Persil powers Unilever to 8% profit rise

STRONG SALES of Persil detergent tablets has enabled the Persil brand to regain market leadership from its arch rival Ariel for the first time in three years, according to Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer products group.

Persil, whose battle with Procter & Gamble's Ariel is one of the fiercest in the fast-moving consumer goods market, did particularly well in the UK, which was one of the first markets on which the washing detergent tablets were launched. The product is now being rolled out to other countries.

Unilever, whose other brands include Flora margarine and Elizabeth Arden perfume, showed yesterday that sales growth has returned to its business, helped by a recovery in the Far East and the strong economy in North America.

Sales in the second quarter rose by 3 per cent and Niall FitzGerald, the chairman, said that a similar growth rate could be expected in the second half of the year.

Reporting a 2 per cent increase in first-half profits to pounds 1.4bn, which included an 8 per cent rise in the second quarter, Unilever said UK profits were dented by a re-organisation at Bird's Eye Walls.

But in addition to the Persil gains, the group's Elida-Faberge toiletries business has secured 55 per cent of the UK's pounds 350m deodorant market, helped by the recent launch of Dove deodorant. The brand joins the group's portfolio which already includes Sure, Lynx, Impulse and Vaseline

The second quarter figures showed a mixed set of regional performances across the group's global business. In Europe, sales fell by 2 per cent, largely due to a sharp fall in demand in Eastern Europe.

In the US, sales were 1 per cent ahead with strong performances in home and personal care offsetting a decline in food, where price rises had a negative impact. The over all margin in the second quarter rose to 10.5 per cent from 9.3 per cent in the same quarter of the previous year.

But Mr FitzGerald cautioned that improved growth in Western Europe in the coming months may be balanced by slower growth in North America, while recovery in East Asia could be countered by difficulties in Latin American and Eastern European markets.

Profits in the Asia Pacific rebounded 56 per cent, led by strong sales in India, recovery in South-east Asia and the first fruits of Unilever's Chinese restructuring.

"Markets are much improved. It's still early days but we are seeing benefits from the recovery." said a Unilever spokesman.

North American profits rose 48 per cent in the quarter helped by recent company restructuring, the absence of major new launch costs and improved economic conditions.

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