NEW YORK — Burt’s Bees has been sold.

The Manhattan-based buyout firm AEA Investors has purchased 80 percent of the North Carolina-based natural cosmetics company. Terms of the agreement — reached this week, WWD learned Thursday — were not disclosed. Sources speculated, however, that the transaction was valued in excess of $175 million.

This confirms a report that ran in these columns on Sept. 9. Burt’s Bees was reportedly in talks with AEA for six months and discussions between management and potential investors are said to have begun well over a year ago. The deal could pave the way for Burt’s Bees to become a $100 million operation in the next two to three years.

Burt’s Bees’ revenues are expected to reach $55 million this year, up 26.4 percent, according to industry estimates. Last year, the company’s sales jumped 30 percent.

Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby will remain as the firm’s chief executive officer, and the company is expected to stay in Durham.

She remarked that the company’s “rapid growth in the last few years” is poised to continue. “All levels — manufacturing, marketing and sales — can benefit,” Quimby said of the sale. “[It] opens the company to a wider range of input on all levels.” She noted that plans now include the creation of a board of directors.

“Over the next few years,” Quimby continued, “we’d like to double the size of the company [but] in order to roll out product to a wider public, we’ll need to first work on the back end and make capital expenditures for machinery, so we can handle growth.” The company does all its own manufacturing, Quimby said.

Burt’s Bees is carried in about 11,000 doors in the U.S., including health food stores, specialty outlets like gift stores and independent pharmacies, and top-performing doors among retail chains in the grocery and drug channels. New doors are expected to be opened in the latter. Further expansion and penetration within the brand’s existing outlets is also slated.

“We’re working on making the product more available in more main stream environments,” said Quimby. Integral to this is buttressing the sales and marketing staffs — another of Quimby’s priorities now that a deal is done.The agreement is expected to be finalized by the end of the month. Half of the proceeds of the sale, according to sources, have been designated for a charitable foundation that supports preservation of open areas — and efforts to establish a three-million-plus-acre national park — in Maine.

Burt Shavitz, co-founder of the 14-year-old brand, which has its roots in an all-natural candle wax business, retired in 1999.

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