GlaxoSmithKline taps Unilever as lead bidder in Indian Horlicks buyout: report

GlaxoSmithKline GSK House in Brentford, UK
GlaxoSmithKline has been working to sell its Indian Horlicks business after kicking off a review in March. (GSK)

GlaxoSmithKline has been working to unload its Indian consumer products business, including the nutritional beverage Horlicks, and now the company may be almost there.

Following a monthslong bidding process that in October reportedly centered on potential buyers Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Unilever, Unilever is now the leading bidder, Reuters reports.

While the Financial Times reported on Tuesday that the talks were exclusive, one source told Reuters that GSK could reopen talks with Nestlé if the drugmaker is unable to strike a deal with Unilever.

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Back in March, Glaxo said it’d be reviewing options for Horlicks and other nutrition products that generated £550 million last year, with India contributing most of that haul. GSK is weighing a 72.5% holding in the company, called GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare Ltd.

Along the way, reports surfaced that food company Danone, private equity firm KKR, PepsiCo and others were interested in a buyout. But in October, The Economic Times' sources told the Indian newspaper the deal talks came to a final bidding round between Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Unilever.  

RELATED: Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Unilever in final bidding war for GSK's Horlicks: report 

The sale could reportedly generate up to $4 billion, much-needed cash for GlaxoSmithKline after the drugmaker agreed in March to purchase Novartis’ share in their consumer joint venture for $13 billion. 

Despite its ongoing consumer sale process in India, GSK has stressed that it's not backing away from the Indian market altogether. The drugmaker plans to back OTC and oral health brands in the country as well as invest in prescription drugs and vaccines, executives have said.