Unilever to acquire Horlicks and GSK’s Health Food Drinks portfolio

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

With Horlicks an 'everyday staple' in India, the country accounts for 90% of GSK's Health Food Drinks' business. Pic:getty/omersukrugoksu
With Horlicks an 'everyday staple' in India, the country accounts for 90% of GSK's Health Food Drinks' business. Pic:getty/omersukrugoksu

Related tags Unilever India Functional drinks Asia functional beverage beverage

Unilever will acquire GlaxoSmithKline’s Health Food Drinks portfolio in Asia for €3.3bn ($3.8bn): a move that will boost its presence in the Indian market.

Unilever says the acquisition ties in with two key strategic goals for the company: increasing its presence in health-food categories and in high-growth emerging markets.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) will use the proceeds from the transaction to invest in its pharmaceutical business.

The Health Food Drinks portfolio, which is centered in India and contains malted milk hot drink Horlicks and chocolate-flavoured malt-based food drink Boost, has been growing at a double-digit rate over the past 15 years. But Unilever says the category is still ‘under-penetrated’ in India and has the opportunity to grow.

Horlicks and Boost

In 2018, the GSK Health Food Drinks portfolio delivered a turnover of around €550m ($628m), primarily through the Horlicks and Boost brands. Almost 90% of this is in India.

The two key brands in the Health Food Drinks portfolio are malted drinks Horlicks and Boost. Horlicks, a malted milk hot drink, was introduced to India in the 1930s and has since become an ‘everyday staple’ in South Asian households. Boost is a malt-based food drink in chocolate flavour. The other brands covered by the deal are drinks Viva and Maltova. 

The deal covers India, Bangladesh and 20 other markets: predominantly in Asia but also covering Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, the Maldives and the Middle East.

The transaction includes the all-equity merger of Hindustan Unilever Ltd with the publicly listed GSK Consumer Healthcare India; Unilever's acquisition of an 82% stake in GSK Bangladesh Limited; and acquisition of certain other commercial operations and assets outside India.

The turnover of Hindustan Unilever’s Food & Refreshments business is set to exceed Rs 100bn ($1.42bn) once the transaction is complete; making it one of the largest Food & Refreshments businesses in India.

Nitin Paranjpe, President, Food & Refreshment, Unilever, said: “The iconic Horlicks brand has a deep heritage, credibility and resonance around the world. The acquisition is transformative for our Foods and Refreshment business allowing us to enter the Health Foods Drinks category, further strengthening our position in health and wellness.

“It is rare to be able to acquire brands with such leading market positions and fantastic consumer equity in one of the world’s most exciting and fast-growing markets.”

Sanjiv Mehta, chairman and CEO of Hindustan Unilever, added: “With this strategic merger of Hindustan Unilever and GSK Consumer Healthcare India Limited, we will be expanding our portfolio through great brands into a new category catering to the nutritional needs of our consumers.

“We look forward to welcoming new brands and great talent into the Unilever and Hindustan Unilever family."

The markets covered by the deal are: Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Nigeria, Mauritius, New Zealand, Kenya, Maldives, Botswana, Australia and Sri Lanka (in Sri Lanka this applies only to Horlicks brand rights and not commercial operations).

India is by far the most significant market, accounting for 90% of revenues.

In the UK Horlicks was sold to Aimia Foods, which is part of the Cott Corporation. 

GSK: 'India remains an important market for GSK'

British pharmaceutical group GSK says India is still an important market and the company will concentrate on investing in its OTC and Oral Health brands, which include analgesic Crocin, antacid Eno and toothpaste Sensodyne. 

Following completion of the transaction, Hindustan Unilever will distribute GSK’s OTC and Oral Health brands (currently distributed by GSK India) for the following five years. 

Emma Walmsley, CEO, GSK, said: “Horlicks has made a significant contribution to GSK and to the health of consumers across India for many decades and we believe Unilever is well placed to maximise its future potential.

"Proceeds from this transaction will be used to support the Group’s strategic priorities, including investing in our pharmaceutical business.”

Following completion of the transaction, GSK intends to sell down its holding in Hindustan Unilever. Such sell down will be in tranches and at such times as GSK considers appropriate, taking into account market conditions.

The transaction, which is subject to customary regulatory and shareholder approvals, is expected to complete in 12 months. The boards of GSK India and Hindustan Unilever have both approved the merger. 

Shortly after announcing the Unilever deal, GSK said it will purchase US cancer specialist Tesaro for $5.1bn.


Horlicks was invented in 1873 by British-born brothers William and James Horlick, in Chicago. In 1883 it acquired its first patent for malted milk. The brand has a large following in the UK and Asia.

Horlicks was included in expedition rations to the North and South Poles in the early 20th​​ century, valued as a light, non-perishable, high calorie food supplement. Antarctica’s Horlick Mountains were named by American mountaineer Richard Byrd after the company sponsored his expedition to the tune of $30,000. 

It was introduced to India in the 1930s by the British Army.

Horlicks' ingredients include wheat, malt barley, sugar, milk and 14 nutrients such as calcium and B vitamins. In India, the Horlicks portfolio includes Mother’s Horlicks (designed to help nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating women); Junior Horlicks (for children aged 2-6); Horlicks for Kids; Women’s Horlicks, and Lite Horlicks (no added sugar).

GSK india


Boost is a malt-based food drink in chocolate flavour which is popular in India. Launched in 1975, it is now the third biggest health food drink in India and enjoys a market share of 11.5%.

Boost has used celebrity endorsement to convey its energy proposition and differentiate itself from other brands, with cricket stars such as Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Virendar Sehwag, M S Dhoni and Virat Kohli.

In 2009 the brand launched its claim of ‘increasing stamina by 3 times’. It has also expanded into other flavors and categories: with its enhanced chocolate Chocoeclairs flavour; Choconut nutty flavour, and a biscuit line Boost bites. 

Picture: GSK

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