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Unilever cheers sales volumes returning to growth as inflation cools

Sophie Smith
08 February 2024

Unilever, which makes hundreds of household brands, has revealed its annual sales were boosted by higher prices and selling more products.

The global business behind brands including Dove and Simple said, though, that its performance "needs to improve" as inflation has begun to cool.

Total underlying sales grew by 7% in 2023 compared with 2022. This was driven by prices, which rose 6.8% over the period, while the volume of items sold crept up by 0.2%.

It is the first time in more than a year that the company sold more products.

Beauty and wellbeing saw underlying sales rise 8.3%, with "strong" volume growth of 4.4%. Prestige Beauty continued to grow double-digit and now accounts for a quarter of the division's turnover.

Personal care grew underlying sales 8.9%, with 3.2% from volume and 5.5% from price, led by strong sales growth of deodorants.

Meanwhile, the group's nutrition and ice cream brands, such as Magnum, Carte D’Or, Knorr and Marmite, saw the biggest price rises while the volume of sales declined, meaning people were paying more money for fewer items.

Unilever said inflation began to cool during the second half of the year after double-digit price growth in the first few months of 2023.

The multinational company said last year it was focusing on its 30 most profitable brands, which make up three-quarters of its turnover, as part of an "action plan" to boost growth and turn around its financial performance.

It said it was "moving with speed and urgency" to transform the business.

Nonetheless, its underlying operating profit was up 2.6% to £8.45 billion (€9.9 billion) year-on-year.

Hein Schumacher, CEO of Unilever, said: "Today’s results show an improving financial performance, with a return to volume growth and margins rebuilding.

"However, our competitiveness remains disappointing and overall performance needs to improve."

The company said it was losing out to private labels in Europe and super-premium products in North America, and its competitiveness in the market was not good enough.

"We are working to address this by improving our execution to unlock Unilever’s full potential," Schumacher added.

"We are at the early stages of this work and there is much to do, but we are moving with speed and urgency to transform Unilever into a consistently higher performing business."

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