Business

Ben and Jerry's maker Unilever says ice cream sales dented by lockdown

Henry Saker-Clark, PA

Ben & Jerry's manufacturer Unilever said it has taken a hit to its food service and ice cream businesses as the coronavirus pandemic has kept customers at home.

However, the consumer giant said it was buoyed by "household stocking", which drove strong sales in North America and Europe in March as the outbreak gathered pace.

It reported that underlying sales volumes were flat at €12.4bn (£10.8bn) over the three months to March.

The Dove soaps and Domestos producer said it was boosted by higher sales of "hygiene and in-home food products".

Underlying sales of home care products increased by 2.4 per cent for the quarter, while beauty and personal care products saw sales rise by 0.3 per cent.

The group said it has "opened up new capacity" in response to surging demand.

Finance chief Graeme Pitkethly told journalists that it has rapidly grown its "small hand sanitiser business to now cover 30 sites across the world", including shifting its Leeds factory to also produce sanitiser.

Meanwhile, food and drink sales dipped as its food service arm was hit by restaurant closures.

It added that its out-of-home ice cream business, which includes sales at beaches, parks and cinemas, saw sales dented during the period, with further disruption expected during the key second quarter.

Unilever chief executive Alan Jope said: "We have been able to maintain the supply of product and we are keeping our factories running through the many unpredictable challenges in local operating environments across our value chain.

"As the crisis hits countries around the world, we see upswings in sales of hygiene and in-home food products, combined with some household stocking, and near cessation of out-of-home consumption, which is particularly affecting our food service and ice cream business.

"We are adapting to new demand patterns and are preparing for lasting changes in consumer behaviour, in each country, as we move out of the crisis and into recovery."

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