Consumer goods giant Unilever Plc/NV raised its prices sharply and saw strong growth in emerging markets to beat forecasts on Thursday with a 7.8 percent rise in third-quarter sales while forecasting flat to lower margins for 2011.

The Dove soaps and Hellmann's mayonnaise group raised prices nearly 6 percent while strong sales in emerging markets like India, Indonesia and Brazil helped offset tough conditions in the mature markets of Western Europe and the United States.

The Anglo-Dutch group cautioned that underlying operating margin in 2011 will be flat to slightly down due to the impact of commodity cost inflation.

The firm posted third-quarter underlying sales growth of 7.8 percent, beating a company compiled consensus for a rise of 6.3 percent, after its first two quarters of 2011 saw growth of 4.3 percent and then 7.1 percent.

Unilever's quarterly sales rise compares with European rivals such as Nestle at 6.8 percent, Danone at 5.9 percent, and U.S. peers Procter & Gamble
at 4 percent and Colgate Palmolive at 5 percent.


For a comparison graphic of European food groups:


Unilever Plc shares have outperformed the FTSE 100 <.FTSE> by 14 percent and European food and beverage stocks <.SX3P> by 7 percent this year. They closed on Wednesday at 20.72 pounds.

Unilever warned in April its commodity costs were spiralling higher and would rise 15 percent this year to put an extra 2.4 billion euros (2.07 billion pounds) on its commodity and packaging bill, bringing it to around 15 billion euros, and said cost savings would be in excess of its previous target of 1.3 billion euros.

All food groups are grappling with soaring costs but Unilever's heavy reliance on vegetable oils and chemicals for its spreads business and skin and laundry products puts it at a disadvantage to rival groups like Danone and Nestle who see costs rising 10 percent or less.

Unilever which sells Lipton tea, Ragu sauces and Blue Band margarine is a big purchaser of world commodities, buying 12 percent of the world's black tea crop, 6 percent of its tomatoes and 3 percent of global palm oil.

(Reporting by David Jones; Editing by Mike Nesbit and Hans-Juergen Peters)