VEVEY, Switzerland -- Nestle SA, the world's largest food maker, may buy baby-food company Gerber Products along with a medical nutrition business from Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG for as much as $5 billion, according to a published report.
Novartis is already in negotiations to sell Nestle the medical-nutrition business, and Nestle executives are interested in trying to make the acquisition of Gerber Products Co. part of the deal, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited people familiar with the matter.
Novartis spokesman John Gilardi said the company has no comment about the "market speculation." In the Journal interview, Novartis chief executive Daniel Vasella said his company wants to focus on its medicines business and Gerber is not part of this core business.
Nestle spokesman Francois Perroud said the Swiss food company "does not comment on rumors."
Gerber, based in Fremont, Mich. , makes a variety of foods and juices as well as other products for babies and toddlers. It also has a life-insurance unit.
Nestle, the world's largest manufacturer of baby nutrition products, tried to buy Gerber in 1994 but lost out to the company that eventually became Novartis through a merger, the newspaper said.
The Journal said Gerber has a 79 percent share of the US baby food market.
Nestle shares edged up 0.1 percent to close at $354.86 in Zurich. Shares of Novartis rose 1.2 percent to finish at $58.41 .
Also yesterday , Nestle agreed to buy Australia's Green's Foods Ltd. for $106.8 million to gain market share in Australia.
The Nestle Purina Petcare unit will pay 70 cents a share, a 23 percent premium to Green's closing stock price Nov. 13.