Unilever sees sales rise despite tough market conditions

UNILEVER saw its underlying sales rise by 3.6 per cent in the third quarter – but warned it could raise prices because of rising commodity costs.

The Anglo-Dutch consumer giant, whose products include Knorr Soups and Dove soap, was upbeat about the company’s prospects despite consumers tightening their belts.

After the announcement yesterday shares in the firm jumped around five per cent as it emerged that profit margin had also been raised.

Chief executive Paul Polman said the frosty market conditions had helped the company to focus on keeping costs down.

He told an investor briefing: “I am confident that in 2010 we will deliver against the model.

“But of course we need to demonstrate we can do so year in, year out.”

Analysts said that the company, which also makes Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream and Pond’s skin creams, had turned in respectable figures, particularly in the face of tough competition from rival Procter & Gamble.

Graham Jones of Panmure said: “Trading conditions have remained very difficult but we believe Unilever is in much better shape than in the past.”

The company’s underlying operating earnings rose 19 per cent – driven by £874m in cost savings so far the year.

“We think these results will go some way to restoring confidence in the company’s turnaround, we remain happy buyers”, said analyst Martin Deboo at Investec Securities. Polman has been in charge for 22 months and is revamping the company.