Unilever has admitted Western Europe remains a challenging market, as the fmcg giant reported a 4.1% rise in global sales over the first half of the year.

While total sales rose to €22.8bn (£19.9bn), turnover in Western Europe grew by a more modest 1.3%. Volumes were up just 0.2% compared to a 2.2% volume increase across the business.

The company said cost inflation had been offset by price hikes and savings, adding that indirect costs had been reduced by more efficient advertising and promotionals.

Over the half-year, the company’s operating profit rose 8% to €3.3bn.

“In a tough and volatile environment we have again delivered strong growth,” said Unilever chief executive Paul Polman. “Volumes were robust and in line with the market, despite having taken price increases.”

He added that the rollout of brands into new territories - including the US debut of Magnum ice cream and greater availability of Dove Men+Care, The Grocer’s personal care launch of the year in 2010 - had been the biggest drivers of growth.

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