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Thorntons, the Derbyshire-based chocolate company with 3,500 staff and 242 stores, has been acquired by Ferrero of Italy for £112m.

Thorntons is to invest £6m in the refurbishment of 75 confectionery stores over the next three years, but also expects to close a further 60 of its 344 company-owned sites.

Thorntons is looking to expand its chain of 376 confectionery stores and cafes to 400, and a new store design will be tested in ten outlets this summer.

Thorntons is planning to open 30 confectionery stores over the next few years, taking the total to 400.

Thorntons is seeking permission to build a new distribution centre at its chocolate factory in Somercotes, which could lead to the creation of 260 jobs over the next two years.

Thorntons, the confectionery retailer, is looking to open up to 40 franchised outlets, but the number of company-owned stores is expected to remain at 390.

Thorntons is planning to open three more Signature confectionery stores over the next few months, to add to the existing nine.

Thorntons is to start selling hot drinks and pastries at nine pilot stores, and may extend the formula to all 400 outlets over the next three years.

Thorntons is to resume the expansion of its chain of coffee shops, and will invest £8m opening about 25 outlets over the next few years.

Thorntons, the chocolate retailer, is to slow down its expansion programme by opening just five new shops this year, and the introduction of in-store cafes has been put on hold.

Thorntons is to accelerate its store opening programme, aiming to have 507 shops by 2001, and will create 820 jobs.