Bain Capital to Take Minority Stake in Liberian-owned Sundial Brands

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Private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC is taking a minority stake in Sundial Brands LLC, a maker of personal-care products that are predominantly purchased by African-American consumers.

Terms of Bain’s investment weren’t disclosed, but a person familiar with the transaction said it values the New York-based Sundial at roughly US$700 million. The company currently has annual revenue of around US$200 million, according to people familiar with the matter.

The family-owned and operated business was founded in 1992 and produces lotions, soaps, shampoos and hair treatments under the brands Shea Moisture and Nubian Heritage. Its products are made from raw materials such as shea butter, coconut and various herbs, and also contain some ingredients certified as organic, according to the company. Sundial uses a portion of its sales to help develop and improve U.S. and African communities that produce its ingredients and products.

Sundial will remain majority owned by its founding family, who consist of immigrants from Liberia and Sierra Leone. Richelieu Dennis, a co-founder and the company’s chief executive, will continue in his role. Sundial sold its first products on street corners in New York City and its brands are now available in national retailers including drugstore and grocery chains.

Sundial’s sales to date have been largely in the U.S., where it also manufactures its products. Bain’s investment is aimed at helping Sundial accelerate growth by targeting a broader market that is based on consumers’ needs and isn’t defined by their ethnicity, said Ryan Cotton, a Bain managing partner. The investment will allow some existing shareholders to monetize parts of their stakes and some money will be used to expand the business, a person familiar with the matter said.

Expanding beyond Sundial’s core customer base may require a balancing act. Earlier this year, Sundial’s Shea Moisture brand drew criticism from some of the brand’s African-American customers on social media after the company put out a meme on Twitter with the image of a Caucasian toddler.

“We will make sure we are serving our core customers while engaging with a broader audience that’s interested in natural products and healthier ingredients,” said Mr. Dennis, Sundial’s CEO.

Bain’s investment in Sundial follows beauty products giant L’Oréal S.A.’s acquisition last autumn of a Brooklyn-based company called Carol’s Daughter that also makes hair and skin products popular with African-Americans. Bain has investments in several consumer brands, including outdoor apparel company Canada Goose and canvas shoe maker Toms.

An increasing number of household and personal-care product makers are trying to capitalize on Americans’ growing preference for items made with natural or organic ingredients. Their hope is the industry will shift in a similar manner to the food industry, where many shoppers now prefer buying natural or organic products.

In recent years, however, some natural personal care product manufacturers have been challenged over their claims and labeling. Sundial Brands in 2012 settled a lawsuit brought by the Center for Environmental Health, an anti-chemicals group that sued more than two dozen cosmetics companies to stop them from marketing their brands and products as organic if they didn’t meet standards required by a California law. As part of the settlement, Sundial agreed not to represent its products as organic unless they contained over 70% organic ingredients, excluding water and salt.

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