While Unilever has reported underlying sales growth of 2.9%, ahead of its markets, the company’s turnover declined (2.7%) to €48.4 billion, including a negative currency impact of 4.6%.
“Despite a very challenging year for our industry with significant economic headwinds and weak markets we have delivered another year of competitive underlying sales growth and margin expansion,” says CEO Paul Polman.
“This consistency, now established over the last six years, has been achieved during a period of unprecedented volatility as we have built a more resilient company.”
“We do not foresee a significant improvement in market conditions in 2015. Against this background, we expect our full year performance to be similar to 2014 with the first quarter being softer but growth improving during the year,” he says.
In its food business, savory and dressings both grew but spreads declined due to lower consumer demand for margarine in Europe and North America.
Savory growth was backed by successful market development campaigns for cooking ingredients in emerging markets.
In India and Pakistan, Knorr built further scale driven by good performances in stock cubes, soups and noodles. Indonesia saw strong growth of Royco and Bango, both of which are well adapted to meet local needs.
Dressings continued to grow helped by the launch of Hellmann’s in the Netherlands and Portugal.
In spreads, Unilever launched blends of vegetable oil and butter such as Gold from Flora.
It gained market share in margarine but this was insufficient to offset the decline of the category that saw price deflation in a benign commodity cost environment.
The company continued the pruning of its foods portfolio in 2014 with a number of disposals, including Ragu and Bertolli pasta sauces in North America and the meat snacks business under the Bifi and Peperami brands in Europe.
The company reported growth in ice cream that was driven by a strong innovation program.
The US returned to growth and gained market leadership with good contributions from Ben & Jerry’s Cores and Breyer’s Gelato.
This will be enhanced with the recent acquisition of Talenti gelatos and sorbettos.
Magnum celebrated its 25th anniversary with activities that reinforced the chocolate credentials of the brand.
Leaf tea grew although performance was mixed.
The company experienced growth in the US driven by the success of Lipton K-Cups and new liquid concentrate but weaker sales in Russia and Poland.
In the UK, Unilever launched a range of fruit and green teas under the PG Tips brand to target this growing segment.