Canadian convenience operator Alimentation Couche-Tard said that it expects to grow full-year sales despite feeling the negative impact of the global credit crunch during the first quarter.

Net earnings for the 12 weeks ended 20 July totalled C$47.2m (US$43.9m), or C$0.24 per share on a diluted basis, down from C$69.1m, or $0.33 per share on a diluted basis, recorded last year.

During the first quarter, net earnings were impacted by a non-recurring income tax expense of C$8.3m related to a corporate reorganisation. Higher gas prices also ate into profits. However, the company added that its gasoline margins had surpassed expectations as it had passed some of the rising cost onto consumers.

"We haven't faced such difficult economic conditions since our entry into the US market," Alain Bouchard, chairman, president and CEO, told analysts during a conference call.

Nevertheless, Bouchard remained upbeat. "Taking a step back and looking at our overall performance I think we did a very good job: we generated respectable profit and cash flows; we continued our growth; we maintained our merchandise and service customer-base; and we outperformed the industry in many aspects," he said.

Sales at the Montreal-based convenience and forecourt operator increased by 20.9%, despite the economic slowdown in the US and unfavourable weather in Canada, Couche-Tard said. Revenues rose to C$4.3bn during the three-month period.

"We think we can improve sales overall both in Canada and the US, although we know that in some markets it's going to be tough," chief financial officer Richard Fortin said during the conference call.

During the quarter, the company acquired 70 stores from Spirit Energy and 15 stores from Speedway Superamerica.