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With Updated Acquisition Strategy, P&G Buys First Aid Beauty

In line with Procter & Gamble’s new attitude toward beauty acquisitions, First Aid Beauty will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary.

Procter & Gamble is officially in deal mode again.

With the acquisition of First Aid Beauty, Procter & Gamble has made its third beauty acquisition of 2018. First Aid, a prestige skin-care brand, adds a new price point to P&G’s skin-care offering and deepens the business’ exposure to the North American specialty retail channel.

It also underscores a significant shift in P&G’s acquisition strategy.

“P&G has bought other brands before and hasn’t been successful — what we’re doing very differently this time around in P&G Beauty is treating those brands as stand-alone, often with the founders staying with the brand,” said Alex Keith, president of global hair care and beauty at P&G. In line with that plan, FAB founder Lilli Gordon is staying on board as chief executive officer, reporting to Markus Strobel, president of P&G’s global skin and personal-care business.

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While P&G has “strong core brands” in beauty that it has been working to make relevant and grow, the business is looking to balance that with new brands that can meet different types of consumer needs, according to Keith. “It’s really important that we didn’t repeat the mistakes of the past, let’s say by assuming that those brands could meet all the needs that are emerging in the marketplace,” Keith said. “We have been focused on identifying those kinds of opportunities, whether they be retail channel or benefit space or consumer target base, that we really feel portfolio expansion would be a better way to meet the broader needs of those consumers and shoppers.”

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FAB makes “serious” skin care “presented in a catchy, light-hearted way” that appeals to Millennials, Strobel noted, adding he expects the business to experience growth in the double digits for “a long time to come.”

The deal, which follows P&G’s acquisitions of Snowberry and Native, formalizes P&G’s return to the beauty M&A scene.

P&G was focused on selling beauty lines for several years — most of them sold to Coty Inc. in 2016 — and has since homed in on its remaining portfolio, including brands like Olay, which was struggling until recently, and SK-II, which has been on the rise.

With its new acquisitive mind-set in place, P&G is looking to buy brands that fill all kinds of white spaces. Native, a natural deodorant brand, is a direct-to-consumer expert, for example. Snowberry, a natural, New Zealand-based prestige operation, is a storytelling expert, Strobel said, noting the business is preparing for a U.S. rollout.

While not all P&G beauty acquisitions have been successes — hence the sale of a big part of the portfolio — Keith says the business has learned its lesson.

With FAB, for example, which Keith likes for its science-based formulations, the goal isn’t to replicate existing P&G skin-care lines. “We’re not trying to turn them into the next Olay — we’re trying to nurture them and grow them and expand our knowledge and our capabilities,” she said.

“We’re looking in our skin-care portfolio for brands that compliment our portfolio in benefit spaces where we’re currently not present, or in segments of the market where we’re not present, and First Aid Beauty fits the bill pretty well,” Strobel said. For one, FAB sits between the high-end price-point of SK-II and mass-market price point of Olay. FAB’s distribution through Sephora and Ulta Beauty also gives P&G greater access to the specialty retail channel.

Strobel also anticipates the products will have broad appeal. “If you put it together, First Aid Beauty is FAB and FAB travels as a word, as a concept, as a brand,” he said.

“The brand could be an international powerhouse on a billion-dollar level,” Gordon predicted. “It would take a few years.”

Gordon started FAB, which centers around healing skin, in 2008. The line has several collections that target skin concerns like aging, acne, dryness, dullness and redness. Products are priced between $12 for Ultra Repair Lip Therapy to $58 for FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate.

“When I look at where we are today, it’s almost a point of inflection for the business,” said Gordon, who will remain in charge of the brand as ceo. “We’ve been growing very healthily, but in order to sustain that growth over the next 10 years really takes a different mind-set.”

Under P&G, FAB will be able to increase its global footprint “much faster and so much more effectively,” Gordon noted, and gain access to more research and development resources. “It’s going to be like letting me loose in a candy shop,” Gordon said. Right now, FAB relies exclusively on third parties for its formulas, but under P&G, can explore new means of product development, she said. The business will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary.

“The evolution on the product side isn’t that influenced by this deal,” Gordon said, noting the brand is still planning to go deeper in the complexion category with an August launch and the potential to take “the philosophy of [FAB] into categories like hair.”

Over the past few years, FAB has built out its product line, expanding beyond just skin care into the skin-care/makeup gray area with its Hello FAB assortment, which includes products like a Mango Butter Multi Stick, $20, and Triple Protection Skin Tint SPF 30, $34.

That skin-care/makeup crossover space is one that will help P&G service consumers looking for multitasking products. “We have a lot of consumers who live such busy lives, especially Millennials, that like to have these multipurpose products because it fits much better [with] their lifestyles,” Strobel said. “So, do I believe the segment will grow? Yes. Do I think we’re going to be present in that segment? Yes, if the consumer’s there, we’re going to be there.”

Terms of P&G’s FAB acquisition were not disclosed, but industry sources said the deal was for close to $250 million. FAB is said to have about $50 million in net sales. P&G declined to comment on numbers.

FAB has been backed by private equity firm Castanea Partners since 2015.

“What Lilli and her team have accomplished over the last three years is really to just broaden the reach, broaden the audience that is aware of First Aid Beauty, introduce new people to the brand and really convert those folks into loyal customers,” said Steve Berg, managing partner at Castanea. “They’re early in the process of doing that in North America, and certainly globally, and P&G will be a fantastic partner in helping to accelerate that growth.”

“Our investment in helping Lilli and the FAB team nurture and grow this outstanding brand over the past three years was well-placed,” added Castanea operating partner and FAB board member Janet Gurwitch. “P&G Beauty brings science understanding and innovation to FAB that will further fuel its already strong growth and commitment to its consumer base of delivering fast and effective relief to skin-care challenges.”

Financo was the exclusive financial adviser to First Aid Beauty on the transaction.