By Hyunjoo Jin and Martinne Geller
SEOUL/LONDON (Reuters) - Unilever <ULVR.L><UNc.AS> has agreed to pay 2.27 billion euros ($2.71 billion) to buy fast-growing cosmetics company Carver Korea in its latest move to build a global beauty business.
The purchase from Goldman Sachs, Bain Capital and Carver's founder follows a string of smaller skincare and cosmetics deals as the Anglo-Dutch pivots away from slower-growth food.
The deal announced on Monday gives Unilever what it said is the fastest-growing skincare business in South Korea through its AHC brand of anti-ageing creams, moisturisers and other skin products. Carver also provides a strong foothold in North Asia, the world's largest skincare market, Unilever said.
"Unilever continues to build a portfolio of niche brands in premium beauty to capture opportunities in high-margin dynamic categories," said Ildiko Szalai, analyst at Euromonitor International, which says the South Korean beauty and personal care market has grown faster than the global average over the past five years.
Korean beauty brands are in huge demand throughout Asia and have attracted investors including LVMH <LVMH.PA> and Estee Lauder <EL.N> over the past couple of years.
Monday's deal comes even though political tensions between China and South Korea have dented earnings of many South Korean cosmetics businesses. Chinese tourists have been big buyers of South Korean cosmetics but China this year banned group tours to the country over Seoul's decision to deploy an anti-missile system to counter North Korean threats.
Bain and Goldman Sachs jointly bought about 60 percent of Carver for roughly $500 million last year, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday.
That would have valued the whole company at $833 million, less than a third of what Unilever is paying, but Carver's net profit nearly quadrupled last year to $117 million, from $32 million in 2015, public filings show.
Unilever said that Carver's 2016 sales were 321 million euros ($381 million) with core profit of 137 million euros. Based on that figure, Unilever paid 16.6 times EBITDA, in line with home and personal care deals over the past decade.
Unilever is working hard to boost its performance after an unexpected takeover bid by Kraft Heinz <KHC.O> in February. It has since raised its margin target, announced a share buyback and a plan to sell its shrinking margarine and spreads business.
The company had already been trying to become more reliant on bath, body and beauty products, which tend to have higher growth and margins than food.
To that end, it has bought a string of higher-end cosmetics and skincare companies including Murad, Dermalogica, REN and Kate Somerville.
Bain and Goldman held 60.39 percent of Carver at the end of 2016, while its founder Lee Sang-rok held a 35 percent stake.
Carver Korea, Bain Capital and Goldman Sachs were not available for immediate comment.
(Additional reporting by Kane Wu in Seoul; Editing by David Goodman)