globe. It should be pointed out that Antoine Fiévet isn’t a sailor. In fact the company heralds from eastern France, the side of the country furthest away from the sea although their headquarters are in central Paris. Fiévet is said to have simply admired what de Pavant was doing and took to him as a individual. According to Guillaume Jouët, the Vice President of Communication for Groupe Bel, it was a case of “okay, we have never done this before. We know exactly what we do in terms of communication when it comes to buying space on TV.