FLORA and Hellmann's owner Unilever defied sluggish European trading as it delivered results ahead of City expectations.

Sales volumes were 4.8% higher in the fourth quarter, leading to growth of 3.4% for the year as a whole, helped by strong demand for its products in emerging markets. But European volumes were up by 0.7%, alongside a small reduction in underlying prices.

It said: "European performance was sluggish, reflecting the fragile state of consumer confidence and intensely competitive markets."

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However, Unilever said the UK and France performed well as the company responded to the needs of consumers by providing more products at lower price points.

Group turnover for the year rose by 10.5% to €51.3 billion (£43.1bn), while the company's net profits increased 7% to €4.9bn.

Chief executive Paul Polman said: "There is no room for complacency: markets will remain challenging, with intense competition and volatile commodity costs."

He said the priority for this year would be on achieving another year of profitable volumes growth ahead of market rivals.

Magnum and Sunsilk became its latest brands to generate €1bn in sales, bringing the total of such brands in its portfolio to 14.