Unilever reports rising sales and boosts dividend

The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant responded to the failed approach from its American rival by unveiling sweeping changes this month, including higher shareholder payouts and plans to sell its spreads business, which includes Flora margarine and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, in an attempt to deter any further interest from predators and please investors.

The maker of Dove soap and Knorr soups said underlying sales rose 2.9 percent in its financial first quarter. One of the first quarter's best performers was ice cream, with brands like Magnum and Ben & Jerry's. In a bid to drum up $3 billion in sales over the next 10 years, the company is expanding distribution of its products in major cities, including in Sir Kensington's hometown of NY. Volumes fell, trimming 0.1 percentage point off Unilever's underlying sales growth.

Unilever shares rose Thursday in Amsterdam after the company posted quarterly sales that beat estimates.

Andrew Wood, an analyst covering Unilever for Sanford Bernstein, described the figures as "a decent set of results". The company has been hampered by lower consumer prices in Europe and a slowdown in emerging markets such as China and India. Nestle, which increased prices 1 percent, was prompted to raise the cost of Nescafe as robusta coffee futures have gained 38 percent in the past year. Unilever was a year ago involved in a row with Tesco over Marmite prices.

"We're starting to see some inflationary pressures in the United Kingdom from the depreciation of the pound", Unilever chief financial officer Graeme Pitkethly said, adding that the company's competitors were also raising prices in the country. In contrast, growth slowed to a near halt in the Americas region, hurt by declines in United States confectionery and pet care. In contrast, growth slowed to a near halt in the Americas region, hurt by declines in USA confectionery and pet care.Unilever cited gains in its home- and personal-care businesses, while sales were unchanged in the food division.

The firm raised its quarterly dividend by 12% to €0.3585 per share, in line with the level pledged in its strategy review, which Polman said reflected confidence in the outlook.

After almost becoming one of the largest takeover targets in history, Unilever delivered growth ahead of its markets in what CEO Paul Polman called a "solid start" to the year.

Vanessa Coleman

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