UK confectioner Thorntons has sounded a cautious note ahead of the Christmas period as it booked a drop in first-quarter sales.

In the 14 weeks to 6 October, sales fell 1% to GBP46m (US$73.6m), mainly due to the effect of the closure of 36 stores in the previous financial year. However, like-for-like sales fell 1.7% to GBP21.7m.

Sales from its franchises were down almost one-quarter to GBP2m from GBP2.6m last year, impacted by the collapse of Clinton Cards, one of its main franchisee partners, in May.

Commercial sales, however, grew by 9.8% to GBP21.2m.

Jonathan Hart, Thorntons’ chief executive, said consumer spending and the wider economy remained “weak and difficult to predict”.

“We are therefore cautious in our outlook for the peak trading season ahead and have set our plans accordingly.”

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He added: “We continue to focus on improving profitability and are pleased that the margin improvements seen earlier in 2012 are continuing to flow through,” he said.

Thorntons’ share price climbed 3.3% to 31.50 pence at 11:32 BST.