A handful of consumer and healthcare companies including Bayer AG and Novartis are exploring a deal for Merck & Co Inc's consumer healthcare business, as they seek to gain scale in a fragmented industry, according to several people familiar with the matter.
Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC and Procter & Gamble Co are also among the parties that have held discussions with Merck about buying the unit, best known for Coppertone sunscreen and Claritin allergy medicine, the sources said this week.
The Merck business, which also includes Dr. Scholl's foot care and other consumer products, could be worth $10 billion to $12 billion in a potential sale, the people said, asking not to be identified because the process is private.
Despite the large size of a potential deal and the unit's various product lines, Merck is focused on selling the consumer health business in its entirety, not in parts, the people said.
Merck, Bayer, Novartis, Reckitt and P&G all declined to comment.
Merck is meeting with potential buyers after receiving preliminary offers a few weeks ago, and is expected to seek second-round offers in late March, the people said.
Germany's Bayer already has a strong portfolio of consumer products including pain medication Aleve and antacid Alka-Seltzer, but is looking at deals to expand the business further. In 2012, Bayer lost a bidding war with Reckitt for Schiff Nutrition International Inc, which agreed to sell to the British consumer products group for $1.3 billion.
Reckitt owns over-the-counter medicines including Mucinex and Nurofen and the international rights for the Scholl foot care business. Its chief executive told Reuters in September that Reckitt aimed to be a major player in consumer healthcare and has the firepower to do sizeable deals.
Procter & Gamble also has a portfolio that includes a range of health products, including Vicks cold and flu treatment and Prilosec heartburn medication.
Among a range of options it has...
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