Anglo-Dutch food and consumer goods giant Unilever has warned that full-year growth of its leading brands is now expected to be below 3%, compared to the 5-6% originally forecast.

For the third quarter, the company said sales of leading brands grew by 3.2% with 1.8% growth in its food brands. Underlying volume growth in the leading brands is estimated at 1.9%, while underlying sales growth for the total business is 2.3%, the company said. Leading brands now account for 92% of the total business.

Unilever said the impact of exceptional summer weather was broadly neutral, with a solid performance in Europe in ice cream and ready-to-drink tea but lower consumption in categories consumed hot such as savoury, frozen meals and leaf tea.

The company said the third quarter showed a continued pick-up in sales growth in its foodsolutions business, while frozen foods improved but remained below expectations.

Unilever said the impact of current diet alternatives on sales of its Slim.Fast products was above expectations, but that it had confidence in the longer-term growth opportunity of the business. The company's Slim.Fast sales have been suffering due to the popularity of the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet.

"We have significantly improved the quality of the brand portfolio and see good progress in the vast majority of our business. Path to Growth is delivering its expected benefits across a broad front, but revenue growth will be held back in 2003 by some one-off factors in the first half and a limited number of under-performing businesses.

"As a result we now expect leading brand growth to be below 3% for the full year. With over a year to go until we reach the end of Path to Growth, the under-performing parts of the business will be progressively improved," said Unilever co-chairmen Antony Burgmans and Niall FitzGerald.