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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 February, 2004, 10:51 GMT
Unilever sales hit by Atkins Diet
The hot summer saw ice cream sales soar
Unilever sales failed to reach their targets as consumers ditched SlimFast in favour of the Atkins diet - but the hot summer boosted ice cream sales.

Sales of the Anglo-Dutch firm's leading brands rose only 2.5% - missing targets of 5-6% growth set out last year.

But despite the disappointing figures, annual profits increased 21% to 4.9bn euros (3.35bn).

Meanwhile, the firm also announced that chairman Niall Fitzgerald is to retire after eight years at the helm.

Mr Fitzgerald - who was behind the group's five-year "Path To Growth" plan - said he was "disappointed" sales had not reached their targets.

He added action was being taken to correct disappointing sales in specific areas, including SlimFast and prestige fragrances, but he did not expect to reach targets of 5-6% growth in the coming year.

Shares rise

Mr Fitzgerald, who has been at the company for 37 years, said his role as chairman had been an "enormously fulfilling experience".

He is expected to leave the group on 30 September.

He added the firm had continued to generate significant cost savings, despite a difficult year.

Shares in the group rose 21.75p to 554.75p in early trading, with traders putting the jump down to relief that the results had not been worse.

Delta Securities trader Paulo Nunes said: "I think some people might be relieved that they did not issue a profit warning or something like that."

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