Total sales rose by 2.3% to £104.7m in the 28 weeks to January 11, while sales at its own shops were almost the same at £83.8m from its estate which has been reduced from 395 to 390 outlets.

Thorntons said sales at its shops before Christmas saw 27 consecutive weeks of growth. But in the 7 weeks to December 28, like-for-like sales were up 0.9% down from 8% in 2001.

Half year like-for-like sales performance was up 1.6%, with an improved margin, the company added.

Franchise sales were up 9.7% and the number of outlets increased by 10 to 191.Gift sales through the internet and mail order rose by 37% to £3.4m.

Chief executive Peter Burdon said: ''Interim profits, whilst within the range of our expectations, are likely to be towards the lower end of that range.

“Consequently we are a little more cautious about the company prospects for the full year but remain optimistic given the strength of our product offer ahead of the important Valentines Day, Mothers Day and Easter trading periods."

Thorntons will announce interim results on February 25.