Unilever reveals 4% sales growth in first results since announcing Colman’s factory closure

The Colman's site at Carrow. Photo: Bill Smith

The Colman's site at Carrow. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Bill Smith - Archant

Colman's Mustard owner Unilever has posted better than expected fourth quarter sales growth in its first set of results since announcing it would move most of production of the fiery condiment out of Norfolk.

The Anglo-Dutch group, which is behind Dove, Marmite and Ben & Jerry's ice cream, posted a 4% increase in underlying sales in the final period of the year, ahead of market forecasts.

The company announced it was to move from the historic Colman's factory in Bracondale, Norwich, on January 4 after site neighbour Britvic decided to leave the city.

All 113 jobs at the production plant will be affected with up to 45 redundancies.

Around 43 roles will transfer to Burton-on-Trent with 25 remaining in Norfolk at a smaller milling plant.

Unilever was boosted by a 6.3% increase in emerging markets sales, with brands such as Knorr, Bango and Pot Noodle proving popular.

In Europe, underlying sales nudged up 0.3% as the firm bemoaned 'challenging' conditions with subdued volume growth and continued price deflation.

For the full year, Unilever posted a 1.9% increase in turnover to 53.7bn euros (£46.9bn), while pre-tax profit rose 9% to 8.15bn euros (£7.1bn).

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The results come after the group fended off a 143bn (£115bn) takeover attempt from Kraft Heinz last year, after which it offloaded its spreads business for 6.8bn euros (£6bn) to KKR.

Excluding the spreads business, full year underlying sales growth came in at 3.5%.

Unilever chief executive Paul Polman said: '2017 has once more been a year of major change for Unilever.

'With the implementation of a more agile, consumer-facing organisation, we are seeing quality and speed of innovation further improve. At the same time, we have significantly stepped up the delivery from our savings programmes and continued the evolution of our portfolio.'

The Anglo-Dutch group said of its plans to consolidate its headquarters in the UK or the Netherlands that a review of its dual-headed legal structure has 'progressed well' and it will conclude it shortly.

Mr Polman added: 'Our priorities for 2018 are to grow volumes ahead of our markets, maintain strong delivery from our savings programmes and to complete the integration of Foods & Refreshment as well as the exit from spreads.

'We expect this will translate into another year of underlying sales growth in the 3% - 5% range, and an improvement in underlying operating margin and cash flow, that keeps us on track for the 2020 targets.'