Unilever hit by UK washing powder wars

Unilever admitted yesterday it had lost market share in the UK, casting doubt over this year's quest to regain momentum in Europe, its biggest market.

The Anglo-Dutch group behind brands such as Dove soap and Hellmann's mayonnaise said underlying sales across Europe had fallen by 2 per cent during its first quarter, excluding the boost from five extra trading days. Its problems centred on the UK, where its arch rival Procter & Gamble has taken a big chunk out of its sales of laundry detergent.

But Unilever, which shook up its board after issuing a profits warning last autumn, offered hope that its fortunes had turned elsewhere by reporting its second consecutive quarter of group like-for-like sales growth. Its shares rose 3 per cent to 529p.

Patrick Cescau, who became the group's first chief executive in its 75-year history after it abolished its co-chairmanship structure in February, said he was "encouraged" but warned the backdrop would remain tough in Europe.

"We are making progress on the plans to improve top-line performance. The first stage was a step-up in market competitiveness," he said. "This year we expect market conditions to remain very challenging in Europe, and margins to continue to be under pressure from increased input costs."

Although the group said underlying sales rose 6 per cent during its first quarter, it admitted that on a true like-for-like basis its performance was less impressive. Five extra trading days and an early Easter added an extra 400 basis points to top-line growth, it said.

Analysts said there was a similar lack of visibility over its operating margin, which appeared to rise by 80 basis points to 15.3 per cent but actually fell after profits from disposals and lower restructuring costs were stripped out. Pre-tax profits for the quarter rose 9 per cent at current exchange rates to €1.28bn (£870m), while net profits jumped 24 per cent to €934m.

Since taking over as chief executive, M. Cescau has shaken up the group's management and operating boards. He has made more than 100 senior appointments and axed 15 per cent of the group's senior management. The company refused to confirm how many jobs had been affected.

In the US, it saw a modest pick-up in market growth for most of its products with the exception of the diet drinks business SlimFast, sales of which fell sharply during the quarter.

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
News
i100
Life and Style
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits