updated 12/2/2006 12:08:00 AM ET 2006-12-02T05:08:00

Nestle SA, the world's largest foodmaker, may buy baby-food company Gerber Products from Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG for as much as $5 billion, according to a published report.

Novartis is already in negotiations to sell Nestle a medical-nutrition business and Nestle executives are interested in trying to make the acquisition of Gerber Products Co. part of the same deal, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cited people familiar with the matter.

Novartis spokesman John Gilardi said the company had no comment about the "market speculation." But he said the company has "received numerous offers" for Gerber and has said in the past it wants to focus on its medicines business and that 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.

Also Wednesday, Nestle agreed to buy Australia's Green's Foods Ltd. for 137 million Australian dollars ($106.8 million) to gain market share in Australia.

The Nestle Purina Petcare unit will pay 90 Australian cents a share, a 23 percent premium to Green's closing stock price Nov. 13, the last full day before the company commented on media speculation.

Green's, which owns the Supercoat brand, will first sell its consumer foods business and its holding in Bestcare to a unit of Guinness Peat Group PLC and CVC Capital Partners in a transaction worth about 42 million Australian dollars ($32.8 million), the company said in a statement.

Nestle shares dipped 0.5 percent to 425.25 Swiss francs ($352.58) in Zurich.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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