Unilever has shrugged off intense competition, weak consumer confidence and rising commodity costs to post an 18% rise in full-year profits.

Pre-tax earnings for the consumer goods giant rose surged to £5.2bn, up from £4.2bn, with emerging markets cited as the “engine of growth”.

Trading conditions in Western Europe had been “difficult” with full-year turnover slipping 0.5% to £10.2bn. But the company had gained ground in the UK and France, it said.

Unilever’s global ice-cream portfolio – which includes brands such as Magnum and Klondike – was the star performer, up 8.9% like-for-like in the fourth quarter. Homecare was up 4.6% over the same period, with strong growth in India.

Personal care was up 5.6% in the final quarter thanks to Dove Men+Care, Rexona and the launch of its latest Axe deodorant variant, Excite.

Detail was scant on the company’s projection for input costs in 2011 but CEO Paul Polman gave an upbeat outlook on the pressures ahead.

“The Unilever of today is more agile and confident, now fully fit to compete,” he said. “Despite the intense competition and the return of commodity cost volatility, our objectives remain: profitable volume growth ahead of our markets, steady and sustainable underlying operating margin improvement and strong cash flow.”

Last week rival P&G reported lower-than-expected second quarter sales growth following under-peformance in developed markets and rising materials costs.

However, it maintained it was gaining market share globally and was on track to hit its profit expectations for the year.

Read more
Unilever has got the hots for emotional PG Tips marketing (22 January 2011)
Detsiny rises to vice-president, marketing for Unilever UK foods (15 January 2011)
Shareholders of VO5 maker give nod to Unilever deal (20 December 2010)