Polman was upbeat about the Flora makers performance

Polman was upbeat about the Flora maker's performance

Unilever CEO Paul Polman has said the consumer goods giant made "good progress" in 2009 with rising underlying sales and volumes accelerating throughout the year.

Polman said the Anglo-Dutch group was "moving fast towards a stronger performance culture" and that innovation and a "step-change" in advertising had made its brands "stronger".

However, Polman's comments came as Unilever booked a fall in annual profits and he cautioned that he expects “continuing pressure” on consumer spending and "heightened levels" of competition in 2010.

Net income in 2009 slid 31% to EUR3.66bn (US$5.07bn), while operating profit dropped 30% to EUR5.02bn.

The owner of brands including Knorr, Flora and Ben & Jerry's has been revamping its business to create a more "agile" organisation and, excluding restructuring costs, operating profit was flat at EUR5.89bn.

Unilever reported underlying sales growth of 3.5% for 2009, with sales in the Americas, Asia and Africa all rising.

Underlying volumes were up 2.3% across 2009 but they accelerated through the year, reaching 5% in the fourth quarter.

Unilever does not break down its volume performance by products but said growth had come from "most key categories and countries" and "translated into improved share performance in all regions as the year progressed".

Group turnover, however, was down 1.7% at EUR39.82bn, hit by foreign exchange. At constant exchange rates, annual sales were up 1%.

Paul Polman, CEO said: “We made good progress in challenging market conditions. Our market share improvements were broad-based and improved throughout the year."

For the fourth quarter, Unilever booked revenue of EUR9.66bn, a 4.8% drop on the previous year. At constant exchanges rates, turnover was up 1%.

Operating profit fell 33% to EUR972m but was up 4% to EUR1.26bn when restructuring costs were stripped out.

Net income stood at EUR906m, a 24% fall on 2008.

Click here for the full release and check back later for further insight into Unilever’s full-year results.