Blues and Brews: Health through Active Lifestyles Plays Starring Role in Founders’ Culture 

Julie Bitely

| 3 min read

Stained glass sign that says Founders with beer glasses
The incredible growth of Founders Brewing Company has meant many changes: a bigger taproom that dwarfs their original digs, rapidly expanding production and distribution capacity, and even international opportunities for the Grand Rapids-based beer powerhouse. What’s stayed the same is a commitment to brewing bigger, bolder craft brews and a culture of inclusion for patrons and staff alike. “Culture is very, very important to us, especially as we continue to grow,” said Dave Engbers, Founders co-founder.
Part of the workplace culture Engbers and co-founder Mike Stevens celebrate and help promote is the health and wellness of their employees. “We want people to take full advantage of healthy, active lifestyles,” Engbers said. The staff break room boasts a healthy vending machine. The brewery provides opportunities for on-site flu shots, blood drives, yoga classes and monthly massages. Employees are encouraged to participate in company-sponsored kickball leagues, local races and Active Commute week. Classes on canning food, nutrition and financial wellbeing are in the works. As a corporate citizen, Founders sponsors a cycling team and has been an active supporter of Grand Rapids WhiteWater, an organization committed to restoring the rapids in the Grand River. “Generally, our folks are outdoorsy, active employees for the most part, so it’s just kind of celebrating that fact and showing that we celebrate that as a company and that it’s important to be healthy and active,” said Michelle Stevenson, human resources specialist. As part of their health and wellness offerings, Founders partners with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to offer comprehensive health insurance plans to their full- and part-time employees. Stevenson said workplace demographics have shifted as more and more hiring is done on the sales side of operations and as long-time employees start families, needing coverage for themselves, spouses and children. Approaching three years with Blue Cross this fall, Stevenson said the company always tries to offer a range of plans that meet everyone’s unique needs, whether that’s a higher-deductible plan coupled with a health savings account or a plan with manageable co-pays. From a human resources standpoint, she said the company strives to continuously improve on their plan and general health and wellness offerings. “I just think that’s who we are,” she said. “We have these guiding principles that everyone follows no matter what position they’re in with the company. It’s the right thing to do.” Having Blue Cross plans across the nation has also helped the company cover out-of-state employees brought on to further the brewery’s footprint and presence, Stevenson said. Since starting the brewery in 1997, Engbers has married and had four children of his own. That’s shifted his perspective on the importance of health and wellness and the responsibility he has to set an example for his kids and his employees. Popular All Day IPA, a “session” beer sold in cans, was actually conceived as the answer to Founders’ enthusiasts demand for a drink that could fit into their active lifestyles. While Founders made their name and fortune on higher-alcohol offerings like Breakfast Stout and recently retired Devil Dancer, Engbers said All Day IPA provides a low-alcohol alternative that still packs a distinctive Founders flavor profile. He said it’s the perfect way to wind down after a day of hiking, cycling, or kayaking or for sipping around a Michigan campfire. “Let’s still enjoy beer, but let’s do it responsibly,” he said. In the not-too-distant future, Engbers envisions Founders being a household name. “But I want the culture and the people and the personality of who Founders is to remain constant,” he said. Check out some of Founders’ employees explaining what the brewery means to them in this video. Head on over to our sister site, A Healthier Michigan, for a tasty flank steak marinade recipe using Founders All Day IPA. Photos courtesy of Founders Brewing Company.
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association