Unilever said on Thursday that its pre-tax profit for the first quarter of 2008 was up 39 per cent at constant rates. The company added that its turnover in the period was up six per cent at constant rates.

Unilever said that it had made a strong start to the year with underlying sales growth of 7.2 per cent. Operating margins for the company were also up 19 per cent, including 517 million euros of disposal profits.

Earnings per share at Unilever were also up 35 per cent thanks to the disposal profits.

Patrick Cescau, group chief executive, said, We have had a good start to the year, with strong organic growth across our categories and an underlying improvement in operating margin.

He continued, The disciplined execution of our strategy, together with the combined advantage of strong brands, a product range serving consumer's everyday needs and our broad geographical footprint, leave us well placed to deliver competitive growth with an underlying improvement in operating margin in 2008, despite challenging conditions.

While it is early in the year, we now expect underlying sales growth in 2008 to exceed our 3-5% target range.