Thorntons reported an increase of four per cent in total sales in its third quarter trading figures as the planned closure of a number of stores continued.
Nine of the brand's own stores closed during Q3 along with six franchise stores, resulting in a franchise sales drop 21 per cent for the period, which Thorntons said was expected after the closure of its major franchisee, Clinton's, in May last year.
However, total sales for the period increased by four per cent to £60.6m year-on-year, while UK commercial sales continued growth in Q3, going up by 10 per cent to £27.4m. Retail sales in Thorntons' own stores dropped by 4.1 per cent to £26m as the store numbers dropped but like-for-like sales during the period grew by 0.2 per cent. The brand has closed 24 stores in the last year as part of a planned strategy.
Online sales decreased by 4.6 per cent to £2.2m although the Thorntons said it was beginning to see improvements in Thorntons Direct thanks to launch of a new website.
Thorntons' chief executive, Jonathan Hart, said: "We are pleased to report a satisfactory period of trading across the third quarter of our financial year.
"This period includes the important trading seasons of Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Easter, where we saw an encourage sales performance in our main channels."
The brand's share of the total boxed chocolate market was up by 0.5 per cent year-on-year to 12.2 per cent, while its share of the inlaid boxed chocolate market grew by 2.7 per cent to 35.6 per cent. Easter specialities sales increased by almost a quarter and Easter market share saw growth of 0.7 per cent compared to the same period last year, rising to 4.7 per cent.
"Growing market share further demonstrates the strength of the Thorntons brand and offer," Hart continued. "In addition, as a result of actions taken over the past two years, gross margins were slightly ahead of our expectations.
"Although we continue to be cautious about the impact of current economic conditions, the board is now confident that pre-exceptional profit before tax for the full year to 29 June 2013 will be substantially ahead of the current market expectation with the potential for further improvement in the final quarter."
The figures show total business sales are up by 3.2 per cent for the year to date and total commercial sales have increased by 21.6 per cent, although retail like-for-like sales across the three quarters fell by one per cent as the brand's recovery plan continued.