Anglo-Dutch food and consumer goods group Unilever has said growth of its top brands did not meet its targets in 2003 and also announced the retirement of its chairman.

The company reported net profit of €2.94bn (US$3.77bn) for 2003, compared to €2.14bn in the previous year, at constant exchange rates. Operating profit rose 19% to €6.07bn.

Turnover slid 2% to €47.70bn from €48.76bn in the previous year.

Unilever said sales of its top 400 brands rose 2.5% in 2003. The company said growth of its leading brands had been below its original targets but it had generated cost savings that had allowed increased investments in its brands.

Unilever said it is taking action to correct the disappointing sales performance of its Slim-Fast brand, which has seen lower sales due to the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets.

The company also announced that chairman Niall FitzGerald is to retire at the end of September, after 37 years with Unilever.

Patrick Cescau, currently foods director, will succeed FitzGerald as chairman of Unilever PLC and vice-chairman of Unilever N.V.

Kees van der Graaf, currently president of ice cream and frozen foods Europe, will succeed Cescau as foods director.