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Hot weather hits Thorntons chocolate sales

Chocolatier Thorntons issued a profits warning today as it blamed the record temperatures in April for a meltdown in Easter sales.

The company said the hot weather put customers off buying chocolate and saw same-store sales plunge 23% over the crucial Easter week.

Thorntons said it now expects pre-tax profits to be between £3 million and £4.5 million for the year to June 25, compared with £6.1 million the previous year. City analysts previously expected earnings for this financial year to be around £6 million.

The warning comes as supermarkets step up promotions and discounts on chocolate Easter eggs and as cocoa and sugar prices continue to soar, piling pressure on smaller stores.

Thorntons' dismal Easter trading period follows a similarly weather-hit Christmas season, when Arctic conditions wiped £3.5 million from its sales and saw pre-tax profits slide 8.5%.

April was one of the hottest and driest on record, according to MeteoGroup UK, the weather division of the Press Association. The average temperature recorded in central England - 11.9C (53F) - was the highest for April since records began 353 years ago.

Jonathan Hart, Thorntons' chief executive, who is conducting a review of the business which will conclude in the next three months, said the company made its ice cream available in more stores than last year over the Easter period.

But he added: "These significant additional sales were insufficient to offset the impact of the weather on those of our core chocolate items."

The company said sales at its 371 company-owned stores were down 13.9% to £31.4 million in the 16 weeks to April 30, a 12.6% like-for-like decline.

But the company did see sales in its commercial channel - that is selling through supermarkets - increase 25.1% in the face of strong competition.

Elsewhere, the company said total sales for the year to date were up 2.9% and it increased its market share on Easter seasonal lines.