Upmarket new ice creams and shower products for older men helped first-quarter volume growth at Unilever – although European sales by value remained almost flat.

Sales in the fmcg giant’s ice cream and personal care arms both grew sales by more than 7% in the past three months, buoyed by the launches of Magnum Gold and Dove Men+Care.

Overall volumes were up 4% in the period, with total sales across the group up 6.7% to €10.14bn. However, like-for-like sales in Europe inched up by just 0.2%.

"We show strong momentum across all geographies,” said chief executive Paul Polman (pictured), pointing to brands such as Cif, Domestos and Lipton making their debuts in new markets.

“The improvement in underlying operating margin shows the impact of extensive savings programmes, lower commodity costs, and the benefits of volume leverage.

But Polman warned that the company faced “a tougher environment as the year progresses”, commodities costs set to rise.

“We will continue to focus on profitable volume growth, whilst delivering a steady and sustainable improvement in operating margin and strong cash flow. Importantly, we will be doing all of this while continuing to improve our overall environmental footprint."

Earlier this month Polman looked to play down the importance of short-term sales gains in a blast at short-sighted business leaders. In February the Marmite and Pot Noodle maker announced a €2bn fall in profits, with sales down 1.7%.

Read more
Ad of the Week: Magnum’s star force is talking bullion (10 April 2010)
Unilever’s Polman takes long-term view (6 April 2010)
Focus On Ice Cream (6 March 2010)
Love it or hate it: Unilever’s 2009 results divide opinion (13 February 2010)