The Anglo-Dutch consumer packaged goods giant said sales for the full year fell 2.7% to €48.4bn. Markets contracted in Europe and picked up modestly in North America, while trade destocking in China resulted in a 20% fall in sales there, as forecast. Globally volumes were flat, but markets grew by around 2.5%, Unilever said.
Commenting on the results, Unilever CEO Paul Polman said: “Despite a very 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. This consistency, now established over the last six years, has been achieved during a period of unprecedented volatility as we have built a more resilient company.”
He added that the company did not expect market conditions to improve 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,” he said.
The company’s spreads business declined due to lower demand for margarine in Europe and North America, while the Knorr brand boosted its savoury business, particularly in emerging markets, including India, Pakistan and Indonesia.
“In spreads we launched blends of vegetable oil and butter such as Gold from Flora. We gained market share in margarine but this was insufficient to offset the decline of the category which also saw price deflation in a benign commodity cost environment,” the company said.