Swiss food giant Nestlé is emerging as a frontrunner in the bidding race for the performance foods put up for sale by compatriot pharmaceuticals group Novartis.

Alexandre Jost, who heads up Nestlé’s Swiss operations, told the Geneva newspaper Le Temps yesterday [Monday] that he would like to have Novartis’ Ovaltine brand in the Nestlé portfolio, although he denied talks with Novartis are at an advanced stage.

Nestlé spokesman François Perroud moved to play down speculation of advanced talks, saying that Jost had expressed “a personal opinion”. Perroud reiterated the line given by CEO Peter Brabeck in February, when Braback expressed an interest in some of Novartis’ brand and said he expected a decision by the end of the year.

“We are always looking with interest at performance food products and there are several elements within (the Novartis unit) that could be of interest,” Perroud told Reuters.

Wessanen of the Netherlands has also expressed an interest in the brands being offloaded by Novartis, which include the Isostar sports drink.