It hasn’t disappeared just yet, but where did it all go wrong for the high street chocolatier?

We Britons are a diverse lot; that much is obvious from the odd traditions that are still practised here to this day. They range from dancing with ribbons around a 10ft wooden post whilst wearing stupid hats, to running down a steep hill in Gloucestershire – snapping numerous bones on the descent whilst chasing a cheese wheel that nobody in their right mind would ever eat because it’s more than likely coated in dog excrement and grass stains.

Generally speaking, however, we also have a lot in common here in our wee Isles. Our militant belief in the queue system (in which you wait your turn in line even if you’re under shotgun fire) is one such belief. Likewise, most Britons also seem to have been duped into supporting Thorntons – the failing chocolatier – for most of the last century.

Yes, it’s a genuine pity that thousands of people employed in their shops will soon lose their jobs during the ongoing store closures, but is it a pity that we will no longer be subjected to Thorntons chocolate? No. Thorntons is to the chocolate world as Skoda is to the motor-vehicle world – pretty average and constantly struggling to appear better than it really is. However, not even a genuinely brilliant television advert,  such as the award-winning ‘My Favourite Things’ used to successfully increase sales for Skoda, could save Thorntons.

In the cold light of day, most Thorntons chocolate is absolutely disgusting. It’s also immensely overpriced for what it is. Even when forced to close down numerous high street stores across the UK, the biggest reduction they can manage is so pitiful that it might as well be 10p off for every £50 you spend. Wow, call out the reinforcements ma – and bring recyclable bags.

Thorntons simply hasn’t kept pace with the modern confectionary world and it has almost totally failed to establish a credible online presence. In addition, as a brand, it sold itself out; their chocolates must be the only ones you can pick up in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Tesco, Morrisons… Oxfam. You literally can buy them everywhere and anywhere – which has made their own retail spaces totally redundant. Furthermore, whereas a brand such as Hotel Chocolat has a wonderful provenance for its chocolate (you can even holiday at Hotel Chocolat in St. Lucia and visit their cocoa plantations) and a fantastic website to persuade buyers into purchasing, the only thing I know about Thorntons is that they have their Headquarters next to a JCB plant in Derbyshire.

Thorntons is unglamorous. It sells that which is both expensive and mediocre (an increasingly unique paradox in the competitive retail environment), and as such does not have a place in modern Britain. It’s unsurprising that they’re losing money and failing as a business – they’re reaping the reward for 100 years of utter complacency and a lack of innovation. Nobody wants to buy unimaginative over-priced chocolates; no matter how well wrapped they are, no matter how many bows are stuck on top of their glaringly obvious and clichéd wrapping paper (we can all tell where they’re from in an instant and the stomach-plunge of disappointment is experienced by everyone on birthdays, Christmases and anniversaries alike).

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it’s coated in diamonds – a turd will always be a turd and a business with no direction will not survive in the current economic climate… no matter how long it’s managed to float for. Let’s flush it down the loo and forget about it.


James Heaney


Images – James Heaney