Swiss pharmaceuticals group Novartis has put the Ovaltine malt extract drink on the market as part of its programme to divest non-core brands. The group is also seeking to sell the Isostart isotonic sports drink brand and a range of health food and weight-loss products.

Ovaltine was developed nearly a century ago by Berne-based chemist Georg Wander, and has become a favourite night-time drink, particularly in the UK. In 1953 the prominence of the brand was further fuelled when it emerged that Sir Edmund Hillary had taken Ovaltine with him on his successful ascent of Nepal’s Mount Everest. Less than a year ago, Novartis announced it was closing its long-established Ovaltine plant at Kings Langley in the UK to shift production to Neuenegg, near Berne.

Novartis, which was created by the merger of Sandoz with Ciba-Geigy, has decided to offload the brands to concentrate on its core pharmaceuticals and healthcare operations. Chairman Dr Daniel Vasella stressed the brands were performing well but could see their growth accelerated within companies where there was a “strategic fit”.

Nevertheless, the Swiss group is hanging on to some of its consumer health businesses, including Gerber, the baby and toddler food brand.

Together, the businesses up for sale generate annual sales in the region of SFr850m (US$500.5m) and employ 2,400 people. The sale could take as long as 12 months to complete, but a potential group of buyers has been identified. These are likely to include compatriot Nestlé, the world’s largest food manufacturer, and French heavyweight Danone. The London arm of Credit Suisse First Boston has been called in to advise on the sale.

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