Outlook for Thorntons not so sweet as shares fall

Jonathan Hart’s plan is to shut dozens of high street shops

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The Independent Online

Thorntons’ chief executive, Jonathan Hart, failed to convince investors that a near 12 per cent fall in sales was just a blip on the road to transforming the chocolatier, as shares fell to a 12-month low.

Mr Hart’s plan is to shut dozens of high street shops and focus on the more lucrative, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) business by selling chocolate boxes directly to supermarkets and department stores.

But a switch in the timings of orders in the FMCG division sent sales down 12.8 per cent in the three months to 4 October. Retail sales were also down 10.9 per cent as 12 more shops were closed, leaving 249. It means that the company has shut more than 100 stores in the past three years.

Mr Hart said: “We anticipated that sales for this quarter would be below last year as a result of the increasingly fluctuating order patterns in our UK commercial channel. As we demonstrated last year, these variances do not necessarily affect overall annual performance.”

However, although he said full-year profit is still expected to hit around £9.6m, the shares fell 4 per cent to 95p.

Last month, Thorntons’ sales to supermarkets overtook high street sales for the first time, as the business untied itself from onerous leases.