Riverside Wrestles With Rare Bankruptcy

The Riverside Co., the firm that buys dozens of small companies around the world annually, is dealing with an unusual situation for its vast portfolio: a bankruptcy.

The U.S. distributor of SIGG, a Switzerland-based maker of aluminum water bottles that Riverside bought in 2003, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as it fights off allegations that its bottles contain trace elements of the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, which has been linked to diseases.

The filing marks only third time in the firm’s 23-year history, during which it has made around 250 investments, that one of its companies has filed for bankruptcy, according to spokesman Graham Hearns, who said Riverside believes the company will still prove to be a successful investment.

“Some of [the] biggest homeruns in Riverside history had steep hills to climb and we’re hoping this is another such example and that SIGG will be bigger and better than it is now,” Hearns said.

Riverside bought the company in 2003 for an undisclosed amount. The company’s sales reportedly took off in recent years as environmentally-minded consumers increasingly tried to cut down on waste and because of concerns that plastic water bottles contain BPA. But in 2009, a SIGG executive reportedly said that until 2008 the company’s water bottles contained trace amounts of BPA in their liners, which led to accusations from environmental groups that the company misled consumers.

How the company will fight the allegation is unclear, considering company executive Steve Wasik said in a 2008 letter that the bottles did have trace amounts of the chemical, according to Dow Jones.

SIGG was founded in 1908 in Switzerland, and by the late 1950s was producing thousands of household and sports products, according to the company’s Web site. In 1999, the company decided to focus on production of its signature aluminum bottle, which was admitted to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1993.

Riverside is one of the most prolific private equity buyers of small companies in North America, Europe and Asia. With 19 offices around the world, it typically seeks companies with EBITDA of $5 million to $20 million.