Speaking on a conference call with analysts to discuss Unilever’s Q4 and full year 2012 results, Polman admitted that the firm’s food category underperformed, with sales growing 2% for the year and volumes down around 1%.
But he added: “Magnum is obviously an enormous success story. Since I started in the company, Magnum was 550 million in turnover and now we just passed the 1 billion euro barrier and that's just in 4 years.
“It's one of the greatest success stories, I think, in the history of consumer goods. Perhaps not sexy for many, but certainly should be sexy for our investors. And we increasingly have taken their opportunity and their confidence to launch our ice cream businesses in the emerging markets.
Ice cream doesn’t have to be a seasonal business
He added: “This is actually amazing if you think about it because the weather environment there is a whole year ice cream environment. That business doesn't need to be seasonal.”
Asked about margarine, he said: “we're growing our share in a declining market”, while Unilever's dressings business was also “growing very well”.
Food: I expected us to do better
As for the overall food business, he said: “I expected us to do better and we continue to remove small, noncore parts of our portfolio to get fully behind the bigger innovations like the Knorr jelly bouillon and the baking bags that continue to contribute strongly to growth.”
He would not say which brands might be sold next following the sale of the frozen meals business and Skippy peanut butter, but said: “We probably have about EUR 0.5 billion to EUR 750 million still of turnover that needs to be looked at because it's either a distraction or it's not; it's margin dilutive and top line dilutive or it also has no capabilities of global expansion.”
“In a single year, we've actually added 5 billion euros of turnover bursting through the 50 billion euro mark in the process… Today, Unilever is nearly 30% bigger than it was in 2009, and we have passed a major milestone in our journey towards our EUR 80 billion vision.”
Full-year turnover increased by 10.5% to €51.3bn, while underlying sales growth was 6.9% comprising volume growth of 3.4% and price growth of 3.3%.
Core earnings per share increased by 11% to €1.57.
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