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UPDATE 1-Food group Danone keeps 2017 goals despite Q2 sales slowdown

* Q2 sales up 0.2 pct l-f-l vs est. 0.4 pct growth

* H1 operating margin 14.18 pct of sales vs est. 13.4 pct

* Dairy Noram Q2 sales down 2.9 pct l-f-l

* Full year 2017 goals confirmed (Adds details from statement)

PARIS, July 27 (Reuters) - French food group Danone kept its full year goals on Thursday after it posted a higher-than-expected rise in first-half operating profit, helped by cost control and synergies from its acquisition of U.S. organic food producer WhiteWave.

Sales growth, however, slowed down further in the second quarter, with Danone's performance coming in below that of its European peers, amid challenging conditions for its dairy business in Europe and north America.

"As expected, the slow start of the year is the result of specific emerging markets headwinds and challenges in Europe and North America," said Chief Executive Emmanuel Faber.

"The very strong improvement in margin and earnings per share growth this semester again bodes well for our ability to reach our objectives for the year with expected growth acceleration in the course of the second half," he added.

The world's largest yoghurt maker, whose brands include Actimel and Activia said first-half operating profit reached 1.72 billion euros ($2 billion), a like-for-like rise of 7.3 percent, which was above a company-compiled median of analyst estimates for 1.646 billion euros.

Second-quarter like-for-like sales, however, rose 0.2 percent - below analyst expectations for 0.4 percent growth.

This marked a slowdown from 0.7 percent growth in the first quarter and lagged the 3 percent growth at Unilever and 2.4 percent by Nestle in the second quarter.

Danone has suffered slower growth than its peers, largely due to weakness in its dairy business in Europe amid slow consumption and competition from private labels.

Its dairy business was hit by a relatively unsuccessful Activia re-launch in Europe, while in China its baby food and waters businesses have faced regulatory issues.

Danone's second quarter numbers included the impact of its WhiteWave takeover.

Its closely-watched 'Essential Dairy & Plant-based Noram' business, which now groups Danone and WhiteWave in north America, suffered a 2.9 percent decline in second quarter sales.

Danone attributed this fall to a challenging climate in the U.S. food and beverage industry, and the adverse effects of a delayed closing process for the WhiteWave deal.

The priority was to fix short-term operational issues around certain WhiteWave brands which did not perform that well during the quarter, Danone said.

Nevertheless, Danone reiterated it expected double-digit earnings per share (EPS) growth at constant exchange rates for 2017 with a "moderate" like-for-like sales growth.

($1 = 0.8516 euros) (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)