Unilever sales slower than hoped for but beauty prospects are good

The headline story on Thursday from Anglo-Dutch consumer products giant Unilever was that sales growth missed analyst expectations in Q4 and that this year would remain challenging.


Hourglass/Unilever


But behind that, the company has a raft of beauty-focused brands (and is growing its portfolio) that are healthy and in demand worldwide with plenty of growth prospects ahead.

So what were the numbers? Sales rose 2.9%, lower than the 3.5% analysts had predicted, in Q4. But full-year sales were up 3.1% excluding the spreads business it sold last year, at €49.6 billion.

Still-new CEO Alan Jope said the market would stay challenging this year and predicted sales growth in the lower half of the 3% to 5% forecast.

Unilever’s underlying sales for Beauty & Personal Care (BPC) rose 3.1% to €20.7 billion in the year and in the last quarter, they were up 3% to €5.4 billion. While those figures weren’t exactly leaps, in both cases the value of sales outstripped the volume increases, which shows that the company continues to have a pricing advantage for its popular brands.

Its biggest brand, Dove “delivered another year of broad-based growth”. Skincare also grew strongly. It was helped by innovations including a new Vaseline range “with clinical strength moisturisation”, as well as new brands such as Love, Beauty & Planet which is helping the company “to address the fast growing naturals trend”. 

Growth in skin cleansing was helped by innovations in the firm’s core brands such as the relaunch of Lifebuoy with ‘active silver’. New "premium formats”, including Dove exfoliating body polishes plus its new cleansing brands such as Korea Glow (which only launched in Q4) also provided a boost. 

Deodorants delivered “good volume growth”, again helped by Dove’s strength, although “pricing in deodorants was muted”. 

And Unilever said that the newly acquired Schmidt's “grew strongly” too. 

The company has also been expanding at the upper end of the price scale and said that its Prestige operations “performed well” with double-digit growth in Hourglass, Ren, Living Proof and Kate Sommerville, as well as “improved momentum” in Dermalogica and Murad. 

And in the men’s market, Dollar Shave Club grew in double-digits and continued to “build scale” in the US, which must have been good news after major rival P&G had reported weaker sales in its shaving ops.

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