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Thorntons plans to double its size

Thorntons, the chocolate retailer and manufacturer, plans to double its size over the next four years in a move expected to create 820 new jobs in the UK.

The company, which yesterday reported full-year profits up almost a third, says it wants to expand more aggressively in London and the South, taking the number of wholly-owned Thorntons shops from 300 to over 500 in four years and creating 520 new jobs.

However Roger Paffard, the group's new-broom chief executive, said plans to consolidate chocolate packing on to one site in Derbyshire and automate processes like chopping toffee, traditionally done by hand, would mean slower growth in jobs in manufacturing. Thorntons plans to create 300 new manufacturing jobs over four years compared to over 600 which would have been needed without the restructuring.

Speaking after the company posted a 32 per cent rise in profits to pounds 11.5m in the year to June, excluding a pounds 21.7m restructuring provision in 1996, Mr Paffard said he was confident the market could support the group's expansion plans which include 80 new and re-sited shops this year.

Previous mistakes, which saw the opening of too many small outlets in hard-to-reach locations, would not be repeated, he said. A pounds 22m restructuring plan has involved expanding floor space to an optimum 450 square feet, siting stores in prime locations such as malls and shopping centres and locating in small market towns where competition is limited.

Thorntons is conducting trials of four branded coffee shops in the UK and launched a mail order catalogue in August.