Ovaltine to be sold by Swiss owners

LONDON - Ovaltine, the 98-year-old malt extract drink, is up for sale as its owner, Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, plans to focus on its core healthcare business.

The sale of Ovaltine comes as Novartis plans to divest its health and functional food businesses, which also includes sports drink brand Isostar and the slimming products Cereal and Modfast. The division has sales in the region of £350m annually.

Unilever, Nestle, Heinz, General Foods and Danone have all been tipped as potential buyers for Ovaltine. Nestle already owns the Milo milk drink brand and Nesquik, while Unilever has major interests in the tea market with the Lipton brand. According to analysts, the health and functional food business could be sold for over £414m.

Novartis currently retains Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R on the creative account for Ovaltine, while Mediaedge:CIA does the media buying.

Production of Ovaltine is to be moved from Hertfordshire to Switzerland, where it was invented in 1904, later this year.

Novartis plans to keep hold of its Gerber baby food business and has reorganised its consumer health division into six global businesses.

Daniel Vasella, chairman and CEO of Novartis, said: "The realignment of our consumer health activities into business units will increase our customer focus, allow rapid decision making and create entrepreneurial opportunities to stimulate further growth."

The company's consumer health business includes brands such as Savlon, Nicotinell and Tixylix.

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