And despite inflationary pressure in the third-quarter, it is reporting strong margins, too.
Unilever (LSE: ULVR) is an interesting company to watch. While it manufactures a lot of household staples, which hold up well through recessions, it also offers products aimed towards the luxury branded end of the market, which people might well shun for cheaper ones during hard times.
But as Thursday's third quarter results show, things are going steadily with barely a recessionary ripple to be seen.
Asia up but Europe flagging
Underlying sales growth rose by 3.6% on the same quarter a year ago, though that was a shade behind expectations. But operating profit was up 21% and diluted earnings per share up 19%, which were ahead of forecasts.
We should be cautious before we take that as a sign of economic recovery, as the quarter's sales growth has come from Asia and other emerging markets, where, although sales growth slowed from 7.9% previously, it still came in at 6.7%.
Western European sales actually fell by 0.3%, dragged down by poor performances in the struggling economies of Greece, Spain and Ireland.
Elsewhere, the results revealed signs of inflation, with Unilever warning us that higher commodity costs are putting pressure on its gross margins. We are going to see that feeding through to higher retail prices in the fourth quarter.
But even after that is taken into account, operating margins are holding up very well -- up 20 basis points, in fact.
The future picture for margins is looking good too, as chief executive Paul Polman said:
"Our priorities remain to drive profitable volume growth and strong cash flow along with steady and sustainable improvement in underlying operating margin for the year as a whole."
In its first year of paying dividends quarterly, Unilever looks to be on track to deliver around 70p per share for the full year, for a yield of about 3.7%. A yield around the 4% mark is forecast for next year.
That's not the highest dividend on the market, but with Unilever having come through the recession pretty much unscathed and with its future looking strong, this really could be a share for all seasons.
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