For many Britons, the name Thorntons conjures up happy childhood memories of sucking on caramel and boxes of Continental chocolates presented with a flower on special occasions.
However, businesses haven’t made money with travel in the past and this week the retailer said its 61 stores were to close permanently, affecting 600 jobs, blaming the “shifting dynamics of Main Street” and the impact. coronavirus lockdowns on sales.
It is the latest retail name to ditch brick-and-mortar stores as the pandemic accelerates the dismantling of large-scale retail chains, with nearly 10,000 stores closing in England, Wales and Scotland in 2020.
“I imagine a lot of people thought about the closures and thought, ‘My mom bought me Thorntons Caramel. I enjoyed it, it was a treat, and now it’s gone, ”says Clive Black, an analyst at city-owned brokerage firm Shore Capital.
With supermarket and convenience store shelves now filled with sweets and candies, it’s easy to forget that Thorntons thrived in an era when the main streets were very different.
Founded by Joseph Thornton in Sheffield and using the slogan ‘chocolate heaven since 1911’, the company experienced the consumer boom of the 80s, floundering in 1987 and its success continued into the 90s. a time when chain store brands were thriving in high streets and malls across the UK, by the millennium there would be over 450 stores.
“From the ’60s, Thorntons was a real British treat,” says Black. “The true accessibility of everyday confectionery is far less than it was in the 50s, 60s and 70s, so there is a cohort of people who will remember Thorntons as a treat.”
Thorntons’ decision to go out of business certainly has nothing to do with people eating less chocolate with sales on its own website up 70% in the past year.
An additional £ 500million has been spent on chocolate in supermarkets over the past 12 months, a figure boosted by the shift in sales from other outlets affected by the restrictions. The British ate over 600,000 tonnes, spending a total of £ 5 billion.
Sales data from analysts at Kantar Grocery also indicate shifting tastes, as chocolate – a fate that has also happened to gin and beer – underwent a ‘chic’ or artisanal transformation from the mid-2000s. .
While Thorntons fans remember smashing his slices of caramel with a hammer and avoiding coffee creams, today the conversation is more likely to be about the percentage of cocoa in a bar of chocolate and “l ‘origin story’ of grains.
Brits on the whole continue to consume milk chocolate, but sales of dark chocolate have increased by 50% in the past five years to reach £ 380million, while demand for white is rising by nearly two-thirds to £ 150million.
Thorntons’ decision to start distributing her products in supermarkets means she will likely have benefited from this comfort food. But its presence in the aisles of supermarkets and discount chains has contributed to the downfall of its own stores.
In recent years, buyers have started returning products purchased from Thorntons stores operated by Mark Rees, who is one of its franchisees. They found the product for several pounds less at Wilko and he could not match the price without making a loss on the sale.
“If you want to be a mass channel brand, that’s fine, but that doesn’t fit into a retail strategy,” Rees says. “Retailing is tough. It’s not just about producing a lot of the same product and sticking it on shelves. “
This week’s closings therefore conclude Thorntons’ long, slow death in the streets. It has tried on several occasions to reinvent its stores, add cafes and go into ice cream, but closed half of its stores ten years ago. In 2015, the Ambassador came to the rescue, with Italian maker Ferrero Rocher buying it for £ 112million.
A lack of product innovation over the years meant that customers had “given up on the brand,” Rees adds. “We all see what’s going on on social media and there are artisan producers and Hotel Chocolat bringing innovation to the market… customers want to be excited.
Ferrero International claims to have invested £ 45million in Thorntons, including experimenting with new stores and cafes – and remains committed to an ‘iconic British brand’. However, he concluded that when customers “change the way they shop, we have to change with them”.
Other heritage retail brands have been more successful at reinventing themselves for modern shoppers, with Greggs, on the other hand, announcing plans for 100 store openings this year.
With his vegan sausage rolls, green tea and low-calorie lunch options, the Newcastle baker, 82, is almost unrecognizable after being overhauled by CEO Roger Whiteside as a restaurant chain fashionable.
He stopped trying to sell loaves of bread because this “battle was won by the supermarkets,” says Whiteside. “Greggs was a big brand when I got her… we just helped. We have focused its management on a growing market. “
In contrast, Thorntons found itself stuck between the old model of running many stores and a new order dominated by one-stop supermarkets and internet brands selling direct to consumers, says Matthew Hopkinson, co-founder of the consulting firm. Didobi.
“You have to understand your position as a product or brand in this new world of consumption,” says Hopkinson. “The problem is with maintaining relevance… or you suddenly find that your consumer is people aged 70 and over who are still faltering in stores.”