Unilever has reported quarterly underlying sales growth above expectations, helped by higher prices for its detergents, soaps and packaged food.
The London-based company said it expects cost inflation to continue in 2023, forecasting net material inflation in the first half of around €1.5 billion.
The packaged goods industry has raised prices sharply over the past year to cope with the surging cost of everything from cocoa and sunflower oil to wheat.
The industry had already been battling high COVID-era supply chain and raw material expenses when Russia invaded Ukraine, driving up the prices of energy and several other commodities.
'In the first half, underlying price growth will remain high, and volume growth will be negative,' Unilever said in a statement. 'Volume will improve as price growth softens, but it is too early to say whether volume will turn positive in the second half.'
Some companies in Europe have said they may unwind price hikes introduced in recent years as soaring costs of energy and other raw materials have eased, potentially providing some relief to consumers.
"Despite sharp rises in material costs, we have prioritised stepping up our brand and marketing investment," commented CEO Alan Jope. "Underlying operating margin was delivered in line with our guidance, with underlying operating profit up for the year."
Our results for the full year 2022, announced today, show strong sales growth and continued progress against our strategy.
Here are a few of the highlights.
You can delve into the detail on: https://t.co/KrSWtRMYq2 pic.twitter.com/geDt15Zo8l
— Alan Jope (@alanjope) February 9, 2023
A Dramatic Year
Unilever has had a dramatic past year, featuring three rejected bids to buy GSK's consumer health business, activist Nelson Peltz joining its board and chief executive Alan Jope announcing his departure. At the end of last month, it named dairy executive Hein Schumacher as its incoming CEO.
Schumacher faces a battle to revive Unilever's underperforming food business, while also managing tricky price negotiations with retailers feeling the squeeze from inflationary pressures and a cost of living crisis.
Underlying sales at Unilever rose 9.2% in the fourth quarter, beating company-provided analyst estimate of a 8.2% increase.
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