Consumer goods giant Unilever Plc/NV warned of a difficult 2012 on Thursday due to a tough economic outlook after broadly matching 2011 sales forecasts after it hiked prices and saw strong emerging market growth.

The Anglo-Dutch maker of brands like Hellmann's, Knorr and Dove pushed up prices in the final three months of 2011 to offset higher commodity costs, but cautioned of tough times in western Europe ahead and slow growth in North America.

The world's third biggest consumer goods group reported underlying sales in 2011 rose 6.5 percent in line with forecasts of 6.4 percent, with four-quarter growth of 6.6 percent compared to rival Procter & Gamble which saw a 4 percent rise.

We expect the macro-economic environment to remain difficult in 2012 and input cost headwinds will persist although to a lesser extent than in 2011, said Chief Executive Paul Polman said in a results statement.

The group which sells Lipton tea, Ragu sauces and Blue Band margarine reported 2011 core earnings per share rose 4 percent to 1.41 euros, below forecasts of 1.46 euros.

European food rivals report later this month with France's Danone on Feb 15 and Swiss Nestle

(Reporting by David Jones)