Unilever on Wednesday reported disappointing third-quarter sales growth, despite a 15% surge in net profits.

On constant currency rates, the Anglo-Dutch colossus posted income of €866 million ($1.01 billion; £594m) for the three months, up from €756m in Q3 2002. But revenues were unchanged at €12.29bn, due in part to the poor performance of the company's fragrances.

Sales of Unilever's core brands – which generated 92% of total Q3 turnover – increased 3.2% in the quarter, and have risen 3.1% for year to date.

The group shocked analysts last week by revealing that full-year revenue growth from these leading brands would be below 3% – lower than the 4% forecast in June, itself a downward revision on the 5%–6% envisaged under the much-vaunted Path to Growth strategy [WAMN: 24-Jun-03; 21-Oct-03].

Releasing its Q3 data, Unilever refused to predict whether it would return to 5%–6% growth next year. "We can't speculate on what 2004 will hold, though the targets are still there," declared spokesman Mike Haines. "Whether we will hit them remains to be seen."

Group-wide sales for the first nine months of 2003 fell 2% to €35.78bn, though net profits jumped 14% to €2.13bn.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff