Unilever in ‘good shape’ for 2021 despite sliding revenue and profit

Henry Saker-Clark, PA City Reporter
·2-min read

Ben & Jerry’s and Hellmann’s mayonnaise owner Unilever said it has started 2021 in “good shape” after it missed market expectations for the past year.

Shares in the consumer goods giant dipped after it delivered a 5.8% decline in underlying operating profits to 9.3 billion euros (£8.2 billion) for the year to December as it was impacted by currency fluctuations.

Traders were left cold despite the company, which also makes Dove soap, laying out its plans to return to robust sales growth.

The group revealed that turnover fell by 2.4% to 50.7 billion euros (£44.7 billion) despite improvements in the fourth quarter.

Unilever owns a raft of UK staples including Colman’s mustard (Nick Ansell/PA)

Unilever said it plans to accelerate its expansion in the US, India and China as part of its long-term growth strategy.

It added that it plans to focus its portfolio in high-growth categories, using acquisitions and sales to shift towards areas with the strongest future prospects.

As such, the company said it is pushing forward with plans to separate its tea business, which has UK brands including PG Tips, following a strategic review.

Unilever said it also plans to grow its e-commerce offering amid strong growth in direct-to-consumer sales.

In 2020, underlying sales grew by 1.9% on the back of 3.5% growth in the fourth quarter following the recovery of trade in China and India.

It said that growth was particularly sparked by its hand and home hygiene products, laundry products and food items for eating at home.

It hailed strong performances for Hellmann’s, Ben & Jerry’s and the group’s Vegetarian Butcher plant-based brand.

Alan Jope, Unilever’s chief executive, said: “In a volatile and unpredictable year, we have demonstrated Unilever’s resilience and agility through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I would like to thank the Unilever team, whose dedication and hard work has delivered a strong set of results under the most difficult of circumstances.

“While volatility and unpredictability will continue throughout 2021, we begin the year in good shape and are confident in our ability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.”

Shares were 4.3% lower at 4,150p on Thursday morning.