Bottom Line: Spread this: I can’t believe it’s not better

Marc Sidwell
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IT DOESN’T look bullish for UK waistlines that Unilever, the world’s biggest ice cream maker, just recorded its twenty-fifth successive quarter of UK growth.

Americans have more willpower. Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey wasn’t enough to keep the US market from slowing consumption of the firm’s frozen treats, helping to send its refreshment division down 8.8 per cent year on year in the fourth quarter and 3.7 per cent over the full year.

The world’s growing appreciation of real butter is also a real problem for a firm created by combining Lever Brothers’ soap with Holland’s Margarine Unie. Unilever notes that Rama with Butter is doing well in Germany, a product that represents total defeat for the firm’s spread strategy. But apparently the UK’s Flora relaunch went well.

Does all this mean Brits are the last ones stuck in their old eating habits? Well perhaps we’re just buying more soap than the rest of Europe. Trends in personal care products remain positive overall – but the real action is in emerging markets. Tresemme shampoo was a big hit in India this year.

But don’t miss the big picture: as developed markets stagnate, now emerging markets are stumbling. When a huge consumer bellwether records its first slowdown in underlying sales growth since 2009, take the warning. After a rough third quarter, these results could have been worse. But the really important news is that they aren’t better.

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