Having released its full year results, the company noted a full-year profit climbing 6.8% to €5.2 billion, despite a 2.7% fall in revenue to €48.4 billion, which was adversely affected by a 20% sales decline in China in the fourth quarter.
The company noted that the slump in China was mainly attributable to trade de-stocking, and that it also impacted the personal care and home care divisions most of all.
“Despite a challenging year for our industry with significant economic headwinds and weak markets, we have delivered another year of competitive underlying sales growth and margin expansion,” says CEO Paul Polman.
“We do not plan on a significant improvement in market conditions in 2015. Against this background, we expect our full year performance to be similar to 2014 with the first quarter being softer but growth improving during the year. We remain focused on competitive, profitable, consistent and responsible growth.”
Personal care push
In Personal Care, Unilever saw it grow ahead of weaker markets helped by a strong set of new product launches.
In the Asia market, the company said that revenues were boosted by the launch of the Sunsilk Naturals range, which was popular in a host of countries throughout the region.
Likewise, the Baby Dove brand in Brazil was well received by consumers, helping to boost the skin cleansing segment, which was also driven by strong performances by the Lifebuoy and the improved Dove Nutrium Moisture body wash brands.
The company also ended the year with the acquisition of the Camay and Zest brands from Procter & Gamble which it says will strengthen the Unilever portfolio in emerging markets, particularly in Mexico.
Elsewhere, the company’s deodorants business benefited from the success of the compressed aerosol range in Europe since its launch, whilst there has also been continued growth from Dove innovations and most recently from the cross-brand launch of dry sprays in North America.
Staying in North America, the Dove Advanced Hair series also successfully established the premium Oxygen Moisture range in the region and this has now been extended to Europe.
Unilever says that growth in the hair business was also underpinned by strong performances from Sunsilk Naturals in Asia, the TRESemmé 7 Day Keratin Smooth range and the successful introduction of Clear in Japan.
Going forward, Polman says that the company will continue to focus more of its efforts on Unilever’s core businesses and sharpen the strategy across the categories it is involved in.
“In today’s low growth environment we are driving efficiency and simplification initiatives to make the organisation more agile and more capable of responding to the unexpected,” he says.
“We have continued to remove cost and to streamline processes to provide fuel for growth. Our innovation programmes have further accelerated and we have exported our iconic brands into new markets. We have continued to use acquisitions and disposals to strengthen the portfolio.”