UK chocolate maker and retailer Thorntons has reported a 4.4% rise in first-half sales to £109.3m (US$201.8m).

Own shop like-for-like sales for the 28 weeks to 10 January rose 2.5%, while over the seven weeks to 27 December like-for-like sales rose 4.6%. However, the company said margin levels did not fully meet its expectations.

Thorntons said franchise sales rose just 1.3% despite ten more outlets, mainly due to destocking and some short-term summer re-merchandising into gifts and cards. In addition most franchises do not sell ice cream, whereas most of Thorntons' own stores do.

Thorntons said its strategy to widen distribution of Thorntons products into other retailers continued to be successful. Private label commercial sales rose by 6.0% to £8.8m and Thorntons branded commercial sales were up 140%, driven by new listings, to £3.6m.
    
"I am pleased with the strong performance over Christmas. Whilst I would have wished for our margin to have been stronger, we were left with little surplus stock post Christmas. Progress on new commercial listings has been very good and we now have products on the shelf of every major food retailer. We are developing the range further into this new market with a range of boxed chocolates and Easter eggs," said CEO Peter Burdon.

"Whilst the turnaround in sales since the summer is very encouraging, we recognise that creating consistent sales growth is key and this is central to our strategy. In addition, we intend to give further impetus to margin and cost improvement," he added.

The company added that discussions with a number of parties regarding a possible takeover offer for the company were continuing.