Unilever’s first-quarter earnings have suffered a 43% decline as consumers opt for own-label goods ahead of the company’s major brands.

Net income at the manufacturing giant for past three months dropped to EUR803m, while total sales fell 1% to EUR9.5bn over the period.

Unilever – whose brands include Hellmann’s, Dove, Knorr and Lipton teas – said it had managed to achieve underlying sales growth in the quarter of 4.8%, with 6.8% of this from carry-over pricing as well as volumes lowering by 1.8%.

The company reported double-digit growth in some developing markets and improved performance in the US but admitted that underlying sales were down in Western Europe due to “continued challenging market conditions.”

“Market growth has been more affected by the global economic downturn than the rest of the world and slowed further in Western Europe,” the company said in a statement.

“There has been some down-trading to private label brands.”

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