Unilever posted lower-than-expected third-quarter sales, losing market share to smaller competitors and dampening hopes that an aborted takeover offer from Kraft Heinz would spark a swift improvement. 

The consumer goods company said its underlying sales rose only 2.6%. 

That was below the 3.9% growth expected by analysts in a company-supplied consensus, and below the 3%seen in the first half of the year. 

Unilever's shares were 4% lower this morning, having risen by about a third since Kraft's unsuccessful $143 billion takeover bid for the maker of Magnum ice cream and Dove soap in February. 

The company blamed poor weather in Europe, hurricanes in the US and earthquakes in Mexico for disrupting its sales. 

But it also cited the growing threat from local competitors in markets such as US ice cream and Southeast Asian personal care. 

Unilever lifted its profitability target in July and there was some concern that lower spending on marketing was having a negative impact on sales. 

"Our competitiveness has dropped off a little," the company's chief financial officer Graeme Pitkethly said. 

The company is only gaining market share in about half of its business, he said, down from about 60% in previous years. 

Swiss rival Nestle today reported accelerated third-quarter sales, but said increased restructuring costs would weigh on margins.

Pitkethly said the quarter came up about €150m, or about one day's worth of sales, short of internal hopes. 

"We're not happy with that in aggregate. In fact, we feel we left some runs in the field," Pitkethly said. Hurricanes caused about a week's worth of lost sales in Texas and Florida, its biggest US markets, he noted. 

Unilever's ice cream business, which also includes Ben & Jerry's and Wall's, saw double-digit declines in Europe, hurt by poor weather, and suffered market share losses in the US at the hands of a new brand, Halo Top. 

Unilever had reduced its advertising and marketing spending by 130 basis points in the first half of the year, in an effort to cut costs in the wake of Kraft's bid, and one analyst said that may have hurt its sales now.

Its turnover fell by 1.6%, hurt by a 5.1% hit from foreign exchange rates, the company said. 

Excluding its up-for-sale margarine and spreads business, for which tentative takeover bids are due today, sales rose 2.8%. 

The company stood by its full-year forecast for sales growth of 3-5%, an improvement in underlying operating margin of at least 100 basis points and strong cash flow.