LONDON — Unilever, parent of brands including Dove, Lux, and Vaseline, reported first-quarter sales sank 6.3 percent to 11.4 billion euros, or $15.62 billion, due to negative currency effects.
Ignoring currency, sales in the three months to March 31 were up 3.6 percent, with emerging markets growing 6.6 percent, buoyed by categories such as home care, personal care, and refreshment. Dollar figures have been converted at average exchange rates for the three months.
“We delivered good growth in the first quarter despite slowing markets and a tough competitive environment, further evidence that Unilever is now delivering consistently ahead of our markets,” said chief executive Paul Polman.
He noted that while emerging markets are currently passing through a period of slower demand and economic volatility, the company continues to invest with the long-term picture in mind. Overall, developed markets remained weak, although there were some further signs of improvement in southern Europe.
“We remain focused on achieving another year of profitable volume growth ahead of our markets, steady and sustainable core operating margin improvement and strong cash flow,” Polman said.
The personal care category stood out in the quarter. The growth of Lux was underpinned by a major relaunch in China and southeast Asia, while Vaseline Spray & Go made good progress in existing markets, and was extended to Australia.
In the hair category, the Dove Advanced Hair Series was launched in the U.S., and TreSemmé 7 Day Smooth was introduced in the U.K. and the U.S. The company also launched dry shampoos under the Elidor brand in Turkey.
The company said it saw strong performances in China, Turkey, and Indonesia and a “marked improvement” in Japan. Russia was weak, reflecting the soft market conditions, but Unilever said its personal care brands continued to grow ahead of the market. South Africa grew despite weak markets and intense competition.
Unilever added that “key markets” such as the U.K. and Germany grew, as did Greece and Spain, underlining improving conditions in southern Europe. North America declined despite growth from the personal care brands. Latin America delivered strong growth in the face of difficult macro-economic conditions, the company said.