While its competitors stumble in developing countries, emerging markets continue to be a source of strength for Unilever. The company said first quarter sales rose more than 6% in emerging markets, helping the world's No. 2 consumer product company offset declines attributed to currency fluctuation. Emerging markets grew 6.6%, with good contributions from both volume and price. In developed markets, North America had a slow start to the year whereas Europe held up well. Unilever saw continued strong growth from home care and a robust performance in personal care.
“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 CEO Paul Polman. “Emerging markets are currently passing through a period of slower demand and economic volatility but our strategy remains unchanged. We continue to invest in our brands so that they are well-placed to benefit from the significant longer term growth opportunity that will come from growing populations and higher disposable income.”
Overall, underlying sales rose 3.6% with emerging markets up 6.6%; underlying volume rose 1.9% and pricing was up 1.6%. Turnover, however, fell 6.3% to $15.75 at current exchange rates, reflecting a negative currency impact of -8.9%.
By segment, personal care grew ahead of other markets driven by a strong innovation program. Deodorants performed well with the successful compressed aerosol format extended to new markets in Europe and the launch of the premium Advanced Care range for Dove in the US. In skin, the performance of Lux has stepped up, underpinned by a major relaunch in China and South East Asia. Dove Nutrium Moisture shower gels also continued to drive growth across Unilever's markets. Vaseline Spray & Go made good progress in existing markets and was extended to Australia.
In hair care, the Dove Advanced Hair Series was launched in the US and TRESemmé 7 Day Smooth, which offers salon-smooth hair for up to three washes, was introduced in the UK and the US. Unilever also launched dry shampoos under the Elidor brand in Turkey. Capitalizing on the growth of male personal care products, in oral Unilever launched Signal White Now Men, its first toothpaste specifically designed for men.
In home care, Unilever said that underlying sales growth was broad-based and volume-led, with a significant impact from new product launches. In laundry, the new concentrated Small & Mighty liquid detergents with improved formulation and innovative packaging are now present in seven markets and a new ‘Eco’ refill pack has been introduced. In France, Unilever launched Skip multi-action capsules, combining both liquid and powder technology in a single unit dose format to provide enhanced stain removal. Comfort Aromatherapy super-sensorials was extended into South Africa and Turkey.
Household cleaning growth outpaced the market. During the quarter Unilever launched Cif direct application floor cleaner in Europe and Sun Ultimate, which it calls its "best ever all-in-one dishwash tablets," in France. After successfully launching Domestos Turbo Fresh rotating rim blocks last year, Unilever rolled them out to new countries in Europe. The company reported continued good momentum from the recently launched Domestos and Cif in Brazil.