UK food manufacturer Associated British Foods (ABF) has agreed to buy the food and beverage business of Swiss healthcare group Novartis for €272.5m (US$267.2m).

The sale includes the popular bedtime drink brands Ovaltine and Ovomaltine as well as the Caotina chocolate drink and the Lacovo malt drink brands. ABF already has a stake in the hot beverage business through its Twinings tea subsidiary. "We are buying a business growing annual sales at 4%, which will give us critical mass in hot beverages, building on the strength of our Twinings tea," said ABF chief executive Peter Jackson in an interview quoted by Reuters.

ABF has been looking to bolster its activities in key businesses such as vegetable oils and hot beverages, and said the acquisition will enhance its profits from the outset. The deal could give it double-digit growth by the second full year of inclusion in its own stable of brands, which include Ryvita crispbread and Silver Spoon sugar.

ABF will pay for the brands in cash, of which it had accumulated some £1bn ($1.6bn) prior to its purchase of Unilever's Mazola corn oil in April for $360m in April.

The jobs of the 850 staff employed by the Novartis business units involved in the deal are not believed to be greatly under threat, as ABF has little in the way of overlapping activities.

Novartis is still trying to sell a number of health food and weight loss lines, as well as its sports nutrition range, which includes the popular Isostar energy drink. Compatriot group Nestlé is believed to be the frontrunner to buy the remaining brands.

The Novartis sale has been one of the slower-moving deals in the European food industry of recent times. The company announced in February that it intended to dispose of the health and functional food arm of its consumer health division to focus efforts on its pharmaceuticals activities.