Softer sales

Unilever believes it has weathered the storm after a slump in sales of its ice cream brands this summer due to bad weather across Europe. 

Based on the first two months of the third quarter, it predicted it would sustain growth of its leading brands at 4.5-5% in the third quarter, despite "softer sales of ice cream and ready-to-drink tea". 

Cutting debt 

United States grocery supplier Fleming intends to sell its budget food stores to focus on its distribution business. Fleming said it hoped the 127 stores could fetch $450m and would use the cash to cut its debt which stands at some $2bn. 

The group said it expected to retain "a significant portion of the distribution volume" after the sale. 

Polish sale 

Pernod Ricard has sold Polish unit Agros Fortuna to Enterprise Investors for E54m to refocus on its core spirits and wine business in Poland. Agros Fortuna produces Fortuna fruit juices, Lowicz jams and Krakus canned vegetables. 

Paper row 

Procter & Gamble has filed a lawsuit accusing rival toilet roll maker Georgia-Pacific of poaching an employee to obtain secret paper-making processes. 

Georgia-Pacific makes Quilted Northern toilet paper, and is accused by P&G of stealing "critical trade secrets" relating to its Charmin tissue and Bounty paper towels. P&G said Georgia-Pacific was working on a similar through-air-drying process and had hired a "key technical expert" to work on the project in a "virtually identical" job to his old one at P&G. 

Hicks stake 

US food maker ConAgra Foods has sold its controlling stake in its beef and pork business to investors led by Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst to focus on its branded and value-added food products. 

The $1.4bn deal gives the investment group a 54% stake and ConAgra will own 46% of the business, now known as Swift & Co. 

ConAgra posted a 7.2% drop in first quarter sales which it blamed on lower selling prices and volumes for "some product types". 

Group sales fell to $7.6bn, but there had been an improvement in "fundamentals" as pre-tax profit to August 25 jumped 15.6% to $355m. Food sales were down to $5.8bn from $6.1bn in 2001.