Unilever this morning warned that its third quarter earnings would be lower than last year. And it said that earnings per share for the full year would be in the 'low single digits'.

The multinational group said its trading in July and August had been below expectations - and that gross margins had also come under pressure.

In a statement, Unilever chairmen Antony Burgmans and Niall FitzGerald said: "Top line growth is key to long-term sustainable value creation and the recent performance is unacceptable."

They added: "We are determined to put this right and are moving forward with the simplification of our operations and, most importantly, increasing investment behind our brands."