Los Angeles-based consumer goods startup The Honest Company, co-founded by actress Jessica Alba and known for its eco-friendly products, is said to be seeking an exit, including a sale of the company.
The company has raised to date a total of $222 million in venture capital. The first three funding rounds were led by Wellington Management, IVP and General Catalyst Partners. In August 2015, Honest raised $100 million in a Series D funding round led by Glade Brook Capital Partners, reportedly at a valuation of $1.7 billion. Earlier plans for an IPO this year have been put on hold.
Honest has been in talks with potential buyers including consumer goods giants Procter & Gamble and Unilever, according to Recode. The company’s annual sales reportedly grew from $50 million in 2013, to $170 million in 2014, and $300 million on 2015.
The company was founded in 2011 by Alba, a native Californian, and her business partners—chief executive officer Brian Lee, chief operating officer Sean Kane, and her husband and chief product officer Christopher Gavigan, who is the former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World (a national nonprofit empowering parents to protect their children from toxic risks).
The move comes a few weeks after Fortune reported that, “Honest Company has come under fire over the past year as customers claimed products were either ineffective or contained ingredients that contradict their ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ labels.”
In April, ABC News reported that the Honest Company is being sued for “representing its Premium Infant Formula as ‘organic’ even though this product contains 11 synthetic substances prohibited under federal law in organic products.”
As a result, the actress, her co-founders, and their company and financial backers, are coming under mounting economic and reputational risk.
The mission-driven company says it provides “100+ safe, effective, and delightful products across a wide range of consumer categories, including baby, personal care, home care, and vitamins & supplements, to a passionate community of consumers united by values and style.”
Honest Beauty, the company’s latest product offering launched in September 2015, is a comprehensive skincare and makeup collection.
Honest products are available across the U.S. and Canada via honest.com and honestbeauty.com and at more than 4,000 retail locations across North America, the company says. Whole Foods and Costco were its initial retail distributors, followed by Target, Buy Buy Baby and Nordstrom, among others.
Earlier this year the company relocated its headquarters from Santa Monica to Playa Vista, in the Los Angeles Westside.
WAVE OF BEAUTY AND PERSONAL CARE SECTOR EXITS
The move would also follow a recent global wave of deals and consolidation in the beauty and personal care market.
In July, L’Oréal SA (EPA: OR), the world’s leading beauty and cosmetics company, controlled by the family of Liliane Bettencourt, the wealthiest person in France and the wealthiest woman in the world, agreed to acquire IT Cosmetics, a top-selling prestige makeup and skincare brand in the United States, for $1.2 billion in cash.
IT Cosmetics was founded in 2008 by Jamie Kern Lima and Paulo Lima, who stand to make a fortune through the sale. Prior to launching IT, she was a TV news anchor, while he worked in investment banking. They both earned MBA degrees from Columbia Business School. Private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners LLC acquired a minority stake from IT’s founders in September 2013.
IT Cosmetics offers more than 300 high-performance beauty products focusing on color cosmetics, skincare, brushes and tools. IT works hand-in-hand with plastic surgeons to create innovative, high performance products laser-focused on solving women’s beauty problems.
The company’s multi-channel distribution model includes television shopping channels QVC and TSC, specialty stores including ULTA and Sephora, and e-commerce. For the 12 months ending June 30, 2016, IT had net sales of $182 million, up by 56% from the previous year.
Likewise, consumer products giant Unilever (LSE: ULVR) agreed to acquire men’s personal grooming startup Dollar Shave Club (DSC), for $1 billion.
A few days earlier in the summer, Tangle Teezer, a British manufacturer of detangling hairbrushes founded and owned by hair colorist Shaun Pulfrey, was said to have hired investment bank Robert W. Baird & Co. to shop the company for £200 million.
In June, billionaire Ronald Perelman‘s Revlon Inc. (NYSE: REV) agreed to acquire Elizabeth Arden Inc. (NASDAQ: RDEN), a legendary global prestige beauty products company with a portfolio of beauty brands sold in over 120 countries, in a deal valued at $870 million.
Two weeks earlier, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) agreed to acquire Vogue International LLC, a manufacturer and distributor of salon-heritage hair care and other personal care products, including OGX, FX, Proganix and Maui Moisture, from private equity firm Carlyle Group LP (NASDAQ: CG) and the company’s founder and CEO Todd Christopher, for $3.3 billion. The founder’s lucrative exit came to fruition despite the fact that in August 2013, Vogue paid $6.5 million to settle a false advertising class action accusing it of falsely labeling its Organix skin and hair care products as organic (Organix was subsequently rebranded as OGX), which is reminiscent of the consumer complaints and legal actions against the Honest Company.
Around the same time, British private equity firm Lion Capital was said to have appointed Rothschild to oversee the sale of GHD (Good Hair Day), a supplier of hair products to celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and singer Katy Perry. The asking price is reportedly around £400 million.
Also in early June, Japanese global cosmetics company Shiseido Co. Ltd. (TYO: 4911) agreed to acquire Gurwitch Products LLC, a Houston, Texas-based marketer of global prestige cosmetics and skincare brands including Laura Mercier and RéVive, from Alticor Inc., the owner of Amway.
In May, private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice agreed to acquire High Ridge Brands Co., which owns a portfolio of personal care brands, from private equity firm Brynwood Partners, for $415 million.
In April, Fosun International (HKSE: 0656), one of China’s largest investment firms chaired by billionaire Guo Guangchang, agreed to acquire Israeli cosmetics company Ahava Dead Sea Labs for $77 million.
In February, Canadian cosmetics and skincare company Groupe Marcelle acquired Montreal-based Lise Watier Cosmétiques, through an $18 million investment by Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ),becoming the largest Canadian company in the beauty industry.
Photo: Jessica Alba and Christopher Gavigan at a family walk. (Courtesy: The Honest Company)