Full-year profit rises 5 percent for consumer goods giant Unilever despite sales fall

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Net profit at consumer goods giant Unilever, maker of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, rose 5 percent in 2014 from the year earlier to 5.5 billion euros ($6.4 billion) despite tough conditions in its markets, the company announced Tuesday.

Unilever said sales slid 2.7 percent to 48.4 billion euros ($56 billion), but underlying sales, which strip out currency fluctuations and the effect of buying and selling businesses, rose 2.9 percent.

"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," Chief Executive Paul Polman said.

Polman said the company does not expect a significant pickup in its markets in 2015 and predicts a similar performance to 2014.

Sales picked up in the fourth quarter for the company whose brands include Dove, Lipton and Hellman's mayonnaise. Underlying sales in the last three months of the year grew 2.1 percent and turnover was up 2.4 percent from the same period a year ago.

Underlying sales, the figure most closely watched by analysts, fell 2.1 percent in Europe for the full year, but rose 5.4 percent in the Americas and by 4.3 percent in other emerging markets.

Polman said Unilever's strategy of cost-cutting and focusing on its core business was helping the company weather tough economic conditions in many of its markets.

"We have continued to remove cost and to streamline processes to provide fuel for growth," he said. "Our innovation programs 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."

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