Thorntons to end sale of its chocolates in supermarkets

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The Independent Online

Thorntons, the posh chocolates group, yesterday signalled a U-turn in its strategy of selling its products through supermarkets, saying it could devalue the brand.

Thorntons, the posh chocolates group, yesterday signalled a U-turn in its strategy of selling its products through supermarkets, saying it could devalue the brand.

Christopher Burnett, who was brought in as executive chairman in April, said the availability of Thorntons on supermarket shelves could hurt sales at the group's 400 specialist shops and force the company to cut prices.

"I have told analysts that we will update them on our strategy by the time of our next results," Mr Burnett said. He signalled that the financial year just ended would be the last where sales and profits were driven by supermarket deals - despite these extra sales contributing to a 10 per cent increase in pre-tax profits to £7m.

The strategy of widening the availability of Thorntons' products was the brainchild of Peter Burdon, the chief executive, who hailed it as a way of reversing years of stagnating performance by the company's shops. But his new boss yesterday put the emphasis on improving efficiency at the company's chocolate factory in Derbyshire.

Nick Bubb, the veteran retail sector analyst at Evolution Beeson Gregory, predicted boardroom ructions. He said: "It was extremely noticeable that the new man took a different view to the person sitting next to him, and I expect there is a bit of tension behind the scenes.

"The fact that Thorntons products are available in Tesco could affect the perception of the brand, and I have always thought that the supermarket sales strategy is too good to be true. It could result in margin pressures and not result in the boost to profitability that the company had hoped for."

Thorntons' sales in the year to 30 June were up 7 per cent to £178.7m after the launch of new ranges such as the Dessert Gallery of chocolates. Its shares rose 3p to 165.5p.

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