Unilever has recorded underlying sales growth of 5.7% in its first-quarter results, as it continues to see high demand for foods consumed at home.
The owner of Ben & Jerry’s, Marmite and Hellmann’s reported turnover of €12.3 billion in Q1, representing a fall of 0.9% on the previous year, driven by a negative currency-related impact of 8%.
Following growth last year, e-commerce continued to perform strongly in Unilever’s first quarter, seeing underlying sales growth of 66% and representing 11% of turnover.
Underlying sales grew across Unilever’s Asia/AMET/RUB and Americas segments in the first quarter, by 9.9% and 5.3% respectively.
India and China both saw ‘strong-double-digit’ growth in Q1 2021, after last year’s results were impacted by strict lockdown measures, while North America saw underlying sales growth of 4.3%, driven by high demand for at-home foods.
Unilever’s Europe business witnessed a fall in underlying sales of 2.3% for the quarter, with volume declining 0.7% – in part driven by a decline in Unilever’s food solutions business and lower demand for personal care products due to ongoing lockdowns.
The company’s foods and refreshment unit grew its underlying sales by 9.8%, ahead of beauty and personal care (up 2.3%) and home care (up 5.9%).
Out-of-home ice cream returned to growth, with strong performance in emerging markets offsetting declines in Europe due to lockdown restrictions. In-home ice cream grew double digit as demand for food consumed at home remained high.
Overall, Unilever’s food solutions business grew low single digit, with growth in China countering declines in markets impacted by channel closures.
This time last year, Unilever recorded flat underlying sales growth in its first-quarter results, reflecting the impact of the pandemic on its foodservice and ice cream businesses.
In Q1 2021, tea saw volume and price growth, and Unilever CEO Alan Jope said that “the operational separation of our tea business is on track”, in the wake of a strategic review process announced early last year.
With consumers continuing to eat more at home due to coronavirus-related restrictions, in-home food sales in the quarter were up mid single digit.
“Unilever has made a good start to the year. Our focus on operational excellence, innovation and purposeful brands is continuing to strengthen competitiveness and has delivered underlying sales growth of 5.7% for the quarter,” said Unilever CEO, Jope.
“We are driving the evolution of our portfolio, with strong growth in Prestige Beauty and Functional Nutrition.”
He continued: “We are confident that we will deliver underlying sales growth in 2021 within our multi-year framework of 3-5%, with the first half around the top of this range. We expect to increase underlying operating margin slightly for the full year, though with a decline in the first half driven by Covid-19 impacts, higher cost inflation and increased marketing spend over the prior year.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2021
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