Unilever, which earmarked restoring growth in Europe as a central aim of the 2006 campaign, said today a one per cent sales rise in the region showed progress had been made.
Group sales rose three per cent to €39.6bn for the year, while net profit increased 10 per cent, excluding proceeds from the sale of its frozen foods business.
The firm's ice cream and beverages division grew sales by 3.7 per cent, thanks to market share gains in the ice cream category and the rising popularity of Lipton teas.
Innovations like flavoured teas in pyramid teabags spurred Litpon on in 2006, the firm said, adding its Lipton reday-to-drink joint venture increased sales by 25 per cent - although this was excluded from Unilever's figures.
Heart health products also performed well for the firm, growing five per cent over the year and reflecting ongoing strong consumer demand in this area.
"My key message this morning is that Unilever is making progress…Unilever is competitive again," said Patrick Cescau, Unilever chief executive, during the firm's press conference Thursday morning.
France remained the troublesome thorn in Unilever's European operations, and Cescau admitted "we have not made the headway we wanted to". Several large food and drink firms have noted France's depressed consumer atmosphere, largely due to an economic slow-down, over the last couple of years.
Unilever recently announced it would overhaul its food research and development (R&D) structure in Europe. Only 29 out the current 60 R&D locations used by the firm would survive past the end of 2008, it said.
New product development is set to take place in six centres of excellence across the region, in order to make better use of resources and cut costs.
Rising input costs, in particular, damaged Unilever's drive to improve operating profit margins in 2006 and left the firm below its expectations.