Unilever has unveiled a 20% rise in first-half operating profits – but the fmcg giant warned of tough times ahead for the remainder of the year.

Profits for the past six months grew by a fifth to just under €1.63bn, with turnover for the period up 9.7% to £18.2bn. Underlying sales growth for the year to date stood at 3.8%, driven by strong performances in emerging markets.

But sales were more sluggish in western Europe, down by 1.1% for the year to date and down 2.2% for the past three months.

The company’s personal care arm performed strongest, with growth of almost 8%, while ice cream and beverages, which includes the Ben & Jerry’s brand, improved by just over 5%.

Unilever warned that rising commodity costs could put a brake on its performance in the second half of 2010.

“In addition to a cautious consumer in western Europe and North America, we face difficult comparatives from last year as well as the added burden of rising commodity costs,” said chief executive Paul Polman.

“We’re all competing hard and there is no reason to believe this is about to change. We welcome this competition and believe that the new Unilever is well placed to compete in this environment.”

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