Belfast Telegraph

Thorntons' bitter taste of sales fall

By Graeme Evans

Struggling retailer Thorntons slumped to half-year profits of less than £1m after counting the cost of a poor Christmas.

The group's own-store sales were down by 5.5% on a like-for-like basis in the 28 weeks to January 7 as customers proved more likely to buy promoted lines and the company's margins were hit by rising raw material costs.

Underlying profits were down 61% to £3.1m but, including nearly £2.5m of charges to cover loss-making stores, Thorntons reported bottom-line profits of £618,000 for the six months.

It scrapped its half-year dividend but chief executive Jonathan Hart insisted that Thorntons' strategy was the right one - referring to plans unveiled last year to close at least 120 stores and drive more business through supermarkets and commercial channels.

He said: "These results and the economic climate only reaffirm the need for change."

The company, which employs 3,000 staff and holds 7% of the UK chocolate market, ended the period with 344 stores after closing 20 outlets as their leases expired. It envisages an estate of between 180 and 200 stores in "sustainable" locations, with store refurbishments based on a successful trial format in Birmingham.

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