Retailsalesmeltedaway,butcommercialsalesimproved,leavingtotalsalesdownasmidgenat£46。

0mfrom£46。

5mthepreviousyear。

Ontheretailside,salesinThorntonsownstoresweredown7。

0%year-on-year,whileonlinesalesweredown8。

5%onthecorrespondingperiodof2011。

Therealslumpwasinfranchisestores,wheresalesweredown23。

8%onayearago,largelyreflectingthecollapseoftheClintonscardsretailchain。

Commercialsaleswereup9。

8%onayearago,withprivatelabelsalesupaneye-popping222。

3%,unfortunatelyfromalowbaseof£1。

0m,to£1。

4m。

TheCommercialChannelsalestootherretailersisfastbecomingthemostimportantpartofthebusiness。

Itsawsalesimprove4。

9%fromayearearlierto£19。

8m。

Themilddisappointmentforusonthecompositionofthesalestrendswasthe+9。

8%growth(vs。

ourexpectationsof+11to+12%)inthekeyCommercialbusiness,writesPeterSmedley,ofbrokerCharlesStanley。

Wethinkhoweverthisreflectsthetimingofstockdispatchestokeysupermarketclients,Smedleyadds。

HousebrokerInvestecconcurs。

Commercialsalesaretypicallylumpyatthistimeoftheyearduetodeliverytimings,notesBethanyHockingatInvestec。

ThekeypointforHockingisthattheorderbookforChristmastradingremains,inThorntonsownwords,strongandinlinewithpreviousexpectations。

Giventhetoughbackdrop,managementhassensiblyadoptedacautiousstanceinpeaktradingplans。

Weareverypositiveonthestrategy,andrecentproductinnovationhasbeenencouraging,inourview,thehousebrokerloyallycontinues。

Eventhehousebroker,however,ratesthesharesasnomorethanahold,althoughgiventhesharesaretradingataround31pafterfallingbelow10pinthedarkdaysofJanuary,perhapsthatisnotaltogethersurprising。

ThecompanysstoresarestillafamiliarsiteonBritainsmainlinerailwaystations,wheretheyremainavaluedresourceforforgetfulhusbands,nodoubt,butthesamecouldoncebesaid(exceptfortheforgetfulhusbandsbit)ofSockShop,whichwentintoadministrationin2006。

ThenumberofThorntonsstoresinthereportingperiodreducedfrom330to320,butthatstillseemsalotforachainsellingpremiumpricedinessentialproductsinthisageofrecession。

Managementprobablyagrees。

ThelastwordgoestoCharlesStanleysPeterSmedley:WecontinuetoseeThorntonsasaclassic,self-helpturnaroundstorythatshouldincreasinglyattracttheattentionofinvestorsasitshakesofftheperceptionofanembattledchocolateretailerandtransitionstowardsafastmovingconsumergoodsbrandedmodel。

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