Unilever cleans up

Most retailers have been busy blaming the dismal weather for their lacklustre summer results. But Unilever - despite having more to lose than most, as one of the world's biggest ice cream makers - has managed to buck the trend, ringing up a big profit increase in the three months to September.

In fact the news was pretty good all round from the consumer goods giant today, as it reported its third quarter results. Sales were up, prices were up, and costs were down - all of which pushed pre-tax profits up 21% to €1.37bn.
It’s the third quarter in a row that Unilever has managed to increase margins, suggesting that its restructuring plan seems to paying off. The Anglo-Dutch behemoth is currently going through the painful process of 'streamlining' its operations - which is a polite way of saying that it's shutting down factories, sorting out its supply chain and cutting lots of jobs (20,000 more likely to go in the next few years).

So numbers like these are just what the management needs – especially as they’ve been achieved in an environment where commodity costs have been shooting up across the board. Its supply chain problems in Europe seem to be under control, and new projects (like the Lipton canned tea joint venture with PepsiCo) appear to be flourishing.

Unilever wasn't immune from the weather, of course. It's hard to get excited about a Cornetto when you're trudging along in the rain, and sure enough summer ice cream sales were lower than expected in Europe.
However, it helps to be an international conglomerate. Much of Unilever's growth is coming in emerging and developed markets, which already account for almost half of its total sales. And there's always going to be somewhere on the planet sunny enough for ice cream.

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