(Corrects analysts' estimate to $30.2 billion in second paragraph)
By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian
June 20 (Reuters) - Kroger Co, the biggest U.S. supermarket operator, reported higher first-quarter profit on Thursday and raised its forecast for the year, citing strong sales.
Total sales, including fuel, increased 3.4 percent to $30 billion in the latest quarter, but missed analysts' estimates of $30.2 billion.
Net income rose to $481 million, or 92 cents per share, from $439 million, or 78 cents, a year earlier. Earnings per share hit a record for the first quarter and beat analysts' expectations of 88 cents by 4 cents.
A Planet Retail analyst expected Kroger, the Cincinnati-based company that also owns the Ralphs, Smith's and Food 4 Less chains, to outperform its competitors as well as large retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Target Corp that sell groceries and gain market share throughout the year.
Kroger shares fell 1.6 percent to $34.56 in early trading as the broader market slumped. On Wednesday, the stock hit a 52-week high of $35.63.
Total sales including fuel increased 3.8 percent in the same period last year.
Excluding fuel, identical-supermarket sales rose to $22.4 million from $21.7 million in 2012.
Identical-supermarket sales are a measure of a grocer's performance because they track stores that have remained open without expansion or relocation for five full quarters.
Kroger now expects an annual profit of $2.73 per share to $2.80 per share, up from an earlier forecast of $2.71 to $2.79. (Reporting By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Jeffrey Benkoe)