Nestle has made no secret of its present focus on nutrition. It nutrition division, which is made up of baby's development, performance, and healthcare interests, reported sales of CHF4.3m (€2.7m) in the first nine months of the fiscal year, up from CHF 3.8m (€2.4m) for the prior year period.
Rumours that Nestle may purchase Gerber have been in circulation for a long time. They gathered momentum when the Swiss food giant's negotiations over the medical nutrition business became known. The US$2.5bn deal, which is subject to regulatory approval, was confirmed in December.
The reports stem from comments made by Nestle CFO Paul Polman at an event held by Swiss boker Helvea yesterday. Despite this strong indication of interest, it is not yet clear that Novartis is looking to sell.
A Nestle spokesperson had not returned NutraIngredients.com's call to confirm the accuracy of the reports the potential Gerber buy prior to publication deadline.
Nestle has already signalled that it is investing in the next generation of infant and baby products: in December it announced that it has entered into an exclusive agreement with Danish biotech company for research and development into the use of human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) in infant nutrition products.
HMOs, found in human breast milk but not in cow's milk, are understood to help boost the body's natural defence and aid development.
There is a general trend towards fortification of infant nutrition with nutrients that are as close as possible to those found in breast milk. In particular, omega-3 is now frequently added to formulas.
Probiotics from human breast milk have been developed by Swedish company BioGaia and Spain's Puleva, and are already used in supplements and children's food products respectively.
While the first few products containing prebiotics from plant sources have appeared on the market, with more believed to be in development, Nestle said that the use of HMOs in infant nutrition is not yet commercially viable.
If the three-year programme yields successful results it would give Nestle a significant advantage in the sector.
"Breast milk is the best for infants but some mothers cannot breast feed or choose not to do so," said Nestle on announcing the agreement.