Unilever agreed to buy a South Korean cosmetics maker for €2.27 billion ($2.7 billion) to gain a stronger foothold in the world’s fourth-largest skincare market.
Unilever will buy Carver Korea, maker of AHC skincare products, from shareholders including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bain Capital Private Equity, the London- and Amsterdam-based company said in a statement Monday. Carver had sales of €321 million last year.
For the Anglo-Dutch consumer-goods giant, whose brands include Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Dove soap, the acquisition marks a shift from other recent purchases in niche areas like organic tea and vegan mayonnaise as Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman pursues a commitment to sustainability.
The company has also been building up a “prestige” arm within its personal care business, targeting high-end brands founded in developed markets, such as Dermalogica, Ren and Murad.
Skincare sales in South Korea will reach $6.3 billion this year, and interest in the Asian country’s cosmetics companies has been heating up. Bain Capital agreed to invest about $816 million in beauty-products maker Hugel Inc. in April. AHC’s products include moisturisers, toners and sun protection.
South Korean cosmetics companies had robust growth in past years, helped by strong Chinese demand, which has weakened recently amid geopolitical disputes in the region. Operating profit of Amorepacific Corp., South Korea’s largest cosmetics company, dropped 58% in the second quarter.
Goldman and Bain bought an 80% stake last year, when the company had earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation of €137 million. While the price Unilever is paying seems “superficially high,” the deal makes sense strategically, said Martin Deboo, an analyst at Jefferies with a “buy” rating on Unilever shares.
“It’s right at the top-end of what Unilever’s paid for things but it’s pretty profitable and 35% of the sales go to China, so they’re acquiring right in the heartland of current beauty trends,” he said by phone.
Last week Unilever agreed to a $900 million asset swap with South African investment company Remgro Ltd. to reorganise its business in that country. Unilever has said investors should expect it to spend between €1 billion and €3 billion on takeovers every 12 months to accelerate its push beyond mainstream products and into healthier or ethically sourced brands.
Many of Unilever’s recent acquisitions have focused on its food arm, where it’s also moving to sell its slower-growing spreads division. But the company has also been adding to its personal-care with deals like the purchase of brands such as Savital shampoo from Latin America consumer goods giant Quala, in May, and Dollar Shave Club last year.