Earlier this month, Unilever reported a full year 2022 net profit surge but said it remained committed to delivering 'strong top line growth' in 2023 and was evaluating its brand portfolio accordingly. The main driver behind last year's growth came from the company's recently distinguished beauty & wellbeing division, which saw net sales of over $13 billion in 2022. Having implemented a newly diversified operating model, the company was now committed to “disciplined acquisitions,” particularly in this beauty and wellbeing, and would “prune the portfolio” wherever necessary to continue to deliver “strong top line growth,” according to its CEO Alan Jope.
This week, delivering on this promise, Unilever announced the sale of its North American personal beauty care product brand Suave to private equity firm Yellow Wood LLC. This acquisition includes the full line of Suave products across hair care, skin care, and deodorants.
About the Suave brand
“This is another step on our path to shift our portfolio towards strategic growth spaces,” said Esi Eggleston Bracey, president of Unilever USA and CEO of Unilever Personal Care North America, in the press release announcing the acquisition. “Suave has been a much-loved brand since the 1930s and I am confident it will continue to thrive and serve consumers under its new ownership in North America.”
U.S. brand Suave has been in business since 1937 when it launched its first product: a hair tonic. The brand was owned and operated by the National Mineral Company until it was sold in the 1970s and expanded by Helene Curtis Industries to offer a more diverse range of product offerings outside of the hair care category. This included shampoos, lotions, and deodorants – many of which are still recognizable today. The brand remained under the control of Helene Curtis Industries until Unilever acquired it in 1996, where it has remained until this week.
About Yellow Wood Partners LLC
Yellow Wood Partners LLC, a Boston-based private investment firm, currently controls 34 brands across the consumer industry middle market and focuses their acquisition efforts on a variety of consumer channels, “including mass, drug, food, specialty, value, club and e-commerce”, according to the recent press release announcing the sale.
The company utilizes a proprietary investment and operating strategy, Consumer Operating DNA, which helped identify the Suave brand as a good match and investment opportunity for all parties. Their website details that “the Yellow Wood Partners Consumer Operating DNA strategy combines extensive, deep industry research and analysis pre-investment through exit and investment and operating expertise.” Further, “the Yellow Wood team employs proprietary data analysis strategies that leverage their consumer experience to find the right brand partners for our firm,” evidenced by this most recent Suave acquisition.
“Suave is ubiquitously recognized for its long history of providing accessible high-quality beauty products to American consumers and we are excited to add it to our portfolio of investments,” said Dana Schmaltz, partner of Yellow Wood Partners. “We especially want to thank Unilever for its collaboration as we move forward to completing this carveout.”
While the specific financial details of the acquisition have not been publicly disclosed, the deal is expected to close by the end of Q2 2023, barring any issues with regulatory approvals or closing conditions. It has also been confirmed that Suave will continue to be owned and operated by Unilever in countries outside the U.S. and Canada.