Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products Co. is dipping its toe into prestige beauty with a licensing agreement that will give it full control of Korres branded beauty products in North America. The deal will go into effect January 2011.

Pericles Stamatiades, group chairman for Johnson & Johnson Beauty Care, said Korres “is an innovative brand with strong potential, and it is our entry into an important distribution channel.”

Korres, which generates an estimated $75 million in global sales — about 80 percent come from sales in Greece — is looking to “get to the next level,” said co-founder, George Korres. “J&J can bring the brand to the level it deserves,” he said.

He saidthe deal was spurred by the limitations set by operating from Athens, where the firm is based. Korres was brought to the U.S. five years ago and distributed under Korres Natural Products USA, which is based in New York and overseen by Robert DeBaker. The U.S. firm was owned by a Cyprus-based company. The distribution model involving foreign ownership is used in all of the regions where Korres sells products outside of Greece, including China, Spain and the U.K.

The Greek company is publicly traded, and George Korres has majority ownership.

“We were thinking about this from long before [the recession],” Korres said. “Coming from a country like Greece into the U.S. market, how do you know where to go? We needed a partner.”

Financial terms of the agreement include an initial payment of $7.25 million and royalties on Korres sales in North America from 2011 to 2019, with a minimum payment through 2014 of $10.25 million. The company said the agreement, which calls for a transition period until the first quarter of 2011, is not expected to impact Korres, as the up-front fixed payment will fund the cost of the transition and support of the brand in North America, as well as the termination of its existing distribution agreement.

While Korres executives would not speculate on J&J’s plans, officials said the brand would stay in its current distribution base, which consists of about 400 Sephora and Whole Foods doors, and will not enter the mass market. Korres’ two stand-alone stores, both in the New York area, will also continue to operate as usual. J&J has also acquired Korres’ lesser-known beauty brand, King and Queens, as part of the deal.

George Korres and his wife Lena, a co-founder of the company, will remain involved with research and development of new products, the company said. It is undecided whether Korres products will remain manufactured in Greece.

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