LONDON — Reduced restructuring costs helped Unilever plc generate a 14.8 percent increase in net income in the third quarter.

The foods-to-fragrances group said net profit in the third quarter rose to $1.1 billion from $959.4 million chiefly due to lower restructuring costs and other aftertax exceptional items.

Dollar figures have been converted from the euro at current exchange as Unilever reported profits of 941 million euros versus 820 million euros a year ago.

At $14.38 billion, or 12.29 billion euros, sales were flat against the same quarter last year. The company said lack of growth was due to underperforming businesses and a difficult business environment. Unilever added in a statement Wednesday it was unhappy with sales so far this year.

“We are disappointed with our top-line growth in 2003, and that we have had to revise our outlook for leading brand growth to below 3 percent for the year,” said chairman Niall FitzGerald. “Whilst we see good progress in the vast majority of our business, this is not yet sufficient to offset the weakness in a limited number of underperforming businesses.”

Over the past four years, Unilever has been increasingly focused on its leading brands, which include Dove, Lux, Rexona, Axe and Sunsilk. They now account for 92 percent of sales.

The company said it was confident the weak links in its business chain would be progressively improved, however. Unilever said earlier this year that one of its big underperformers was the prestige fragrances division, which includes Calvin Klein, Valentino, Vera Wang and Chloé.

In keeping with the trend of the past year, sales in Europe and North America dropped, while those in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America gained.

In Europe, turnover fell 2.4 percent to $5.74 billion, or 4.91 billion euros, mainly because of the impact of disposals. In the region, there was strong growth in personal care items, offset by a “sharp decline” in prestige fragrances.

In North America, turnover declined 3.7 percent to $3.55 billion, or 3.03 billion euros, due to the impact of disposals and to sharply lower sales of prestige scents and of Slim Fast. Unilever said earlier this year Slim Fast sales have been suffering from the popularity of the Atkins diet.Growth was most vigorous in Latin America, where turnover rose 8 percent to $1.67 billion, or 1.43 billion euros, and operating profits were up 10 percent to $1.97 billion, or 1.68 billion euros.

In the first nine months of the year, aftertax profit rose 12 percent to $2.73 billion, or 2.33 billion euros, from $2.45 billion, or 2.09 billion euros. Sales dropped 2 percent to $41.86 billion, or 35.78 billion euros, from $42.58 billion, or 36.39 billion euros.

More Men’s Skin Care

NEW YORK —?As the term “metrosexual” inhabits urban vocabulary, men’s personal care products are hot. Soon, Bullie Care, a new skin care system for men, will join the competition with a fresh approach.

“For too long, the industry standard has been to clump male skin care products together for use by all skin types without any clear direction or sequence of use instructions,” said John Cypher, Bullie’s founder.

With that in mind, he created the Bullie Care system with three sublines for individual skin types. He began selling the products exclusively online in April and said the sales have been “surprisingly good.”

With a retail launch planned for early next year, Cypher expects first-year retail sales to exceed $2 million.

Barney’s New York will begin selling Bullie Care in February, and Cypher is hopeful that other large doors will follow suit. He said he’s also making inroads with select upscale retailers, pharmacies, apothecaries, spas and salons. New York and Los Angeles are the priority markets, “but because there has been demand for Bullie in many other cities, including Atlanta, Seattle and Washington, D.C., the products will eventually be more widely available,” he said.

For now, Bullie’s plans for advertising are minimal, working only with a p.r firm and Quintessentially, an executive concierge service. While Quintessentially is reaching out to affluent consumers who already take extra care with their skin, Cypher hopes to capture some of the soap-and-water market, too. With minimalist labels, clear bottles and products colored in masculine hues, it may not be hard.“[The packaging elements] really give a lot of shelf presence,” Cypher said. “The label is didactic, informative and gives the active ingredients.”

He’s also alert to the fact that many men still aren’t ready to admit they use facial products.

“While men are taking more effort making themselves look better, they don’t want people to recognize they’re making that effort,” Cypher said. “The products won’t clash with colognes or anything else they use to make themselves smell better. We try to keep it as natural as possible. Most items do not have alcohol, dyes or fragrances.” (Though he admits one product does have fragrance because “it would smell terrible if it didn’t.”)

All products are a blend of vitamin-enriched, botanical ingredients with no animal testing.

The 6-oz. cleanser retails for $24, the 6-oz. post-shave plus toner for $19, the 4-oz. moisturizer for $30 and the 4-oz. refinement scrub for $36. Each product is available in formulations for three different skin types: all types-combination, normal to oily and dry to sensitive.

Cypher said he’ll take a backward approach when he expands the line. “We didn’t start with shaving products and grow out,” he said. “We started with skin care and will go back in.” He plans to introduce shaving products and accessories in 2004, followed by hair care.

— Emily Farris

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