J Sainsbury has ended a nine-year run of quarterly sales growth, underlining sluggish trading momentum for the major grocers in the early months of 2014 and reflecting a tough comparative figure last year.
The group trails market leader Tesco and is battling with Wal-Mart Stores' Asda to be the UK's second biggest supermarket.
It said today that sales at stores open over a year fell 3.1%, excluding fuel, in the 10 weeks to March 15, its fiscal fourth quarter.
That compared to a rise of 3.6% the same time last year, analysts' forecasts in a range of down 2-3% and growth in the third quarter of 0.2%.
Prior to the fourth quarter Sainsbury's had reported like-for-like sales growth for 36 quarters in a row.
The firm's total fourth quarter sales fell 1%, excluding fuel.
Sainsbury's said it was confident it would outperform peers in the year ahead.