Unilever tops quarterly sales forecasts as home cooking, China recovery pick up

  • Unilever beat quarterly sales forecasts on Thursday, helped by a pick-up in home cooking in coronavirus lockdowns and a strong economic recovery in China.
  • The maker of Dove soap and Ben and Jerry's ice cream said underlying sales rose 5.7% in the three months to the end of March, topping analysts' average forecast of 3.9%, according to a company-supplied consensus

Unilever beat quarterly sales forecasts on Thursday, helped by a pick-up in home cooking in coronavirus lockdowns and a strong economic recovery in China, and said it would buy back up to 3 billion
euros ($3.6 billion) of shares from May.

The maker of Dove soap and Ben and Jerry's ice cream said underlying sales rose 5.7% in the three months to the end of March, topping analysts' average forecast of 3.9%, according to a company-supplied consensus.

"We have had a good start to the year. We are growing faster than our markets," finance chief Graeme Pitkethly told reporters.

The group it was confident of delivering full-year underlying sales growth within its mid-term target range of 3%-5%, with the first half around the top of the range. Some analysts had doubted whether it would hit that goal this year.

Unilever also said it expected a slight increase in underlying operating margin this year, and that it was making good progress in separating its Elida beauty and tea businesses.

Underlying sales in the group's food and refreshments business, where brands include Hellmann's mayonnaise and Knorr soups, jumped 9.8% in the quarter.

Growth was in double-digits in China, which recovered strongly from a pandemic-hit quarter in the same time last year.

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