US retailer Spartan Stores saw its fiscal third-quarter profits slip as sales slowed and expenses rose.

For the 16 weeks to 3 January, net earnings dropped 16% to US$8.9m from $10.6m a year ago.

Sales dropped to $781.9m from $787.8m in the previous year, hurt by a decline in distribution revenue due to lower volume in its pharmacy programme.

Operating expenses totalled $139.6m, or 17.8% of sales, compared with $138.6m in the comparable quarter last year. The increase was due primarily to a higher mix of retail sales, the company said.

"We are very pleased to be extending our track record of double-digit profit growth, particularly in the present economic climate," said Dennis Eidson, Spartan's chief executive officer. "We are especially pleased to be reporting our tenth consecutive quarter of retail comparable-store sales growth."

The company said it expects same-store sales to increase in the low single digits during the remainder of fiscal 2009.