Swiss food giant Nestlé has posted a 5.1% rise in underlying sales for 2003, meeting its own target but disappointing investors.

According to a Reuters poll, analysts had been expecting, on average, growth of 5.3%, compared to the company’s own target of 5-6%. Underlying sales strip out the effects of currency fluctuations, acquisitions and divestments.

Total group sales slid slightly to CHF87.98bn (US$69.3bn), due to the weak dollar, while sales rose 6.3% in constant currency terms.

Nestlé reported net profit of CHF6.21bn, a fall of 18% year-on-year due to a one-off gain in 2002 related to the partial divestment of eye care unit Alcon.

Chief executive Peter Brabeck told Reuters he expects a better performance in 2004, driven by “excellent” US conditions and improvements in Latin America and Asia. He also said new products would contribute to higher volume growth in 2004.