Thorntons today reported an upbeat trading statement as the company benefitted from a three week longer selling season before Easter compared to last year.

Mike Davies, the chocolate company’s CEO said: “I am pleased to report that sales have shown strong growth since Christmas. Our cost reduction initiatives announced at the time of the interim results combined with our continued focus on product innovation and customer service are showing results.

“The board now expects that profit before tax and before the anticipated pension scheme credit of £1.8m for the year ending June 2009 will be not less than GBP5m (US$7.2m).”

Overall sales since Christmas were up 11.7% to GBP58.6m.

In the 14 week period to 18th April, own-store sales increased by 3.9% to GBP35.3m, with like for like sales growth of 3.3%. 

Franchise sales grew by 12.3% to GBP4m benefiting from additional distribution and from the annualised effect of new store openings, the company said.

Commercial sales continued to perform strongly with sales growth of 35.3% to GBP17.3m driven by continued expansion of the group’s seasonal ranges.

However, sales in Thorntons Direct declined by 6.8% to GBP2m, which the company said was as a result of the continued weakness in sales to corporate customers. However, sales from the website continued to grow steadily at 21.7%.