High street chocolate shop Thornton’s revealed plans yesterday to offer customers at nine pilot outlets the chance to buy hot coffee and pastries with their boxes of speciality Belgian chocolates.

The Midlands town of Dudley will be the first to test the concept, and its new look will be unveiled tomorrow.

The new strategy has been welcomed by analysts, who have been waiting for signs of a financial turnaround since CEO Peter Burdon took on the beleaguered chain last year. Burdon has promised a three-year restructuring programme and if the coffee shop formula is successful, it could be rolled out though Thornton’s 400 outlets by 2004.

Thornton’s also revealed that it would double the number of its “sit-in” Café Thornton’s to 56 within the next three years.

Burdon confirmed the company was on track with its plans to distribute a new range of branded desserts through UK supermarket chains. This range will be supplemented with ice cream, biscuits and chocolate bars over the next six months.

Burdon revealed the restructuring news while reporting Thornton’s financial results for the 53 weeks to 30 June. Having taken over the company after it had issued two profit warnings, the FY results are still not positive. Turnover was up 4% to £159.5m (US$233m), but like-for-like sales had dropped by 0.5% per cent drop in like-for-like sales. Excluding a one-off £1.1m hit last year, profits fell 7.6% to £6.1m.