Comment: Thorntons have lost that luxury feeling.
Not surprisingly Thornton’s has said that they expect its’ commercial arm to outstrip store sales in 3 years time. They have also opened a new concept store in Birmingham and announced a major new shop fit for 75 stores, but is this too little too late?
In many ways the current trend of consumer spend away from “mid market brands” towards either premium/luxury or value, has exacerbated their decline mainly because, whilst the stores are still trying to provide the premium customer experience, the half price sale of the same boxes in Tesco next door is undermining their position. A brand cannot try to be all things to all people and Thornton’s is clearly falling down the middle.
It should be also said that the Thornton’s management team has also missed significant clues that chocolate tastes were changing. The success of Green & Blacks, who were the first company to sell a chocolate bar with 70% cocoa solids, was one such indicator.
As well as experiencing the taste, customers also want to know more about the quality of the ingredients, including the amount of cocoa solids and whether the company used Fair Trade sources (all of which is omitted from the Thornton’s website). This process of education is irreversible, once a customer has gained an appreciation of a quality brand, they may find it difficult to return to Thornton’s. As with the greater sophistication around coffee drinking, so to have UK chocolate consumers become much more discerning.
We also know from our own experience of working with a European luxury chocolatier, who has invested heavily in new stores and franchises in the UK and across EMEA, that the demand for luxury chocolate worldwide is increasing. Recently In London we have seen the launch of Godiva’s cafe in Harrods and Hotel Chocolat’s cafe/store in Covent Garden which will offer snacks as well as an opportunity of tasting small batches of rare chocolate being made on site. Customers will pay more for the experience.
One suggestion is that Thornton’s develop a more luxurious sub brand with clever marketing (and a new name) which can only be found in their new concept stores.
That said there will always be a market for mass produced chocolate and perhaps they should focus on getting a good position next to Lindt and Suchard on the supermarket shelves.
Amanda Yeates is a Director of Gamble and Yeates.
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