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Unilever delivers sales blow and warns of tough start to 2020

By Holly Williams, PA Deputy City Editor

Marmite and Magnum ice cream group Unilever has cut its annual sales outlook and warned that trading woes will continue through to next summer amid a slowdown in key international markets.

The consumer goods giant – which also owns brands including Hellmans and Dove – blamed “challenges” across a raft of its global markets as it said 2019 underlying sales growth is set to come in slightly below its 3% to 5% range.

It said sales were being hit by an economic slowdown in South Asia, which is one of its largest markets, as well as “difficult” trading in West Africa.

Unilever also continues to see tough conditions in developed markets and, despite early signs of improved trading in North America, it warned that a full recovery there “will take time”.

There is also set to be little let-up in the woes at the start of next year, with Unilever cautioning that first-half growth will be lower than 3%.

But it is hoping for a pick-up in the second half of next year, to keep annual sales growth within the lower half its guidance.

The group also gave assurances that the 2019 sales miss is not expected to affect full-year earnings.

Chief executive Alan Jope insisted he was making sales growth a “top priority”.

“We are confident we have the right strategy and investment in place to step up our performance,” he said.

The sales gloom comes after muted growth over the summer, when Unilever missed City forecasts as the international issues took their toll and due to weaker growth in ice cream.

The group saw softer demand overall, in China and India in particular, while ice cream brands such as Ben & Jerry’s and Magnum failed to match strong sales in 2018 due to cooler summer temperatures this year across Europe.