PARIS Feb 19 French food group Danone warned of a fresh blow to its profits amid slower sales growth this year as it saw no respite from the economic downturn in Southern Europe, which is hitting its core dairy business.
The world's largest yoghurt maker, which plans to cut around 900 jobs in Europe over two years to cope with the downturn, said it aimed to return to "strong, profitable" growth in 2014.
Danone predicted that its 2013 operating margin would drop by between 30 and 50 basis points, having fallen 50 basis points to 14.18 percent in 2012.
The maker of Activia and Actimel yoghurt, Evian water and Bledina baby food said underlying sales in 2012 grew 5.4 percent to 20.869 billion euros, above forecasts of 20.75 billion euros.
This was at the low end of Danone's 5-7 percent forecast range and lagged the 5.9 percent achieved by Swiss rival Nestle and the 6.9 percent of Unilever.
For this year, Danone, which faces pressure from U.S. activist shareholder Nelson Peltz to improve its performance, set a goal of underlying sales growth of at least 5 percent.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Elena Berton)