Thorntons has cited "rapid market decline" for a fall in first-half profits, as the chocolate specialist announced a cut in the dividend it will pay shareholders.

Profits fell by more than a third (39%) for the 28 weeks to 10 January to £7.3m, down from £11.9m for the previous year.

Total sales for the period edged up by just 1.3% to £128.4m, including a drop in like-for-like sales at Thorntons' own retail outlets.

The company also saw its overall debt increase by £5m over the period, from just over £11m to £16.3m.

"Thorntons' focus on customer service combined with our strong operational platform and initiatives to reduce operating costs position us well to take advantage of opportunities to improve performance in the second half of the financial year," said chief executive Mike Davies.

"These include a three-week longer selling season due to a late Easter, increased selling opportunities following the closure of Woolworths and improved productivity versus last year, when we incurred higher costs due to the early Easter.

He added: "With prudent cost management, product innovation and keeping customers at the forefront of our thinking, I am confident that we will emerge from the current conditions a stronger, more profitable business."