Alibaba's Jack Ma invited to join bid for L'Oreal's The Body Shop: sources

LONDON (Reuters) - European private equity firm Investindustrial has invited the investment vehicle of Alibaba's BABA.N founder Jack Ma to submit a joint bid of more than 800 million euros ($900 million) for L'Oreal's OREP.PA The Body Shop, sources familiar with the matter said on Friday, just days before a deadline for final bids.

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Hong Kong-based Blue Pool Capital has been asked to team up with Investindustrial and Brazil's GP Investments GPIV33.SA, one of Latin America's largest private equity firms, in making a bid for the British-based cosmetics retailer, the sources said.

European private equity investor CVC Capital Partners [CVC.UL] is also planning to submit a rival offer ahead of a June 7 deadline for final bids, the sources said, adding that another buyout firm, Advent, has decided to drop out of the contest.

L’Oreal has asked prospective bidders to table offers of no less than 800 million euros, said the sources.

L’Oreal, Investindustrial, GP Investments, Advent and CVC all declined to comment while no one at Blue Pool Capital was available for comment outside of regular business hours.

Investindustrial’s Italian founder Andrea Bonomi told Reuters earlier this month that the buyout firm, which also has investments in luxury carmaker Aston Martin and shoemaker Sergio Rossi, was in the race for The Body Shop..

The firm worked with GP Investments on an eventually unsuccessful joint bid for French holiday resorts operator Club Med back in 2014.

L’Oreal said in February it was reviewing its strategy for The Body Shop, which it bought for 652 million pounds ($840 million) in 2006.

Founded in 1976 by British entrepreneur Anita Roddick, the company was a pioneer in the ethical beauty industry but has since fallen victim to increased competition from newcomers also offering similar products based on natural ingredients and no animal-testing.

Last year The Body Shop, which has more than 3,000 stores worldwide, saw its revenue drop 4.8 percent to 920.8 million euros and its operating profit fall 38 percent to 33.8 million euros.

L’Oreal’s advisor, Lazard, was originally hoping for a valuation close to 1 billion euros for the business, but the sources said such a price was challenging given the chain’s recent struggles and poor performance.

The Body Shop has also drawn interest from a handful of industry players including Brazilian make-up firm Natura Cosmeticos NATU3.SA, which took part in the initial stages of the auction, the sources said.

A spokesperson for Natura said, “The company is constantly looking for business opportunities and it is indeed participating in several of the phases of the process for The Body Shop transaction.”

Additional reporting by Dasha Afanasieva in London, Elzio Barreto and Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Paula Arend Laier in Sao Paulo; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Andrew Hay