Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever said today (7 May) it will “step up innovation and brand support” after booking a 45% drop in first-quarter profit.

The world’s second-largest maker of consumer goods, saw its net income drop to EUR731m (US$973m) for the three months to 31 March from EUR1.34bn in the same quarter of the previous year.

Sales also slipped, dropping 1% to EUR9.5bn. Excluding acquisitions and currency swings, sales grew 4.8%, helped by stronger pricing. Volumes dropped 1.8%.

The sales figure was affected by a poor performance in Western Europe where sales dipped 2.8% as a result of the economic slowdown and consumers trading down to private label goods.

Operating profit for the quarter fell 32% to EUR1.23bn. The figure included profits on disposal of EUR517m pre-tax, the company said.

CEO Paul Polman said the results were “solid” given today’s trading environment.

“We have made good progress implementing plans to reignite volume growth, building on existing strengths and correcting competitive gaps. We will further step up innovation and brand support from the second quarter and expect this to drive an improved volume performance. This will be achieved while protecting cash and margins for the year,” Polman said.

In the company’s Asia and Africa markets, sales rose 9.5% sales. Underlying sales growth was based across all major developing and emerging countries.

Underlying sales continued to grow strongly in the group’s Americas region with volumes improving quarter on quarter through most of the region and sales up 7.2%