The European-headquartered consumer goods giant totted up €12.4bn in turnover for its first quarter (Q1) of 2020, up 0.2% on the previous year, though underlying sales growth was flat at 0.0%. Total turnover was up 1.8% in Europe; up 4.2% in the Americas and down 3.2% overall across the rest of the world, which included Asia, Africa, Middle East and Russia.
Unilever said its flat sales reflected the “unprecedented impact of COVID-19”.
Net profits were not reported, and Unilever withdrew its previously reported growth and margin outlook for 2020. “We will continue to adapt throughout this crisis. However, the unknown severity and duration of the pandemic, as well as the containment measures that may be adopted in each country, mean that we cannot reliably assess the impact across our markets and our business,” said Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever.
Skin cleansing strong within beauty and personal care
Unilever’s largest division – beauty and personal care – generated €5.3bn in turnover for Q1, up 1.8% on the previous year, though underlying sales growth sat at just 0.3%. The company said growth across key categories had been driven by “both consumption and household stocking”.
Unilever said its flagship antibacterial soap brand Lifebuoy had been a part of volume-led growth within skin cleansing as the company “responded to the critical need for hygiene products to prevent the spread of COVID-19”. Lifebuoy had been introduced into 43 new markets and the company had worked quickly to expand its range of formats to support the pandemic response, it said.
Jope noted: “The crisis highlights the importance of our commitment to use our scale and brands as a force of good in society, throughout the pandemic and beyond. We are supporting communities through donations and partnerships, while our Lifebuoy and Domestos brands are leading the way on hygiene education programmes.”
Unilever’s Vaseline brand also “continued to perform well”, the company said, and in the UK the brand launched an anti-bacterial hand cream. In China, Vaseline also launched a new Pro Derma Clinical range.
Prestige beauty had taken a hit within beauty and personal care, Unilever said, due to widespread closures across health and beauty channels.
Building business for a ‘new normal’
Jope said the ongoing coronavirus crisis was having an “unprecedented impact on people and economies worldwide” but Unilever had responded and would continue to respond quickly.
“Unilever has moved at speed to support our multiple stakeholders and maintain our operations through the crisis, and prepare for growth in a new normal,” he said.
Jope said Unilever had, among other things, maintained supply of product and opened new capacity in “areas most needed”, notably hand hygiene and food. Moving forward, the company was now focused on adapting to changing consumer demand patterns.
“Our portfolio, our financial stability and the quality of our leadership teams around the world mean that Unilever is well-positioned during this crisis and for the challenging world that will come afterwards,” he said.