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Unilever (ULVR) has reported underlying first half sales growth of 4.7% despite “weak consumer demand”.

That underlying growth was partly drive by a 2.2% rise in volumes. Sales increased by 5.4% at constant exchange rates, but decreased by 2.6% at current exchange rates to €26.3bn.

In the second quarter Unilever also reported underlying sales growth 4.7% with volume up 1.8%.

Unilever said it saw market share gains across the four main categories in which it operates. Personal Care and Foods achieved “improved growth while maintaining strong profitability”. Home Care and Refreshment improved margins while continuing to grow.

Emerging markets grew 8% driven by volume growth in Asia and price growth in Latin America.

Developed markets grew 0.2% with volume growth more than offsetting price deflation in Europe.

Core operating margin rose 50bpts 15% and core earnings per share was up 7.5% at constant exchange rates, up 1.3% at current exchange rates. Reported operating profit edged down 0.1% to €3.8bn in the first six months of the year.

CEO Paul Polman said: “Our first half results further demonstrate the progress we have made in the transformation of Unilever to deliver consistent, competitive, profitable and responsible growth. Despite a challenging environment with slower global economic growth and intensifying geopolitical instability, we have again grown profitably in our markets, competitively and driven by strong innovations.

“We have been preparing ourselves for tougher market conditions in 2016 and do not see any sign of an improving global economy. Against this backdrop we continue to drive agility and cost discipline… Our priorities continue to be volume-driven growth ahead of our markets, steady improvement in core operating margin and strong cash flow.”

Unilever shares edged up 0.1% to 3,578.5p in early trading.

Morning update

There’s a lot to get through on a hectic morning for food and drink/fmcg firms.

Firstly, SABMiller (SAB) has announced that the United States Department of Justice has given its clearance for the proposed combination of AB InBev (ABI) and SABMiller.

As previously announced, the agreement will see AB InBev divest SABMiller’s US interest in MillerCoors to Molson Coors conditional on completing the deal. The deal has now secured approval in 21 jurisdictions, including the US, South Africa and the EU.

Meanwhile, SABMiller said this morning its first quarter (to 30 June) saw group NPR grew by 2% driven by price and mix realisation. Beverage volumes and lager volumes were in line with the prior year, soft drinks volumes were up 2% and other alcoholic beverage volumes were down 11% driven by a decline in Africa.

Premium lager brand NPR growth was 10%, supported by global lager brands NPR growth of 5%. However, on a reported basis group NPR declined by 4% due to the depreciation of its key operating currencies against the US dollar.

Elsewhere, Premier Foods (PFD) has posted its fourth consecutive quarter of sales growth, after reporting sales growth of 1.9% in the first thirteen weeks of its 2016/17 financial year. Branded sales were up 0.8% and non-branded sales ahead 9.8%, benefiting from stronger sales at powdered foods business Knighton Foods.

On a divisional basis, sales grew by 1.9% in Grocery and sales in Sweet Treats increased by 2%. In grocery, Bisto continued its strong momentum from the prior year into the first quarter, while Loyd Grossman sauces also performed well and Ambrosia returned to growth in the quarter.

CEO Gavin Darby commented: “We are very pleased by the further improvement in our sales performance, which demonstrates four consecutive quarters of growth and continued momentum in the business.

“Our category strategy of investing behind our brands continues to deliver results, despite the wider deflationary grocery market in the UK. While the economic environment is more uncertain following the EU referendum outcome, our immediate financial exposure is expected to be limited. Given our strong brands and UK manufacturing cost base, we believe we remain well placed to make progress and our expectations for the full year remain unchanged.”

Soft drinks producer Nichols (NCLS) has posted its first half results for the six months to 30 June. Total revenues for the group increased by 3.3% to £56.5m in the first half of 2016, driven by our UK sales, which was “particularly pleasing in the context of the continued challenges in the UK soft drinks market”.

UK sales increased by 4.7% to £44.5m despite a 0.5% decline in the overall UK soft drinks market. This outperformance of the market was driven by the strong growth of its Still Ready To Drink range, the launch of Vimto Remix into both the Still and Carbonate categories, and most notably the incremental sales from the acquisition of The Noisy Drinks Co.

John Nichols, non-executive chairman, said: “The board is pleased with the group’s strong performance in the first half of the year. As a result of this performance and our confidence in the outlook for Nichols, we are pleased to recommend an interim dividend of 9p per share which represents a 12.5% increase compared to the prior year.”

Britvic (BVIC) has reported third quarter revenues of £346.3m, up 5.3% on last year. On an organic basis, revenue declined 0.7% to £326.5m in the three months to 3 July.

