Thorntons will have to ‘follow the herd downmarket’, says analyst

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Thorntons stands by wholesale strategy after sales decline. Photo credit: Lee McCoy
Thorntons stands by wholesale strategy after sales decline. Photo credit: Lee McCoy

Related tags Retailing Supermarket Good Thorntons

UK chocolate firm Thorntons has posted sales declines in the second quarter and has no other option but to follow major supermarkets downmarket, according to an analyst.

Sales in Thorntons’ fast-moving consumer goods division (FMCG) plummeted 10.3% in Q2 to £41.9m ($63.6m), while retail division sales dropped 2.4% to £44.9m ($68.1m).

The firm, which has been shifting from own-store sales to wholesale for the past four years, blamed challenges with major grocers and difficulties with its new warehouse for the slump.

Same fate as the supermarkets

Ken Odeluga, market analyst at City Index, told ConfectioneryNews that Thorntons had suffered the same fate as the major UK supermarkets where its products were sold.

“There were a number of grocers that did not do well for the Christmas period,” ​he said.

The analyst said that some retailers had experienced inventory issues over the Christmas period, while others had discounted too heavily on Black Friday. “For many of these retailers, the results were negligible,” ​he said.

Price deflation

In 2011, Thorntons began to close just under half of its 344 own-stores to focus on growing sales in third party retailers – its commercial or FMCG channel.

Export prospects

International sales for the Thorntons FMCG division grew 19% in Q2. The premium chocolatier is focusing on English-speaking markets such as Australia, South Africa, UAE and the USA.

The company reported today that it had lost Christmas market share in its FMCG division, moving from 8.4% in Christmas 2013 to 7.3% for Christmas 2014.

“They probably became blindsided by price deflation seen throughout the year,”​ said Odeluga.

In 2014, UK grocery prices fell for the first time since the 1940s as major supermarkets cut prices to compete with discounters such as Lidl and Aldi. “Suppliers like Thorntons are in for the same pain affecting the supermarkets and other retailers,” ​said Odeluga. “They will need to follow the herd downmarket.”

‘Not in the same bracket as Lindt’

We asked if Thortons could tap into the premium market, given the success of brands like Lindt. “Thorntons has never really been in the same bracket as companies like Lindt,” ​said Odeluga. “It doesn’t have enough cultural headwind behind it.”

Thorntons CEO Jonathan Hart said that Thortons would continue its transition towards an FMCG business.

“We have good plans for the spring seasons and the Board remains confident in its multi-channel strategy and ongoing transformation."

Thorntons closed four retail stores during the second quarter and now operates 247 own stores.

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