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Unilever has promised to step up innovation after reporting a 39% year-on-year drop in profit before tax to $1.5bn for the first quarter of 2009.

Sales for the first-quarter period remained relatively steady, despite the economic situation, dropping just 1% to $13.bn compared to the same period in 2008.

Unilever chief executive Paul Polman said: "First quarter results were solid given today’s trading environment, with growth of 4.8% and underlying margins maintained, before dilution from disposals. We have made good progress implementing plans to reignite volume growth, building on existing strengths and correcting competitive gaps. We will further step up innovation and brand support from the second quarter and expect this to drive an improved volume performance. This will be achieved while protecting cash and margins for the year" he added.

The company has increased the speed at which innovations are rolled out and has introduced new products which, it said, offered better value for money.

In Western Europe, for example, Unilever has already released new Dove products, including hair-minimising deodorant and damage-repair shampoo.

Unilever has also placed a greater emphasis on "superior functional benefits" of its products "backed up by clinical proofs and strong communication".

Unilever operates in the food, personal and home care sectors across Asia, Africa, the Americas and Western Europe. Its brands include Surf, Vaseline and Pot Noodle.