While P&G and Coty Shuffle the Deck, Unilever Does Some Stealth Scooping of Its Own
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\"RR“Portfolio reshaping.”

Apparently that’s now beauty-biz code for: “Let us take whatever wasn’t working for you – including some stuff that really and truly wasn’t working for you – and see what we can do with it.”

Presumably that wasn’t the way the talks around Coty’s jaw-dropping, $12.5 billion purchase of 43 P&G brands went down in early July. But to the average armchair industry-watcher, it’s easy to think it might have.

Why? Because along with semi-gems like Wella and CoverGirl (and let’s be frank – if they were genuine growth-potential gems P&G would have hung onto them, as it did with Pantene, Olay and SK-II), Coty, come mid-2016, will be tasked with absorbing not only dozens of tiny underperformers, but also the thousands of employees attached to those brands.

Taking the Talent, Too

And for the moment at least, that’s Coty’s official stance: We want and need the management teams of our newly acquired brands, too.

Of course it does; by snapping up a raft of salon brands (Sebastian and Nioxin, in addition to Wella), it’s instantly in an entirely new distribution channel. And with the purchase of Clairol and Sassoon, it’s suddenly a player in at-home hair color, too. That’s a lot of heads to keep happy; although the percentage of women coloring their own hair bounces around a bit with the ups and downs of the economy, roughly half of U.S. females go the DIY route. The rest are all but welded to their favorite salons.

So what else did Coty nab from P&G? On the cosmetics side, Max Factor, a storied, 106-year-old brand in need of a refresh. And fragrances. Lots and lots of fragrances.

While one of Coty’s stated goals for this bulk P&G acquisition was to round out its existing portfolio, which is heavily weighted toward fragrance, it has nonetheless added 13 scents to its roster.

Talk about a mixed bag. Coty’s new fragrance babies range from the vibrant and viable Hugo Boss, Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci, to the chic-but-small Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, and the undoubtedly troublesome Christina Aguilera and Gabriela Sabatini. As for the latter two, that’s the problem with the celebrity-scent game; they’re all too easy to get into, but how – and when – do you get out?

At the Top of Fragrance Mount Olympus

Already a bit of a Goliath in fragrance – thanks to its Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs and Chloe brands, among others – Coty, with the P&G buy, has solidified its position as the global leader in this category. But what troubled turf! Those tricky celeb scents we mentioned earlier? Coty already owns a sizeable fleet of them, including Halle Berry, Enrique Iglesias and the one that started it all – Jennifer Lopez. For a good decade, in fact, Coty was the go-to for star scents.

In mass-market makeup, Coty, which already owned the edgy, Georgia May Jagger – and Kate Moss-fronted Rimmel brand, will now also be a force to be reckoned with. That is, if it’s willing to invest, invest, invest in Max Factor and tighten up the marketing around CoverGirl.

With a spokesmodel roster bursting to the seams including Sofia Vergara, Pink, Katy Perry, Ellen DeGeneres and Queen Latifah, CoverGirl – long the purveyor of some of the best budget-friendly beauty products of all time – could benefit from a more focused, disciplined message. One that – gasp – maybe even shifts some of the spotlight back onto the merch itself.

Hair, fragrance, makeup. What about skin? Well, as noted, P&G’s biggies in this category – the decidedly buzzy SK-II and the slightly wobbly but highly innovative Olay – weren’t up for grabs. So for now, Coty will just have to keep its laser focus on Philosophy, which it acquired from Carlyle Group in 2010 and has been working very, very hard on of late.

Meanwhile, Over at Unilever…

And shocker of all shockers, Coty might even have to cede a little ground in prestige skincare to the most unlikely mega beauty corp of all: Unilever. Yes, Unilever, home to supermarket skincare brands like St. Ives, Pond’s and Noxema, has suddenly decided it wants in on the high-end treatment action. In the past year, after forming a Prestige personal care unit, it has scooped up REN, Kate Somerville, Dermalogica and Murad in rapid succession.

Oh to be a fly on the wall in Rotterdam, as Unilever plots its stealth infiltration of this red-hot sector. Clearly, there’s wizardry at work here. Not only is Unilever now covering the organic angle with the acquisition of REN, it’s tapping the L.A. celeb market with star aesthetician Kate Somerville, who is developing quite a following in Asia, particularly South Korea.

With Murad, Unilever adds not only a brand with a solid foothold in Sephora and QVC, but also access to Howard Murad himself, a well-regarded skincare doc and professor of dermatology at UCLA. And Dermalogica? Well, it’s only the leading professional and spa skincare brand in the world.

Upsizing, downsizing, coming out of left field and sideways-sizing. The era of portfolio reshaping is upon us.

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