Unilever has seen first quarter sales of its leading 400 brands fall 2% short of its own expectations.

The Anglo-Dutch group said sales slowed to 3% with food brands such as Knorr soup, Hellmann's mayonnaise and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flat. But reported a rise of 6.8% in home and personal care items such as Dove soap and Sunsilk shampoo.

Unilever said it is targeting full-year sales growth of 5%-6% for its leading brands which also include Flora margarine, Marmite spread and Lipton teas.

The group posted first quarter net profit before exceptional items and amortisation of 865m euros on turnover which fell 4% to 11.12bn euros.

Chairman Niall FitzGerald said the slower-than-expected start to the year in sales was due to a number of factors including this year's late Easter.

However, he was confident that its five-year ‘path to growth’ programme started in 1999 to focus on its top brands, cutting jobs and closing factories would boost sales, margins and earnings at Unilever.