Unilever warns of 'challenging' 2019 after missing sales expectations

Callum Keown
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Consumers goods giant Unilever warns of challenging 2019 (Source: Getty)

Consumer goods giant Unilever has warned of a “challenging” year ahead after falling below sales expectations in the fourth quarter of 2018.

The Anglo-Dutch group reported sales growth of 2.9 per cent, which was below a consensus forecast of 3.5 per cent.

Read more: Unilever scraps proposals to quit London HQ

Full year sales growth was 3.1 per cent, excluding the spreads business it sold last year, with annual turnover €49.6bn (£43.4bn), a five per cent decrease on 2017.

The Marmite and Dove owner said it had been another strong year for ice cream sales, helped by the summer heatwave and premium brand innovations, such as non-dairy Ben & Jerry's.

Sales within the firm’s home care brands enjoying the strongest growth, led by household soap Sunlight, the “continued success” of Domestos toilet blocks and the expansion of Comfort in India and China.

Last year also saw the company propose to move away from London to a single headquarters in Rotterdam to simplify its corporate structure.

The plan to abandon the UK after 133 years was met with a investor rebellion, and the company was forced to ditch the proposed move.

Then-chief executive Paul Polman stepped down in the wake of the row and was replaced by Alan Jope.

After his first set of results as chief executive, Jope warned market conditions would remain “challenging” in 2019 and that sales growth would be in the lower of half of the company’s 3-5 per cent range.

But he pledged to focus on growth and developing the firm’s top brands around the world.

Read more: Unilever to post first results under new chief executive

He said: “Looking forward, accelerating growth will be our number one priority.

“With so many of our brands enjoying leadership positions, we have significant opportunities to develop our markets, as well as to benefit from our deep global reach and purpose-led brands.”