Unilever reported what it described as “good growth despite slowing markets” today, in a set of first-quarter results that were slightly better than forecast.
Figures were affected by a later Easter holiday than last year, which hit food sales, as well as slowing growth in some emerging markets.
Unilever’s turnover was down by 6.3% to €11.4bn, including a negative impact from currency exchange rates of 8.9%.
Underlying sales were up 3.6% with emerging markets up 6.6%.
“Emerging markets are currently passing through a period of slower demand and economic volatility but our strategy remains unchanged”
UK sales, as well as those in Germany, grew ahead of other markets in Europe, it said, with “broad-based” growth in ice cream, personal care and home care, largely offset by a decline in foods.
Underlying sales in the company’s Food division fell by 1.7% in the quarter.
“We delivered good growth in the first quarter despite slowing markets and a tough competitive environment, further evidence that Unilever is now delivering consistently ahead of our markets,” said CEO Paul Polman.
“The decline in Foods was largely explained by the later timing of Easter and I am confident that we are now taking the right actions to improve performance.
“Emerging markets are currently passing through a period of slower demand and economic volatility but our strategy remains unchanged. We continue to invest in our brands so that they are well-placed to benefit from the significant longer-term growth opportunity that will come from growing populations and higher disposable income.
“We remain focused on achieving another year of profitable volume growth ahead of our markets, steady and sustainable core operating margin improvement and strong cash flow.”
Unilever also revealed a strategic review of its North American pasta sauce business, which includes the Ragu and SlimFast brands.
“It may lead to a disposal but it doesn’t necessarily have to,” chief financial officer Jean Marc Huet said. “We’re looking at all options.”