Chocolate retailer Thorntons said it expected profits to beat market forecasts after this year’s longer Easter selling season helped sweeten sales.

The firm, which has more than a dozen shops in Birmingham, reported a 3.3 per cent hike in own-store comparable sales in the third quarter thanks to an extra three weeks to sell chocolate before Easter compared with last year.

Thorntons said it now expected underlying pre-tax profits of at least £5 million for the 12 months to the end of June – higher than the £3 million pencilled in by analysts, although the group made £8.5 million in profits the previous year.

Shares leapt 10 per cent in early trading yesterday after the market heard about the improved recent sales performance.

The group saw total sales rise by 11.7 per cent to £58.6 million in the 14 weeks to April 18, with double digit growth across its franchise stores, commercial arm and website.In February, Thorntons announced a 39 per cent slump in half-year profits after poor trading forced it to slash prices.

Sales were also affected by a plunge in corporate business as companies dramatically reduced spending on corporate gifts.

Demand from the business sector remained subdued in the third quarter, with sales in Thorntons Direct down 6.8 per cent despite strong consumer website sales, according to Thorntons.

But it said efforts to tackle the drop in consumer spending and to cut costs were paying off.

Mike Davies, Thorntons chief executive, said: “Our cost reduction initiatives announced at the time of the interim results combined with our continued focus on product innovation and customer service are showing results.”

The third quarter sales rise shows a marked increase on the first half performance, when the financial crisis impacted trading.