Burt's Bees, the natural personal care company that was started by a waitress and a beekeeper in 1984 and grew to a $55 million business, is being sold to an investment firm.
AEA Investors is in the process of acquiring 80 percent of Durham, N.C.-based Burt's Bees for a cash purchase price of approximately $155 million, according to information released in September by AEA's law firm.
Burt's Bees President Roxanne Quimby, who started the company in Maine with beekeeper Burt Shavitz and bought him out in 1999, didn't return phone calls or e-mails asking for comment on the sale. But in July, she told NFM she had hired New York-based Elixir Advisors to evaluate about 40 offers from investors. Bidders are rumored to have included Apax Partners, Charterhouse Group Int'l. and Forstmann Little & Co.
"I own the whole [business] myself, and as I approach my mid-50s, I have to be thinking about succession," Quimby said.
AEA Investors, which has offices in New York and London, has holdings in a variety of companies. Recent AEA acquisitions include Nanostream, a biotech company in Pasadena, Calif., and XM Satellite Radio. AEA also owns Rand McNally, Sovereign Specialty Chemicals and Leiner Health Products, a private-label vitamins and supplements manufacturer.
AEA is known for buying companies, beefing up their sales and selling them several years later. AEA is expected to broaden Burt's Bees distribution, particularly in the mass market channel. Quimby said about 10 percent of Burt's Bees business is in mass market, 30 percent is in natural foods stores and 60 percent is in specialty stores.
According to various news reports, Quimby will own a minority interest in Burt's Bees and will remain as president. She plans to use money from the sale to buy a large expanse of Maine forest land, which she would donate to the National Park Service. Currently, Quimby and Burt's Bees own about 16,000 acres, worth $7.1 million, of the proposed 3.2 million-acre Maine Woods National Park.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 11/p. 9