Snowman helping Thorntons to walk on air

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sales of advent calendars and a new range of chocolates based on festive film favourite The Snowman helped retailer Thorntons serve up a 6.3 per cent hike in sales over Christmas.

Supermarket sales were once again the star performer for the confectioner, with UK commercial sales to other retailers leaping 21.1 per cent ahead in the 14 weeks to January 11 – its second and largest quarter.

But its embattled high street stores returned to like-for-like growth, with sales up 3.5 per cent after slipping back by 0.4 per cent in the previous three months in a sign that turnaround efforts are bearing fruit.

Total sales across the 281-strong estate fell 2.9 per cent to £46.1m, although this came after it shut seven more stores, leaving it with 36 less than a year earlier over the festive season.

It said sales were better than expected for new seasonal lines, including its range based on Raymond Brigg’s picture book and classic film The Snowman.

Online trade was also robust, up 27 per cent.

Jonathan Hart, chief executive of Thorntons, said: “These results are further positive evidence of the actions we have taken over the past two and a half years to rebalance our business and revitalise our great brand.”

He added the group was “confident” in its plans for the key Easter season, despite cautioning over challenging consumer conditions.

Its commercial operation now represents the biggest part of the business under an overhaul that has seen Thorntons focus on boosting orders with retailers to offset tougher high street trading.

Overall sales in the commercial arm rose 17.7 per cent to £47m, with the UK performance marginally offset by a 15.5 per cent plunge in international sales.

Investec analyst Nicola Mallard said Thorntons had a “good Christmas under its belt”.

Charles Stanley analyst Peter Smedley said the update “demonstrates further evidence that execution of the new transformation strategy continues to work”.

He added: “We understand that all the key commercial channels – grocers, high street, discounters, convenience, and wholesale – saw good sales increases.

“This attests to the restoration of the brand’s vitality, consumer appeal and competitiveness, as well as reflective of Thorntons’ stepped-up customer account and category management expertise.”

Travelling confectioner Joseph William Thornton opened his first shop in Sheffield in 1911.