US retailer Ingles Markets booked a drop in first-quarter income, hurt by a “competitive” operating environment.

The firm made a profit of US$6m for the quarter ended 26 December, compared to a profit of $11.1m in the prior year.

Sales, however, increased 4.5% to reach $841m.

“We’re pleased with the growth in sales and the number of customer visits. The current operating environment is very competitive and that’s had an effect on our bottom line,” CEO Robert Ingle said.

Comparable-store sales increased by 3.4%. Excluding gasoline sales, comparable-store sales inched up 0.8%.

The company said that average weekly customer visits increased by 11.6%, but the average purchase amount decreased 9.8% when comparing the December 2009 and 2008 quarters.

Last month, Ingles booked a drop in full-year profits on lower fuel prices and higher costs due to store development.

Net income for fiscal year ended 26 September totalled US$28.8m compared with a net income of $52.1m in the previous year.