Unilever put profits back on an upward path yesterday as it revealed it was selling off most of its European frozen food business.
The Anglo-Dutch giant said it had been a "tough call" to sell its fish finger firm Birds Eye - but that it had been struggling to find market growth.
The sale will impact on 3,500 workers, including those at Hull and Lowestoft.
Also being sold is the Iglo brands outside of the UK, although Unilever will keep the Findus business in Italy and Bertolli in the USA.
The Anglo-Dutch group, whose products include Magnum ice cream, Lipton Ice Tea, Hellmann's mayonnaise and Dove soap, said that annual pre-tax profits had risen 28 per cent to 4.75 billion euros (£3.26 billion).
Overall like-for-like sales were up 3.1 per cent in 2005 while they had been almost flat at 0.4 per cent in 2004.
Unilever has been in recovery mode since September 2004, when it shocked the City with the first profit warning in its history after its Path to Growth programme failed to live up to expectations.
Unilever later announced its 2004 profits had fallen 36 per cent to 2.9 billion euros (£1.99 billion).
It said that its cost-cutting "One Unilever" programme would deliver savings of 700 million euros (£480 million) by the end of this year, possibly rising to one billion euros (£686 million) by the end of 2007.
In Europe it admitted it had a lost market share in the home and personal care division which includes laundry products Surf and Comfort and other brands such as Rexona.
Its food range maintained its share of the market and achieved growth, Unilever said. Overall like-for-like sales in Europe fell 0.2 per cent.
Chief executive Patrick Cescau said the firm's European performance was an improvement but added there was "still work to do to return Europe to full competitiveness and growth".
The emerging Chinese market saw sales rise by 20 per cent - driven largely by higher volumes as well as slight price increases.
Unilever's new products in 2005 included Pond soap's "mud" range in China, a Sun-silk summer range across south east Asia and Sun 4-inone dishwasher tablets in Europe.
The 2005 results were helped by the last three months of the year where like-for-like sales rose five per cent though profit margins slipped.
Panmure Gordon analyst Graham Jones said: "It isn't too difficult to grow sales if you a re willing to sacrifice margins.
"The real challenge comes in 2006 when it needs to sustain sales growth against tougher comparisons while growing margins."
Unilever took control of Birds Eye in 1943 when it became the majority shareholder in Frosted Foods and the UK rights to a method of food preservation new to mass markets - deep freezing.