Thorntons announced today (3 November) that Jonathan Hart will become group chief executive officer from early next year.

When current CEO Mike Davies announced plans to step down in May, the company said he had “decided that a chief executive with specific retail knowledge is required to lead the business”. In Hart, the chocolate chain may have found that person.

Hart comes to the retailer with 25 years of consumer goods experience, and has spent the last five years as managing director of Caffè Nero.

It’s clear that Thorntons is pinning many of its hopes for the future on the appointment, highlighting how during his tenure at the coffee chain, the business more than doubled in size to over 400 stores with EBIDA reaching GBP28.7m and revenue of GBP153.6m in the year to May.

Datamonitor analyst Neil Saunders described the appointment “as a very good thing” as he brings a retail background as well as a brand and marketing background to the business.

Saunders said that the company’s results rebounded somewhat in the first quarter after profit fell in its 2009/10 financial year due to a “little bit more of a focus on third-party channels” as well as improved customer sentiment.

However, he said that while the company’s results improved, there are still “long-term strategic issues that need to be addressed”.

Saying that the company lacks a “coherent strategy”, Saunders believes Hart will need to consider the number of stores and their format, opportunities to leverage the brand as well as other manufacturing opportunities for the chain.

While Davies is leaving the company, with his 30-year experience at chocolate manufacturers Nestle and Mars Inc making him ill-equipped to rescue a retailer facing issues with its store estate, a number of initiatives that he oversaw are still making their way into stores.

The company announced plans last month to launch chilled dessert range, which will help it to reduce its dependence on the three months around Christmas – when the company generates around 40% of its sales.

Davies also worked to broaden Thorntons’ appeal, encouraging a new emphasis on consumer-led innovation and increased its reach through selling chocolates through third parties, gaining listing at the country’s major retailers.

With Hart, the company will be in the hands of someone who has held senior positions at Abbey, Woolworths, Big W and more than a decade at Dixon’s Group. For a retailer facing problems in its outlets, Hart should provide a steady set of hands.