Unilever has promised investors that new, cheaper products and more cost cuts would help it grow profits, despite reticent consumers dragging its sales growth in the third quarter to its weakest in nearly five years. 

Europe's persistent woes and a slowdown in emerging markets, where Unilever has more than half its sales, have weighed on the maker of household brands from Dove soap to Lipton tea.

In Britain, relatively wealthy consumers have snapped up premium goods like the company's £10 Regenerate toothpaste, or its £29 jars of Maille mustard with wine and truffles. 

But the company said that most consumers in most countries are cutting back. 

To grow even as families tighten their belts and turn to discount stores, Unilever is introducing cheaper products, like smaller Cornetto ice cream cones that sell for €1 in Spain or a lira in Turkey. 

It is also putting more emphasis on a local food brand in Brazil, Arisco. 

"We've learned from the previous economic crises the importance of having such value brands in the portfolio that can capture some of the downtrading that inevitably happens when disposable income levels fall," Unilever's chief financial officer Jean-Marc Huet said. 

Unilever today reported a 2.1% rise in third-quarter underlying sales growth, below average analyst expectations of a 3.7% increase, according to a company-compiled consensus. 

Sales volume, measuring the amount of goods sold, rose only 0.3%, below analysts' estimate of 1.8% and growth of 1.9% in the first and second quarters. 

Emerging markets, key for Unilever, have taken a dive in recent months, with Brazil sliding into recession, China facing what may be its worst slowdown in 24 years and Russia dealing with Western sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine. 

That has hurt the whole sector, with Nestle, Coca-Cola, Heineken and Reckitt Benckiser some of the companies to report disappointing results. 

However, two bright spots have been France's Danone and Pernod Ricard, which are recovering from particular problems in China. 

China was also particularly difficult for Unilever, whose third-quarter sales slid 20% there, as retailers and wholesalers reduced inventory levels due to the slowdown. 

CFO Huet said overall growth in the global markets that Unilever operates in was trending below 2%, down from 3% at the start of the year. 

Unilever, however, still expects to outperform its markets this year, and said it can achieve "another year of profitable volume growth ahead of our markets, steady and sustainable core operating margin improvement and strong cash flow".