The Bertolli olive oil business could be next on the block as Unilever continues its disposals programme.

As part of its plans to rationalise its product range and improve operating margins the company was "exploring options to maximise the value of the business," which has annual sales of around €300m (£240m), said a spokesman.

One option was a sale and licensing deal, which would enable Unilever to retain the rights to the Bertolli brand but exit the commodity side of the business .

The company this week reported a 7.3% rise in first quarter sales with net profit up 31% to £1.1bn. Price increases contributed 4.8% to sales growth as Unilever attempted to insulate itself from rising costs.

The spokesman said the UK was one of the strongest markets in western Europe and cited new innovations in Persil and Comfort as drivers of growth. Deodorant volumes were up over 10% year-on-year, boosted by the launch of Lynx Dark Temptation and Lynx 3.

Last week, Unilever announced that key brands such as Marmite, Bovril and Pot Noodle were to be given a special focus from a team in Holland, though manufacturing and brand management would remain in the UK.