Unilever's sales volumes in Europe rose four per cent during the first three months of 2007, despite a price decline of 0.7 per cent, the group announced. Turnover rose two per cent to €3.5bn. And it was ice cream brands, including Ben & Jerry's and Walls, that led the food division thanks an early start to the season. Spring has almost been by-passed in some parts of Western Europe this year, and Britain's MET office announced this week that April had been the warmest since the country's records began. That has got ice cream makers off to a good start compared to a prolonged spate of cold weather at the beginning of 2006. Sales on a hot, sunny day can be five or six times higher, according to UK industry association Ice Cream Alliance. Mark Gossage, of the Alliance, said some of the biggest growth was in premium brands, led by Unilever's Ben & Jerry's, among others. Unilever has also focused on healthy innovation for ice cream, launching its high in calcium 'Milk-time' tubs in Europe. The move followed success for similar products in Asia. Overall, the firm said consumer demand had picked up across Europe during the quarter, a piece of good news that will also be welcomed by rivals. Unilever operating margins fell 2.4 per cent in the region due to increased restructuring costs, however. Margins also dipped on a global level to 13.7 per cent from 14.7 per cent. Unilever's underlying global sales rose 5.4 per cent to €9.5bn during the first quarter. Of the group's three regional operations, the Asia Africa division came out tops in terms of sales growth for the company's food and personal care products. China's increasing economic prowess, coupled with the increasing markets in Indonesia highlighted the importance of Asia to the group's food division.