LONDON – Unilever, like many other food and beverage manufacturers, continues to benefit from consumers staying close to home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Going forward, management believes demand for food-at-home will remain above pre-COVID levels even as more markets open as more people are vaccinated.
Foods & Refreshment unit sales were €4.7 billion ($5.7 billion) during the quarter, up from €4.4 billion ($5.3 billion) during the same period of the year before.
“Foods & Refreshment did have a very good quarter with nearly 10% USG (underlying sales growth), over 7% volume growth and good price growth at 2.3%,” said Alan W. Jope, chief executive officer, during an April 29 call with analysts. “In-home growth was again double-digit as demand for home cooking and especially ice cream remained high. Ben & Jerry's continued its strong overall performance with growth over 30%. And Magnum grew double digits as we launched our new magnum flavor, Double Gold Caramel Billionaire, and that’s across sticks and pints formats.
“Hellman’s grew double-digit, landing its purpose, which is to fight food waste, with the brand’s first ever advertising during the US Super Bowl. And our vegan mayonnaise is now rolled out across 30 markets across retail and foodservice. We’re extending the range to new formats like a squeeze bottle format as well as flavored vegan variants, which are being launched across key markets.”
Unilever’s foodservice facing businesses returned to growth during the quarter but remains below 2019 levels.
“We’ll be working with our partners to fully leverage the sales acceleration as and when restrictions are relaxed,” Mr. Jope said.
Graeme David Pitkethly, chief financial officer, said the North American market is a source of strength for the company.
“We continue to see signs of North America emerging strongly from the crisis,” he said. “Demand for in-home foods remains high, and our out-of-home business is recovering faster than we expected. As a result, Foods & Refreshment posted double-digit growth. Now we expect this to turn negative as we start to lap the higher base in the second quarter, but we do remain strong on a two-year stack basis.”
Unilever’s total quarterly sales were €12.3 billion ($14.9 billion), down from €12.4 billion ($15 billion) the year prior. Exchange rates were a headwind for the company.
“Looking ahead, there will continue to be volatility in how regions adapt to the pandemic and when and how they emerge from it,” Mr. Pitkethly said. “Vaccination rates, ongoing social restrictions and the resulting macroeconomic turbulence will continue to impact individual market growth rates, both positively and negatively.
“Overall, however, we’re well positioned for long-term growth across our markets and the measures we’re taking to step up operational excellence and improve competitiveness will ensure that we continue to grow our markets.”