Unilever co-chairman Niall Fitzgerald sprang from his corner in aggressive mode on Wednesday, following the fmcg giant's revelation it had stumbled off its much-hyped 'path to growth'. This unplanned detour resulted in a year-on-year Q1 profits slump of 8% [WAMN: 28-Apr-04].

Fitzgerald vowed an “unblinking defence” of the group's market share in the face of an assault by leading competitors -- notably Procter & Gamble, which has launched a price war in India, for long Hindustan Lever's immense backyard.

"Cut-throat competition" among European supermarkets has also taken its toll on a number of Unilever key brands -- among them Persil, Dove and Lipton -- as retailers discount their own-brand spread and laundry products.

Sales of Unilever's core four hundred brands rose only 1.3% during the first quarter of 2003, Fitzgerald revealed to investors, while assuring that the situation is but a temporary blip on the chart.

Investors, however, remain twitchy and Unilever shares fell 6% Wednesday, driven by analysts' belief that retaliation by the Anglo-Dutch mammoth will hit its bottom line in terms of promotional costsand trade discounting.

Data sourced from: Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff