Novartis divests health foods business

By Dominique Patton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Investment

Swiss drug firm Novartis will finally sell the remainder of its
health food brands in a €220 million deal with ABN AMRO's French
equity unit, it revealed today.

The group divested a part of its food business including the Ovaltine brand in 2002 to Associated British Foods, in a move designed to improve its focus on pharmaceuticals.

Some months later, it said it would delay the planned sale of its other products, the Isostar energy drink and the health food and slimming brands including Céréal and Gerblé, because of a lack of attractive offers.

The businesses were then reorganised into a stand-alone unit called 'Nutrition et Sante', which recorded sales of €245 million for the 12 months to September 2005, and operating income of €21 million.

In a statement, Hervé Claquin, chief executive of ABN AMRO Capital France, said there was potential for further growth.

"We consider the company as an exceptional platform to expand in the dietary food business via organic and external growth."

John Band, industry analyst at Datamonitor, said he was surprised that the Isostar energy drink, which has a significant market share, had not been sold to another food and drinks group.

He added: "This deal is yet another example of a private equity group buying up consumer goods brands, something we've seen increasingly in the last five years."

"Consumer goods are fairly reliable and offer a predictable return on investment,"​ he said.

Currently headquartered in Revel, France, the Novartis products are marketed primarily in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Benelux region through a number of different channels like supermarkets, pharmacies, health-food stores and gyms.

The sale, subject to customary regulatory approvals, is expected to close in the first quarter of 2006, and is based on a cash and debt free basis.

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