Health, hygiene and vitality will be Unilever's buzzwords in the future with a focus on stretching brands like Dove, Knorr and Slim Fast into new categories. Joint chairman Niall Fitzgerald said: "We have removed barriers to brand thinking and where relevant they are moving into adjacent categories and generating new growth." The process of turning Unilever into a leaner meaner machine is proceeding with clinical conformity to targets, with a 1.9% leap in operating margins and brand numbers slashed to 910 from 1,600. Leading brands now represent 84% of the business, with that figure expected to grow to 90% by 2004. Although GM products would not form part of the Unilever stable in the immediate future, Fitzgerald said he was confident consumers would buy into the technology if it delivered tangible "consumer and societal benefits". He admitted Unilever had been forced to address its internal security measures regarding new product development and marketing plans in the wake of the corporate espionage incident involving arch rival Procter & Gamble last year. "We've had to look at areas of possible vulnerability." Unilever Bestfoods UK chairman Gavin Neath said he had had meetings with the multiples in recent weeks to discuss the thorny issue of ex-factory gate pricing ­ about which Unilever remained "open minded". "Yes it would involve a change in our systems, but it's certainly not causing widespread alarm across the business." However supply chain efficiencies through participation in online marketplaces were only slowly becoming evident, said Fitzgerald. "It has been slower burn than a lot of people expected. "But we are starting to use the co-planning functions with key retail customers." Pre-tax profit for the year to December 31 rose 34% to E3.7bn on sales up 11% to E53.4bn. {{NEWS }}