UK luxury chocolate maker and retailer Thorntons has said that in the first 15 weeks of the current financial year total group sales were 4.8% below last year.

The impact of the reduction in sales has been compensated for by enhanced margins and improved operating efficiencies, Thorntons said. Own shop like-for-like sales were down 4.4%. Sales of branded product to other retailers in the same period were up nearly 1.0%.

“There are specific factors which have adversely influenced the own shop numbers, like changes in the timing of promotional activity compared with last year, but the principal cause of the weakness has clearly been the high street retail climate generally. However, it is encouraging to report that some signs of improvement have been seen in the last two weeks when the rate of like-for-like own shop sales decline has fallen by half,” the company said.

The outcome for the first half-year will, as always, depend upon Christmas trading, which historically accounts for about 60% of first-half sales.

“Discussions regarding a possible offer for the company are continuing, although there can be no certainty that any offer will be forthcoming. A further announcement will be made in due course,” the company added.

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