Britvic said the GB soft drinks market value declined 7.5% in June following a particularly wet month, resulting in a quarterly decline of 2.6%. Its own Q3 GB revenue declined 2% with volume increasing 1.4% and ARP declining 3.4%, reflecting continued deflation and negative brand and channel mix.

GB carbonates revenue increased 2.9% with a 4.7% volume increase partly offset by ARP declining 1.7%. Pepsi Max continued to outperform the market, gaining significant share in the quarter. GB stills revenue declined 10.2%, primarily due to an 8.2% volume decline. Robinsons performance improved on the first half of the year, despite still cycling the withdrawal of its added sugar range.

Chief executive Simon Litherland commented: “Our Q3 performance was stronger than the first half of the year despite tough trading conditions and the wet weather in June.

“We have strong programmes in place for our brands over the balance of the year and remain on track to deliver full year EBITA within the guidance range we set at the beginning of the year of £180m to £190m.”

Sweetener producer and Brexit backer Tate & Lyle (TATE) has issued a trading statement for the period from 1 April 2016 to 30 June 2016.

It said it has made “a strong start” to its financial year with profit ahead of the comparative period in constant currency. “The encouraging start to the year supports our confidence that we will continue to make progress, at constant currency, in the full year,” it said.

Speciality Food Ingredients performed solidly with profit for the division overall ahead of the comparative period. Excluding Splenda, profit from Sucralose was slightly ahead of the comparative period reflecting good margin improvement. Profit for Splenda was significantly higher than the comparative period benefiting from strong volume growth.

Tate & Lyle also said currencies were providing a significant tailwind to earnings since Brexit. The group generates less than 2% of its revenues in the United Kingdom, with most revenues being US dollar based. Following the weakening of sterling, if current exchange rates were to prevail for the remainder of the financial year, its reported earnings would increase strongly due to US dollar and other currency movements.

Hilton Food Group (HFG) has issued a brief trading statement for the 28 weeks ended 17th July 2016. During the period, its performance has “been in line with the board’s expectations” and it has continued to growth through additional volumes and “close cooperation with our retail partners”.

In Western Europe, it has made “good progress” in a number of markets. In the UK, volumes are higher than in 2015, when they were still building up during the bedding-in phase following the expansion of the production facility. Hilton said it has also benefited from the strength of the currencies in which it operates relative to sterling.

Finally, sports nutrition specialist Science in Sport (SIS) has announced sales increased 24% to £6.5m in the six months to 30 June 2016. Sales growth was particularly strong via the company’s website and from third party online retailers. Growth in international markets was also strong, and the recently launched Australian business is trading in line with expectations.

On the markets this morning the FTSE 100 has opened down 0.4% to 6,702.1pts.

Science in Sport has jumped 6.4% to 50p this morning, while other strong risers include Applegreen (APGN), up 3.7% to 344.8p and Ocado (OCDO), up 1.7% to 270.5p.

Tesco (TSCO) and Morrisons (MRW) haven’t started the day well, dropping by 1.4% to 158.9p and 1.2% to 179.1p respectively. Cranswick (CWK) is down 1.4% to 2,327.6p.

Of those reporting trading updates this morning, Premier Foods is up 0.4% to 46.7, SABMiller up 0.2% to 4,434.5p, Nichols up 0.3% to 1,449.7p, Britvic down 0.6% to 618.5p, Tate & Lyle up 0.9% to 705p and Hilton Food Group unchanged at 585p.

Yesterday in the City

Yesterday was another relatively upbeat day on the markets, with the FTSE 100 rising another 0.5% to 6,729pts.

There was little dramatic movement amongst the grocery sectors biggest players, but what movement was recorded was largely positive.

Fevertree Drinks (FEVR) surged by 4.3% to 770p as the warm weather boosts sales of its premium mixers. Fellow drinks firms C&C Group (C??), up 3.2% to €3.62, Conviviality (CVR), up 2.9% to 212p and AG Barr (BAG), up 2.5% to 535p, were also boosted by the thirst the roasting week will have created.

Elsewhere, pork producer Cranswick (CWK) was up 3.7% to 2,361p, while baker Finsbury Food Group was up another 2.6% to 188.5p after its positive trading update earlier this week. WH Smith (SMWH) rose 1.5% to 1,580 and Tate & Lyle was up 1.2% to 698.5p ahead of its trading update this morning.

The day’s losers included Premier Foods (PFD) which edged down 2.1% to 46.5p after its strong recent growth, while Tesco dropped 1.6% to 161.2p and PZ Cussons was 0.5% down to 320.9p.