Brand Health Check: Thorntons

The chocolatier blames the weather for declining profits, but the City is not fooled.

Poor old Thorntons. Personifying that most British of character traits, it is always moaning about the weather, which tends to be either too hot or too cold.

This month, the chocolatier, which has 365 shops and sells branded and own-label bars in supermarkets, issued its second profit warning of the year. Sales at its outlets fell 14% in the three months to April, with an unseasonably warm Easter adding to its woes and causing eyebrows to lift across the City.

Few people want to eat melting chocolate on a hot day, but only a few months previously the brand was bemoaning the 'adverse weather conditions' experienced over Christmas. The weather last July, meanwhile, was too hot; which was unfortunate, because May 2010's 'unusually severe weather conditions', the company said, had already damaged its prospects.

Analysts have suggested that rather than blaming the weather, Thorntons, a premium purchase, should address the issue of consumers continuing to keep their budgets in check at a time of economic uncertainty. Its sales in supermarkets are holding up, rising 25% in the three months to April, but even this marks a slowdown in growth.

So what can Thorntons do to tempt consumers to buy its truffles and other sugary titbits?

We asked Gary Moss, founder and chairman of consultancy Brand Vista, which works with Hamleys, and Kiran Wood, brand and product innovation director at agency What If?, which works with Unilever and Moet Hennessy.

 

GARY MOSS - FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, BRAND VISTA

To be as exposed as this brand appears suggests that it has become disconnected from its customers and complacent about their loyalty.

As a result, Thorntons has not innovated and has lost its once-powerful position in our hearts and minds to become one of the less-differentiated chocolate brands.

It also appears to have forgotten what made it famous.

Thorntons has all the feeling of a brand that has become too inward-looking. I get the impression that it is ignoring the fact that it is the consumer that allows it to exist.

As we have always said, the insides of a company leak out, especially when under pressure. Thorntons is no exception. As a brand it seems worried and scared, when in reality it has great strengths. It needs to harness them to move on.

REMEDY

- Bring the customer back by seeking deep insight into where the brand could go. Be innovative and take some risks with the research, or else end up with the same old insight that everyone else has.

- Align the whole business and its franchisees to a vision that genuinely differentiates around the experience and the product, inspires them and gets them investing their time and effort into delivering big and small brand gestures. The focused vision will help to bring about innovation and welcome excitement back to a rather dull and tired brand.

- We all love chocolate - it is one of humanity's prime motivations in life. Thorntons has a tremendous advantage as it makes fantastic chocolate. It simply needs to sell it in a more inspiring, exciting way.

KIRAN WOOD - BRAND AND PRODUCT INNOVATION DIRECTOR, WHAT IF?

Despite two-thirds of its sales achieved through its shops, the majority of Thorntons' profit comes from supermarkets. Winding down retail operations isn't the answer, however - this would be like a pill that treated only symptoms, leaving the underlying cause to eat away the business.

As a manufacturer and a retailer, Thorntons could be delivering consumer experiences that packaged-goods brands could only hope to emulate.

The problem is that the sum of Thorntons' assets - products, shops and online business - is currently just that, a sum of assets. Individually, they do a reasonable job. The products are pretty good, staff pleasant, the site transacting. Collectively, though, they don't work together to powerfully engage the buying public. Thorntons lacks clear relevance, and delivers an experience that doesn't build or reinforce the brand. As a consumer, when should I think of Thorntons; as a receiver of a Thorntons gift, what is it saying to me; as a shopper, what does the brand inspire me to do?

REMEDY

- Define a powerful proposition - tying together stores, products and website into a resonant and consistently delivered consumer experience. What if Thorntons became the most thoughtful way to give?

- Develop this strategy to open up opportunities beyond core confectionery. This is a chance to future-proof in the light of social trends and looming regulatory restrictions.

- Finally, grab the opportunity that crisis presents with both hands. It creates bravery, freedom and common purpose in your members of staff. Harness that well, and it could lead to unimaginable results.

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