Thorntons , the UK chocolate business owned by Italian confectionery giant Ferrero, has announced the permanent closure of all of its retail outlets.

The company said it has been impacted by coronavirus restrictions.

Its 61 shops, which are currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, will not be re-opening when general retailers can start trading again on 12 April under the UK government’s roadmap to gradually ease lockdown measures, putting 600 Thorntons’ jobs at risk.

The company will in future focus on the retail sales channel and its e-commerce business.

In a statement issued yesterday (15 March), Thorntons said: “We have been committed to transforming and growing a successful Thorntons retail estate – this has included significant investments to open new format stores and cafes and ensuring we had stores in the right locations.

“However, changing dynamics of the High Street, shifting customer behaviour to online, the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and the numerous lockdown restrictions over the last year – especially during our key trading periods at Easter and Christmas – has meant we have been operating in the most challenging circumstances.

“Unfortunately, like many other retailers, the obstacles we have faced and will continue to face on the High Street are too severe. Despite our best efforts we have taken the difficult decision to go into full consultation to start the permanent closure of our retail store estate. We understand that this will be an uncertain and concerning time for our colleagues and we will actively support them during this period.”

The 110-year-old business was acquired by Ferrero Rocher, Kinder and Nutella brands owner Ferrero in 2015 for GBP112m (US$154.9m at today’s exchange rate).

It is based in Alfreton in Derbyshire in the English Midlands. Its factories at Alfreton and at Greenford, west London, will be retained to service retail and e-commerce channels.

Thorntons added: "As customers continue to change the way they shop, we must change with them. We have seen a strong growth in Thorntons.co.uk and this will remain a key focus for us in continuing to provide you with your favourite Thorntons ranges, including our unique personalisation offering. 

"In addition, we continue to invest in building our brand in grocery channels with our partners in order to meet the demand from you, our loyal customers."

Thorntons said that its franchise stores - understood to total more than 100 - will not be affected by this decision.

In a statement to UK broadcaster the BBC, Thorntons said it had "proactively communicated" with its franchise partners to reassure them that it remains committed to supporting them and will continue to supply their business with the Thorntons range.