VEVEY, Switzerland: That muted whirring you hear is not your hard disk in overdrive. It's the sound of several thousand sets of arching eyebrows reacting to the naming of Nestlé's new chief executive-in-waiting.

Former P&G staffer Paul Polman, now Nestlé's cfo, has for many years been seen in the boardrooms of Wall Street and London EC2 as the group's crown prince, awaiting the abdication of long-serving incumbent Peter Brabeck-Letmathe (62).

But yesterday, the board of the planet's largest food and beverages company anointed staff veteran Paul Bulcke as its new chief executive. He will take up the post after the firm's annual meeting on April 10 - assuming, that is, that it endorses his appointment.

Which, it seems, is by no means certain.

Following news of the naming, Nestlé shares ended the day (Thursday) 3.6% lower.

"There will be considerable disappointment," opined Kay Eyre, a Polman fan who manages a European stock fund for Standard Life Investments, and has invested heavily in the foods giant.

A Nestlé spokesman declined to comment on the news.

Bulcke (53) is said to be "steeped in the company's culture". He joined the firm in 1979 as a trainee, since when he has worked in the company's home base of Europe as well as in the developing world, a major growth source for Nestlé in recent years.

Brabeck-Letmathe, who currently holds the dual role of chairman/ceo, will continue to serve in the former capacity.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online. additional content by WARC staff