Dealing with massive industry shifts -- more people shopping online or choosing healthier snacks -- old school multinationals are tapping into their vast riches to buy younger upstarts.
The latest deal could see Dove soap maker Unilever (UL) , which has roots dating back to the 1880s, swallowing up movie star Jessica Alba's consumer packaged-goods maker Honest Company, founded in 2011. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Unilever is nearing a transaction to buy Honest -- which sells better-for-you offerings from diapers to vitamins -- for about $1 billion.
The Honest Company has raised more than $200 million from investors and was most recently valued at about $1.7 billion. It generates about $300 million in annual sales, the report says. Should the deal be made, Alba's company would give Unilever a relatively new platform in the better-for-you personal care category. As for Honest, gaining access to Unilever's manufacturing know-how and marketing budget could help scale up promising new ideas quicker.
Here are several other deals that large multinationals have made this year to gain access to new markets and fresh ideas.
Competition in the shaving market heats up.
Unilever Buys Dollar Shave Club
It has been a busy year for M&A at Unilever as the conglomerate seeks to jump-start growth.
In July, Unilever shelled out a reported $1 billion to purchase Dollar Shave Club, a mail-order service that ships disposable razors and other grooming products to consumers for a flat monthly fee. Launched in July 2011 with a funny YouTube video poking fun at the high cost of shaving, Dollar Shave Club reportedly has over 3.2 million members. The startup had revenue of $152 million last year and is on pace to reach $200 million this year, says Unilever. It's not profitable yet.
For Unilever, Dollar Shave Club gives the company access to the lucrative shaving market long dominated by Procter & Gamble's (PG - Get Report) Gillette brand. Unilever's appetite for acquisitions this year hasn't gone unnoticed by its arch-nemesis down the personal care aisle.
"Am I open to bolt-on acquisitions that we think are strategic and would help accelerate the growth in any of our 10 core categories? The answer is clearly yes," P&G CEO David Taylor told analysts on an Aug. 2 call.
P&G has spent the year trying to slim down. This fall, P&G will close on a $15 billion deal to slice off 40 underperforming beauty brands that will merge with Coty (COTY - Get Report) . When the deal is done, the 40 brands -- which generate roughly $6 billion in annual sales -- will be separated from P&G, saving the company a good chunk of change to be reinvested in stronger-performing brands. Money could also be put toward acquisitions of interesting upstarts, mirroring Unilever's strategy.
The world's largest retailer bought a new website.
Walmart Buys Jet.com
Amid its own slowing e-commerce sales and the continued online retail dominance of Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) , 54-year-old Walmart (WMT - Get Report) wrote a big check this year to buy key tech talent and a startup shopping platform.
Walmart announced in August it is acquiring e-commerce player Jet.com, founded in 2014, for $3 billion in cash. It will also give Jet.com $300 million worth of Walmart shares, which will be paid out over time. Jet.com founder Marc Lore -- a long-time e-commerce entrepreneur -- will assume the leadership of Walmart's U.S. e-commerce operations.
Jet.com is not yet profitable.
Jet's technology could help Walmart customers save money over time, which is not lost on CEO Doug McMillon.
"The customer has more choice over the price they pay. They can build a basket of items," McMillon told TheStreet when asked about Jet.com. He added that that kind of shopping and savings are "frankly true to the spirit of Walmart's pricing philosophy."
A bleach company will sell probiotic vitamins.
Clorox Buys Renew Life
Clorox, which has been making its eponymous bleach since 1914, purchased digestive health company Renew Life in May for $295 million in cash. Renew Life, founded in 1997, sells full-body cleanses and probiotic products mostly at natural grocers such as Whole Foods (WFM) and Sprouts (SFM - Get Report) as well as supplement retailers like Vitamin Shoppe (VSI - Get Report) . Clorox said Renew Life generated sales of about $115 million last year and had gross profit margins generally in line with its existing portfolio.
In Renew Life, Clorox gains access to a growing area of the supplements market. According to research firm Mintel, the digestive supplement market currently hauls in annual sales of about $10 billion in the U.S. and is growing at about 7%. The probiotics sub-category, which is valued at $1.3 billion in the U.S., is expected to grow about 15% per year, according to Mintel.
"We have talked about three priorities for M&A -- natural personal care, where we think there is still opportunity to tack on brands to be complementary to Burt's Bees; food enhancers such as dressings and marinades, where we have been successful with Hidden Valley Ranch and we think there is more space for us to grow; and, finally, broader health and wellness, where we think about products that can go in, on or around a person," said Clorox CEO Benno Dorer in an interview with TheStreet.
Fancy meat bars are now all the rage.
General Mills Buys Epic Provisions
Time-crunched consumers are shifting from eating sit-down meals to grabbing snacks on the go. That has hurt cereal sales for General Mills (GIS - Get Report) and others. So the maker of Cheerios decided to enter the emerging meat snack business.
In January, 160-year old General Mills purchased Epic Provisions for an undisclosed sum. Founded in 2013, Epic Provisions makes premium-priced snack bars made of meat such as bison and lamb, fruit, and nuts.
While terms of the transaction were not disclosed, a source told The Deal at the time the purchase price was likely about $100 million.