Swedish grocer Axfood blamed this year's later Easter for its lower first-quarter earnings.

The retailer booked profit after tax of SEK189m (US$28.79m) for the three months to the end of March, down 2.6% on a year earlier. Operating profit dropped 3.1% to SEK246m.

The decline in earnings came amid pressure on sales. Like-for-like sales declined 2.3%. Axfood's top line was flat, with net sales of SEK8.95bn matching the result in the first quarter of 2013.

The group owns 252 stores. In addition, Axfood works with proprietor-run stores tied to Axfood through agreements. Axfood's share of Sweden's retail market is around 20%.

"Axfood experienced a stable start to the year but both sales and earnings were affected by the Easter weekend falling in April," president and CEO Anders Strålman said.

The retailer is targeting higher annual profits compared to 2013. "The outlook for the Swedish economy remains positive, with cautious, rising optimism among households. Axfood believes that the market conditions for the food retail trade will remain stable during the year, with food price inflation of one to two per cent," Strålman said.