Jessica Alba’s The Honest Co. may be shifting into sell mode, in addition to the original plan for an initial public offering.
The company hired Morgan Stanley and Goldman, Sachs & Co. to explore an IPO, but now is also said to be considering an M&A transaction, considering the continued coolness of the public markets, according to sources. The shift is a logical one given the volatility of the stock market, though several financial experts suggest Honest may still decide to float shares. Many companies that mull a public offering simultaneously contemplate a sale as part of a dual-track process. The final decision generally depends on which option provides a higher valuation.
Industry sources are somewhat divided on which is the more likely route, but most think that in today’s market, a sale would be the better option. “Given the scale of the company and the volatility in the capital markets, my guess would be a deal would probably be more attractive than the IPO,” said Martin Okner, managing director at SHM Corporate Navigators.
“Usually a strategic buyer who sees synergies and the ability to really grow distribution or new product can pay a premium,” said Andrea Weiss, founding partner at The O-Alliance.
Given Honest’s focus on household and baby products, potential buyers could include Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly Clark, Unilever, Colgate and L’Oreal, sources said. Acquiring Honest would give a strategic buyer points of business in new channels and products with high margins, Okner said.
Valuations for consumer goods companies can run to two or 2.5 times sales. For something with a huge growth trajectory, which Honest is seen as having, those multiples could climb as high as three or 3.5 times, Okner said. With sales between $250 million and $300 million, according to sources, Honest could end up with a $500 million valuation on the conservative side, or $1.05 billion valuation on the higher side.
Honest has about $222 million in venture capital backing. Its most recent round in 2015 valued the company at about $1.7 billion — which is enough to deter further VC investors from putting more money in, financial experts have said. The company started Honest Beauty in 2015, and the line launched in Ulta stores in February. Honest also sells products such as diapers, laundry detergent and dish soap.
An Honest Co. spokesperson said the company doesn’t comment on matters related to its capital structure. Goldman and Morgan Stanley declined to comment.
There are those, though, who believe that if — a big if — the stock market becomes more solid, floating shares would still be the best option. “The IPO route is still the more likely scenario, assuming the equity markets are there to support it, and there has not been a slowdown in performance as a result of recent events,” said Ilya Seglin, managing director at Threadstone Advisors. “M&A negotiations will get more complicated around discussions related to current and any future legal liabilities.”
Honest faces allegations that its SPF 30 Sunscreen is not effective, and that products it claims are “natural” contain synthetic chemicals. The company has said the allegations are without merit.
Despite widespread media coverage, those claims haven’t hurt Honest all that much, sources said. “The brand is almost on the cusp of being bigger than the lawsuits and the negative press around it,” said Okner. “It’s been in the press now for months and it hasn’t had a material impact on sales at this point.
“This particular company I would categorize as being the Annie’s Organic of home and care,” she said, referring to the food brand that set a high mark in the IPO market.
The reason the lawsuits aren’t causing the company more damage is in part due to Alba’s star power — consumers see her as someone with “young mother credibility,” Weiss said. “Her personal presentation…is very consistent with the value proposition of the product.”
If a deal materializes, industry experts expect Alba would stay on as the face of the brand for a few years, likely as a term of the deal.
Despite what industry insiders say is a solid growth record, the lawsuits could potentially affect the selling price of the company. “It will potentially affect price because people will incorporate settlement costs into the value of the company,” Weiss said.