Supermarket sales of Thorntons chocolate boxes helped lift the company’s profits at a time when it is cutting its high street store estate.
The group, which has a store at the Piazza Shopping Centre in Huddersfield, said revenues increased by 4.5% to £139.7m in the six months to January 11 – with underlying profits up by 47% to £7.2m.
Thornton’s commercial operation, which includes sales to other retailers such as supermarkets, lifted turnover by 14.5% to £70.6m in the period and now represents the biggest part of the business.
Total sales in the retail division declined by 4% to £69.1m as a result of an ongoing store closure programme which left it with 36 fewer sites than a year earlier.
It ended the period with 281 stores as it works towards a profitable estate of between 180 and 200 sites in the medium term.
Excluding changes in store space, retail sales were 2.1% higher than a year earlier after a strong Christmas selling season was boosted by “outstanding” sales from its advent calendars and Snowman ranges.
The group’s UK commercial arm lifted sales by 17.3% to £62.4m against a restated fgure of £53.2m last time.
“Thorntons said sales of Christmas specialities grew by 68% and reported “good take-up” of early spring deliveries. International sales grew to £4.5m from £4.1m.
In the retail division, a strong first half in Thorntons stores and good growth online resulted in 2.1% like-for-like growth.
The group said it was on track to close about 40 stores during the financial year – with 15 stores closing during the period under review – taknig it towards its target of having 180 to 200 stores in the medium-term.
Consumer Direct sales increased by 23.4% to £4.1m while franchise sales increased to £5.1m from £5m.
Chief executive Jonathan Hart said: “Across our two divisions, all of our core channels have delivered positive results.
“We are particularly pleased to have maintained strong sales growth in our UK commercial channel and achieved positive like-for-like growth in our retail division.
“During the period, we re-launched our Classics and Nostalgia ranges which were well received by our customers. “The response to our seasonal specialities, especially our new Snowman licensed range, exceeded our expectations.
“Overall we continue to be encouraged with the progress which has been made in implementing our strategy of rebalancing the business, revitalising the brand and restoring profitability.
“We look forward to the key spring seasons of Mother’s Day and Easter with confidence.
“Going forward, our focus remains firmly on continuing our current strategy and maintaining the positive trajectory that we have established over the past two years
“As a result of the growing production volumes, we are also investing in increasing our manufacturing capacity to support our long-term objectives. As expected, the marketplace remains highly competitive and our consumers continue to seek value. Our plans have been made accordingly. Our current outlook for the financial year remains in line with market expectations.”