Thorntons confirms plans to close UK stores amid pandemic challenges

LEEDS, UK - 5 SEPTEMBER 2015. Thorntons Chocolate Shop. People walking past and into the Thorntons Chocolate shop on a busy shopping day in Leeds.

UK confectionery brand Thorntons has confirmed none of its 61 British stores is set to reopen following the coronavirus pandemic, which it said had created a ‘tough and challenging retail environment,’ writes Neill Barston.

The decision is reported to impact on 600 jobs across its operations, with the business having been one of the country’s most high street presences in the sector.

However, with the UK’s retail landscape having been hugely affected by the pandemic with three successive lockdowns, the company said that it had to adapt to changing shopping habits, with consumers moving increasingly online.

The business had been bought in 2015 by Ferrero for a reported figure of £112 million, with the brand experiencing trading challenges in the build-up to the pandemic, which have continued as many retail operations remain closed under present restrictions.

Originally founded in 1911 by travelling confectioner Joseph William Thornton and his 14 year-old son Norman in Sheffield, producing a broad range of lines ranging from toffee and fudge, through to chocolate series including its Continental and Belgian series that have proved core lines for the firm. But amid competition from the likes of other UK companies such as Hotel Chocolat, the pandemic was held responsible for its decision.

The company issued a statement on the closures, and said that its owners remained committed to the brand, and would make further investments into its online operations.

Its customer message read: “Like many companies, we have been operating for a long time in a tough and challenging retail environment. We have been committed to transforming and growing a successful Thorntons retail estate; this has included significant investments to open new format stores and cafes and ensuring we had stores in the right locations.

“However, changing dynamics of the high street, shifting customer behaviour to online, the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and the numerous lockdown restrictions over the last year – especially during our key trading periods at Easter and Christmas – has meant we have been operating in the most challenging circumstances.

“Unfortunately like many other retailers, the obstacles we have faced and will continue to face on the high street are too severe. Despite our best efforts we have taken the difficult decision to go into full consultation to start the permanent closure of our retail store estate. We understand that this will be an uncertain and concerning time for our colleagues and we will actively support them during this period.”

David Fiske, a UK confectionery industry blogger at commented on the closure plans, which he believed indicated major change within the sector.

He said: “The sudden news about Thorntons’ national retail shop closures is shocking, especially as the brand has been a staple of the high street for so long. My thoughts go out to the very loyal staff who now face an uncertain future.

“The bold move to a digital-first approach shows the immense power of the online world, and demonstrates just how much retail is changing. It also highlights the detrimental impact caused by the ongoing rolling restrictions placed upon society in a bid to control the spread of Coronavirus. Businesses need certainty now more than ever, but it doesn’t look like this is forthcoming any time soon.”

Confectionery Production has approached Ferrero for further comment on the story.

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