LONDON — Unilever, the parent of brands including Dove, Toni & Guy and Pond's, said sales in the first three months of the year climbed 0.2 percent to 12.16 billion euros, or $16.05 billion at average exchange for the period.
On an underlying basis — excluding the impact of unfavorable exchange rates, acquisitions and disposals — growth was 4.9 percent in the three months to March 31.
"We maintained good growth momentum in the first quarter despite challenging economies and the tough competitive environment," chief executive Paul Polman said in a trading update on Thursday.
He added that emerging markets delivered double-digit growth for the eighth successive quarter and represented more than 57 percent of company turnover, while growth in developed markets remained sluggish. Southern Europe was "particularly difficult," he said, while consumer confidence in Northern Europe continues to be eroded by fiscal tightening and the continuing impact of the financial crisis.
Europe also faced particularly strong year-on-year comparisons, Polman said, and products such as ice cream and spreads held back growth. Unilever is also the parent of brands including Hellmann's, Flora and Magnum.
"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 statement added that North America was stable, up 0.3 percent, with the personal care division flourishing, but overall growth was largely offset by a decline in spreads.
Innovations and thrusts into new markets underpinned growth in hair care, Unilever said. For Dove, the Dove Damage Therapy range, the extension of the Dove Men+Care hair line and the launch of Dove hair products in Mexico continued to drive gains.
TRESemmé continued to make "excellent" progress, the company said, building on last year's success in Brazil, "and we saw a good early response to the launches in India and Indonesia." Clear continued to make "good progress in the highly competitive U.S. market and delivered strong growth in the emerging markets. Toni & Guy is now present in 17 countries, and we have successfully launched the Nexxus Youth Renewal range in the United States."
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