UPDATE 1-Thorntons profit rises as it sells more chocolates
* First half sales rise 3 pct to 133.7 mln stg
* Pretax profit before items 5.3 mln stg vs 3.1 mln stg
* Shares rise 10 pct
By Ankur Banerjee
Feb 25 (Reuters) - Chocolate maker Thorntons Plc reported a 70 percent rise in first-half profit as it sold more to supermarkets and other wholesale customers and said it expected Easter to provide another boost to sales.
Thorntons' shares, which rose as much as 10 percent on Monday morning, were one of the top percentage gainers on the London Stock Exchange.
Thorntons' spring-season order book is strong, particularly sales to big grocers, Chief Executive Jonathan Hart told Reuters.
Derbyshire-based Thorntons, which sells its products in its own stores as well as to supermarkets in the United Kingdom, closed 13 stores in the first half. The company said it ended the first half with 317 stores.
Consumers have been reluctant to loosen their purse strings in the face of subdued wage growth, high unemployment and rising prices, prompting Thorntons to close its high street stores and focus on its online business.
Official retail figures, released in January by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), confirmed that December was a tough month for customers and retailers.
Thorntons' results were a clear sign that its strategic plan to rebalance its sales towards its commercial arm that sells to grocers is beginning to work, Panmure Gordon & Co analyst Philip Dorgan said in a note.
Sales rose 3 percent to 133.7 million pounds ($204.1 million) in the 28 weeks ended Jan. 12. Sales in the commercial UK channel rose 16 percent to 51.8 million pounds.
Pretax profit before exceptional items rose to 5.3 million pounds from 3.1 million pounds a year earlier.
Thorntons, which had cancelled its dividend last year, said there would be no interim dividend.
Thorntons' shares, which have more than doubled in value since June, were up 9 percent at 46.19 pence at 1128 GMT.
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