Spreckelsen hiring sweetens Thorntons

John von Spreckelsen, the former chairman of Somerfield who has a reputation for selling companies, has been parachuted in to Thorntons, the chocolate retailer that has recently lurched from profits warning to bid talks and back again.

The former supermarket executive, who ran Budgens before selling it to Ireland's Musgrave, joined Thorntons as chairman yesterday. His appointment sparked speculation that the company would be sold, and shares in Thorntons closed 5p higher at 121p.

Mr Von Spreckelsen takes over from Christopher Burnett, who was ousted in March after his attempt to buy Thorntons failed when he dropped his mooted bid price to 130p per share from 185p.

The founding Thorntons family, who still speak for about 25 per cent of the group's shares, are thought to be keen to find a buyer. Baugur, the acquisitive Icelandic investment company, is known to have eyed Thorntons in the past and its interest could be rekindled.

For his part, Mr Von Spreckelsen said he had joined to "review the strategy, if necessary change it and then implement it". He denied being charged to sell the company, saying: "That was not part of my discussions with the independent directors." John Thornton, who ran the business for most of the 1980s and 1990s, is one of the company's non-executive directors.

In a statement, Thorntons highlighted the fact that Mr Von Spreckelsen "delivered excellent returns to shareholders". The company said he would be work in an "executive capacity", helping the executive directors implement a new strategy.

Thorntons was one of the first high-street casualties last Christmas. Its shops saw sharply lower sales while its wholesale chocolate business - which sells to most of the major supermarkets - has been criticised for weakening the brand.