The Times said Unilever had much work to do to prove that the ‘path to growth’ effort was worthwhile but that it would be foolish to give up on this long-running programme of corporate reinvigoration.

The Daily Telegraph said that the biggest cause of the group’s disappointing result was the Atkins Diet. The paper claims that the success of the diet caught Unilever dozing, particularly with Unilever’s purchase of the Slimfast dieting brand.

Meanwhile the Independent said that Unilever chairman Niall FitzGerald was bowing out on a low note. The paper said that rather than spending 2004 celebrating its success in driving its top line, the group will spend the year grappling with the problem areas that have derailed its progress.

The Anglo-Dutch group with brands such as Knorr soups, Hellmann's mayonnaise, Dove soap and Wall’s ice cream, posted an 8% drop in pre-tax profit to 931m euros. Turnover fell to 9.8bn euros.