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FTC SUES TO BLOCK PROCTER & GAMBLE’S ACQUISITION OF DTC DISRUPTER BILLIE

December 9, 2020
December 9, 2020
Billie

The Federal Trade Commission is filing suit to block Procter & Gamble’s proposed acquisition of Billie. Earlier this year the FTC filed a similar claim over competition concerns that prevented Schick-owner Edgewell from buying Harry’s in February.

In January of 2020, P&G announced its intent to bolster its female grooming portfolio with the acquisition of the DTC disrupter female shaving and body care brand. The complaint alleges that the proposed acquisition would allow P&G, the market-leading supplier of both women’s and men’s wet shave razors, to buy Billie, a newer but expanding maker of women’s razors, and thereby eliminate growing competition that benefits consumers.

P&G sells women’s and men’s razors under various brands, including Gillette, Venus, and Joy. Billie sells a quality, mid-tier women’s system razor targeted at Generation Z and Millennial women, including through marketing attacking the practice of pricing women’s razors higher than comparable men’s razors—otherwise known as the “pink tax.” The transaction was announced in January 2020, just over two years after Billie came to market but after it had already seen significant growth in sales.

“Billie saw an opportunity to challenge P&G’s position as the market leader by finding underserved, price and quality conscious customers, and building an innovative brand,” said Ian Conner, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition. “As its sales grew, Billie was likely to expand into brick-and-mortar stores, posing a serious threat to P&G. If P&G can snuff out Billie’s rapid competitive growth, consumers will likely face higher prices.”

The complaint alleges that the proposed acquisition would eliminate substantial and growing head-to-head competition between P&G and nascent competitor Billie in US wet shave razor markets. In particular, as Billie grew rapidly, P&G introduced its own direct-to-consumer site promoting its women’s system razor brand, Venus. The proposed acquisition also halted Billie’s anticipated expansion into brick-and-mortar retail stores, which would have benefitted consumers through intensified competition between Billie and P&G at retail locations.

The Commission vote to issue the administrative complaint and to authorize staff to seek a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction was 4-1. Commissioner Christine S. Wilson voted no. The FTC will file a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction to stop the deal pending an administrative trial. The trial is scheduled to begin on June 22, 2021.

The move threatens to derail P&G’s effort to expand its women’s shaving unit. P&G said in a statement that it was disappointed by the FTC’s decision and is considering its options.

The lawsuit is the second antitrust suit filed by the FTC this year to block an acquisition in the fast-growing direct-to-consumer razor market. In February, the FTC sued to block Edgewell Personal Care Co.’s $1.4 billion purchase of Harry’s Inc. The deal designed to jump-start Edgewell’s lagging razor sales by accessing the upstart’s direct-to-consumer capabilities was later abandoned.

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