Thorntons has reported like-for-like sales fell 4.4% for the 14 weeks to January 9 but said it had benefitted from higher gross margins.

The chocolate specialist said trading was “satisfactory” and the company expects interim profits will be ahead of last year and in line with board expectations.

Total sales declined 2.4% to £80.7m. After excluding sales of private label products, sales grew by 3%. Own store sales fell by 4.5% to £51.7m.

Mike Davies, Thorntons’ chief executive, said: “We saw a pleasing continuation of growth in commercial sales and Thorntons Direct during this important trading period. The decline in own store sales was disappointing although this was primarily driven by our own decision to protect profit margins through significantly reduced discounting, but we were able to sell all the Christmas stock by the end of the period.”

Thorntons said the comparative period last year included sales at its former franchisee Birthdays, and former commercial customer Woolworths – both of which went into administration. It also ceased the production of private label products.

Excluding private label products, Thorntons said sales across all channels increased by 3%.

Franchise sales fell by 18.1% to £5.3m. It reopened 24 shops with new franchisees in the period, bringing the total number of stores opened to 70 since the loss of the 94 stores since Birthdays collapsed.