- Unilever has reported underlying sales growth of 5.4% for the first half of the year, with an 0.3% increase in turnover.

The company has an underlying operating margin of 18.8%, a fall of 100 basis points over the period driven by investment behind its brands and input cost inflation, it said.

Underlying earnings per share were down 2%, including a negative impact of 6.3% from currency, while free cash flow is €2.4 billion, down from €2.9 billion in the first half of 2020.

The company has announced a quarterly shareholder dividend of €0.4268 per share and confirmed a share buyback programme of up to €3 billion is underway.

Alan Jope, chief executive officer, said: 'We are making good progress against the strategic choices outlined earlier this year, including the development of our portfolio into high growth spaces. Prestige Beauty and Functional Nutrition grew strongly and we recently announced the acquisition of digitally-native skin care brand Paula's Choice. The operational separation of our Tea business is substantially complete. Our ecommerce business grew 50% and the channel now represents 11% of sales.

'Competitive growth is our priority, and we are confident that we will deliver underlying sales growth in 2021 well within our multi-year framework of 3-5%, despite more challenging comparators in the second half. We have seen further cost inflation emerge through the second quarter. Cost volatility and the timing of landing price actions create a higher than normal range of likely year end margin outcomes. We are managing this dynamically and expect to maintain underlying operating margin for 2021 around flat.'

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