The unit, which makes nutritional supplements - both oral and tube delivery - for use in hospitals and nursing homes, forms part of the Novatis' consumer division. There has also been speculation since last month that Nestlé will snap up another of Novatis' consumer units, Gerber baby-foods.
Nestlé has stated that health, wellness and nutrition are presently an acquisition priority. Recent moves in this area include the acquisition of weight loss consultation company Jenny Craig for US$600m in July, and Uncle Toby's cereals and nutritional snacks business in Australia.
It has also obtained the option to licence Phospha E for use in nutritional products aimed at metabolic syndrome from Australian biotech company Phosphagenics, in exchange for a contribution towards the costs of a preclinical study, prior to full-scale evaluation in humans.
Through a joint venture with Coca-Cola, it recently launched a green tea-based functional drink called Enviga in the United States, with European roll-out scheduled for 2007.
Nestlé Nutrition is an autonomous unit within the group, and it already has a global presence in infant nutrition, health care nutrition and performance nutrition. For the first nine months of the current fiscal year the nutrition unit reported sales of CHF4.3m (€2.7m), up from CHF 3.8m (€2.4m) for the prior year period.
Press reports claim that two sources close to Novartis say that the pharmaceutical giant is being advised on the nutritional supplement sale - which could be worth more than US$1bn (€0.78bn at current exchange rates)- by Goldman Sachs. No official statement has been made by Novartis, Goldman Sachs or Nestlé.
Novartis acquired the division from Bristol Myers Squibb in 2004 for $385m (€301m).
According to analysts, Novartis' consumer division is regarded as a "less core" part of the overall business, and may be tapped as a source of funds when needed. In March it sold its Nutrition and Sante health food unit to ABN Amro Holding for €220m - the last step in the divestment of its food concerns that began in 2002.