French natural beauty pioneer Yves Rocher dies

Sarajevans look at the window display of the newly opened Yves Rocher store in Sarajevo in this March 21 file photo.

PARIS (Reuters) - Yves Rocher, who founded the beauty products group named after him five decades ago, has died at the age of 79, the Paris hospital authority said on Saturday.

Rocher, originally from Brittany, founded the company in 1959 and nurtured it into a firm with annual sales of over 2 billion euros ($2.9 billion), nearly three times that of L’Oreal’s Body Shop, and a presence in over 80 countries.

“I confirm that he passed away this morning,” said a spokesman for the authority without giving a cause of death. A spokesperson for the Rocher group did not have any immediate comment.

Besides his company role, Rocher was also mayor of Gacilly in Brittany and holds the rare distinction of the Legion d’Honneur.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office expressed its condolences in a statement on Saturday.

“The head of the state insists on paying homage to the civic commitment of this man, passionate about politics, having held many mandates in Brittany, the place he loved so much and where he developed part of the activities of his company,” it said.

The company is renowned for cultivating its own plants, such as chamomile and black iris, in southern Brittany and running its own network of stores and mail order and online business.

Reporting by Gerard Bon and Sophie Taylor; editing by Andrew Roche