Dec 5 (Reuters) - Kroger Co, the biggest U.S. supermarket operator, on Thursday posted a lower third-quarter profit that matched Wall Street's view, as it continued to appeal to loyal shoppers with competitive prices.
The Cincinnati-based company that owns the Ralphs, Smith's and Food 4 Less chains said net income was $299 million, or 57 cents per share, down from $317 million, or 60 cents, a year earlier.
Excluding adjustments ranging from taxes to settlement payments and merger-related costs, earnings per share in the latest quarter were 53 cents per share, versus 46 cents a year earlier, Kroger said.
Analysts, on average, were looking for a third-quarter profit of 53 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Third-quarter identical-store sales - which include results from stores open without expansion or relocation for five full quarters and are used to gauge a grocer's performance - were up 3.5 percent for the latest quarter, excluding the sale of gasoline.
The company maintained its forecast for full-year identical supermarket sales growth, excluding fuel, in the range of 3 percent to 3.5 percent and annual profit of $2.73 per share to $2.80 per share.
Kroger executives earlier this year vowed to deliver higher profits amid raging competition from retailers ranging from supermarket operator Safeway Inc and giant retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc to dollar stores and convenience marts.
Shares in Kroger were down 0.2 percent to $41.44 in premarket trading.