Today, in English-speaking countries, "Nestlé" is most commonly pronounced However, the original pronunciation was as in the English verb "nestle". This pronunciation was common throughout much of the 20th century, but changes in its spoken form in advertising influenced it to become more akin to its native pronunciation in French-speaking Switzerland. The old pronunciation, however, is still used today in some regions such as the Black Country. "Nestle" in Alemannic German . The -le ending to German words in the Alemannic dialect implies that the newly formed word is a smaller version of its original.
The company dates to 1867, when two separate Swiss enterprises were founded that would later form the core of Nestlé. In August of that year, Charles A. and George Page, brothers from Lee County, IL in the United States, established the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company in Cham. In September, in Vevey, Henri Nestlé developed a milk-based baby food and soon began marketing it. In the succeeding decades both enterprises aggressively expanded their businesses throughout Europe and the United States. In 1877 Anglo-Swiss added milk-based baby foods to its products, and in the following year the Nestlé company added condensed milk, so that the firms became direct and fierce rivals.
In 1905, however, the companies merged to become the Nestlé and Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company, retaining that name until 1947, when the name Nestlé Alimentana SA was taken as a result of the acquisition of Fabrique de Produits Maggi SA (founded 1884) and its holding company, Alimentana SA of Kempttal, Switzerland. Maggi was a major manufacturer of soup mixes and related foodstuffs. The company’s current name was adopted in 1977. By the early 1900s, the company was operating factories in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Spain. World War I created new demand for dairy products in the form of government contracts; by the end of the war, Nestlé's production had more than doubled.
After the war, government contracts dried up and consumers switched back to fresh milk. However, Nestlé's management responded quickly, streamlining operations and reducing debt. The 1920s saw Nestlé's first expansion into new products, with chocolate the company's second most important activity.
Nestlé felt the effects of World War II immediately. Profits dropped from US$20 million in 1938 to US$6 million in 1939. Factories were established in developing countries, particularly Latin America. Ironically, the war helped with the introduction of the company's newest product, Nescafé, which was a staple drink of the US military. Nestlé's production and sales rose in the wartime economy.
The end of World War II was the beginning of a dynamic phase for Nestlé. Growth accelerated and companies were acquired. In 1947 came the merger with Maggi seasonings and soups. Crosse & Blackwell followed in 1950, as did Findus (1963), Libby's (1971) and Stouffer's (1973). Diversification came with a shareholding in L'Oréal in 1974. In 1977, Nestlé made its second venture outside the food industry by acquiring Alcon Laboratories Inc.
In 1984, Nestlé's improved bottom line allowed the company to launch a new round of acquisitions, notably American food giant Carnation and the British confectionery company Rowntree Mackintosh in 1988, which brought the Willy Wonka Brand to Nestlé.
The first half of the 1990s proved to be favorable for Nestlé: trade barriers crumbled and world markets developed into more or less integrated trading areas. Since 1996 there have been acquisitions including San Pellegrino (1997), Spillers Petfoods (1998), and Ralston Purina (2002). There were two major acquisitions in North America, both in 2002: in June, Nestlé merged its U.S. ice cream business into Dreyer's, and in August a US$2.6 billion acquisition was announced of Chef America, the creator of Hot Pockets. In the same time frame, Nestlé came close to purchasing the iconic American company Hershey's, though the deal fell through. Another recent purchase includes the Jenny Craig weight loss program for US$600 million.
In December 2005 Nestlé bought the Greek company Delta Ice Cream for €240 million. In January 2006 it took full ownership of Dreyer's, thus becoming the world's biggest ice cream maker with a 17.5% market share.
In November 2006, Nestle purchased the Medical Nutrition division of Novartis Pharmaceutical for $2.5B, also acquiring in 2007 the milk flavoring product known as Ovaltine. In April 2007 Nestlé bought baby food manufacturer Gerber for $5.5 billion.
In December 2007 Nestle entered in a strategic partnership with a Belgian chocolate maker Pierre Marcolini.
Nestlé has a wide range of products across a number of markets including coffee (Nescafé), bottled water, other beverages, chocolate, ice cream, infant foods, performance and healthcare nutrition, seasonings, frozen and refrigerated foods, confectionery and pet food.