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Unilever (ULVR) has posted first-quarter underlying sales growth of 3.4% to achieve turnover of €12.6bn (£11bn) – a fall of 5.2% under GAAP measures.

Underlying sales growth excluding spreads was 3.7% with volumes up 4.3% and prices up 0.1%. Emerging markets enjoyed underlying sales growth of 5.1% with volume 4.3% and prices 0.8%.

Foods & Refreshment reported underlying sales growth of 2.3%, Home Care, 4.9% and Beauty & Personal Care, 3.4%.

Foods & Refreshment continued to build its presence in emerging markets and sustained a “strong” performance in food service channels. Unilever further modernised the portfolio by responding to consumer needs in fast-growing segments such as free-from, vegan, health and wellness, it said.

Leaf tea continued with the positive momentum shown in 2017, driven by strong innovations in green and other speciality teas in India, where it extended its market leadership, and strong performances in North Africa.

Unilever said the recently acquired Pukka Herbs organic herbal tea business had a very good first quarter.

In foods, Knorr delivered another quarter of growth above the group average, primarily driven by cooking products in emerging markets, as well as innovations in developed markets. These included the launch of Knorr mini meals in Europe, snack products with natural and nutritious ingredients, and Knorr Selects side dishes in the United States.

Hellmann’s continued to communicate its strong natural claims while further extending its range with the launch of avocado and sunflower oil variants with Omega 3 and Vitamin E in the US. Volume growth improved but pricing turned negative in an increased promotional environment.

“The broad-based growth, including over 4% volume growth in emerging markets, shows that the ‘Connected 4 Growth’ programme is working and enhancing our long-term compounding growth model.

“We are further improving the quality and speed of our global and local innovation as a result of a more agile, consumer-facing organisation.”

The business was, at the same time, maintaining strong delivery from its savings programmes and expecting to complete the exit from spreads in the middle of the year.

Unilever intended to start a share buy-back programme of up to €6bn in May to return the expected after-tax proceeds from the spreads disposal. “We are raising the dividend by 8%, reflecting confidence in our outlook,” he added.

Morning update

Nestlé has reported a “solid start to the year” with a 1.4% increase in total sales on a reported basis to CHF 21.3bn (£15.5bn) in the first three months of 2018.

Organic growth of 2.8% came within the company’s guided range. Excluding the US confectionery business, organic growth was 2.9%.

The Swiss company said its portfolio management strategy was on track.

The acquisition of Atrium Innovations completed at the beginning of March and the sale of the US confectionery business completed at the end of the same month.

Mark Schneider, Nestlé chief executive, said: “We are pleased to report a solid start to the year, with all regions contributing to our growth. Our volume growth improved noticeably while pricing remained soft.

“We are encouraged by our innovation pipeline, continued progress with the implementation of our portfolio management strategy and our efficiency initiatives.

“Combined with the organic sales development, they put us on track for our 2018 guidance and our 2020 mid-term targets.”

Pernod Ricard (RI) has posted sales for the first nine months of the 2018 financial year of €7.1bn with organic growth of 6.3% driven by a 13% uplift in emerging markets.

Sales for the third quarter totalled €2bn, including organic growth of 9.3% and reported fall of 0.5%.

Alexandre Ricard, chairman and chief executive, said: “We have very strong year-to-date sales growth at +6.3%. Our strategy is consistent and driving results, in particular in terms of diversifying the sources of growth.”

On the markets this morning, the FTSE 100 rose 0.1% in early trading to 7,323.5pts.

Early risers include Kerry Group (KYGA) up 1.2% at €86.7, Tesco (TSCO) up 1% at 562.8p, PZ Cussons (PZCS), up 0.6% at 236.4p and Sainsbury’s (SBRY) up 0.3% at 263p.

Fallers so far today include AG Barr (BAG), down 2.4% at 665p, Devro (DVO), off 2.2% at 225p, Unilever (ULVR), down 0.9% at 3,910p and Marks & Spencer (MKS) fell 0.5% at 280p.

Yesterday in the City

The FTSE 100 closed up 1.3% at 7,317.3pts last night.

Marks & Spencer (MKS) announced the departure of director Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne at the end of next month when it completes devolving the corporate marketing teams into Clothing & Home and Food businesses.

Bousquet-Chavanne, who has served on the board for the past six years, stepped down from the board yesterday.

The changes are part of M&S’s transformation programme announced last November – Restoring the Basics, Shaping the Future and Making M&S Special.

The Consumer Prices Index fell from 2.5% in February to 2.3% last month - its lowest rate in a year.

Price movements for alcoholic drinks and tobacco made a downward contribution to the change in the rate. This partly reflected changes to the Budget cycle that were introduced in 2017, with tax changes for tobacco announced in November 2017 instead of March 2018.

The largest downward contribution to the change in the rate between February 2018 and March 2018 came from prices for clothing and footwear which rose by less than they did a year ago, with the effect coming mainly from a range of items of women’s clothing.

Market fallers included Majestic WINE, which took a hammering, down 4.4% at 416p, AG Barr (BAG), down 1% 681p, British American Tobacco (BATS), off 2.7% at 3,859.5p, Greene King (GNK), down 2.2% at 566p, and PZ Cussons, (PZC), off 1.3% at 235p.

Stocks on the rise included Devro (DVO), up 4.1% at 230p, SSP Group (SSPG), up 2.2% at 641.6p, McColl’s Retail Group (MCL), up 2.1% at 243p, Sainsbury’s (SBRY), up 2% at 262.1p, Applegreen (APGN), up 1.7% at 537p, Compass Group (CPG), up 1.2% at 1,471.5p and Greggs (GRG), up 1% at 1,262p.