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Soap giant cleans up across Asia

Dove soap and Persil consumer goods giant Unilever showed the UK and Western Europe are trailing emerging markets as the sluggish economic climate hits sales.

The group, which owns brands ranging from Magnum ice creams, PG Tips and Domestos bleach, said underlying sales volumes in Western Europe edged up 0.2% in the first half of the year compared to 5% in Asia and Africa.

Elsewhere, the group said its margins were down 0.2% as it battled to offset increasing raw material costs with pricing and savings. Prices in Western Europe were up by 1.1%, compared with 5% in its Americas region.

The group reported a 9% increase in pre-tax profits in the six months to June to £3.2bn as turnover increased 4% to £22.8bn.

Paul Polman, Unilever chief executive, said: "In a tough and volatile environment we have again delivered strong growth. Volumes were robust and in line with the market, despite having taken price increases."

Unilever said Western Europe remains challenging, but was driven by strong performances in Germany and France.

Personal care products, which include deodorant Lynx, shampoo Timotei and Vaseline - saw sales volumes increase 2.6%, with prices up 2.9%.

Dove products put in a strong performance as did Radox Spa and dental brand Oral, the company said.

Home care products, which include cleaning agent Cif and washing detergent Surf, saw volumes up 2.7%, with prices up 3.9%.

Shares were up 6% yesterday as the results came in ahead of City expectations.