In an uncharacteristic display of corporate machismo, Procter & Gamble chairman/ceo A G Lafley on Friday told the Analyst Group of New York that the Cincinnati colossus had beaten its primary rival Unilever into second place in the globe's emerging markets.

"Here's an interesting fact," he told the assembled entrail-rakers, "P&G's developing market business is bigger than Unilever's." Lafley, not usually given to boasting, may have been provoked by a jokey remark made by Unilever ceo Patrick Cescau at a similar gathering in Arizona last week.

When asked by Prudential Securities analyst John McMillin to comment on the idea that "Unilever is what Procter eats for lunch," Cescau took the bait, replying that in some markets his company had P&G "for dessert and coffee".

Cescau, however, is not noted for making the same mistake twice. When invited to comment on Lafley's counter-claim, Unilever politely declined.

The niceties of warfare observed, the conflict between the titans rages as fiercely as ever, especially in the battlegrounds of high-growth markets such as China, India and Brazil.

In these markets Unilever commands annual sales of $19 billion. P&G, even with Gillette's added contribution, can manage only $16bn.

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff