Online grocer Ocado posted a 27 percent rise in underlying earnings, forecast first-quarter sales growth of about 10 percent and said the rate of growth should improve as the year progresses and capacity improves.

The group said Tuesday it made earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of 27.9 million pounds in the year to November 27.

That was in line with analysts' consensus forecast, reduced after a December profit warning, of 28 million pounds and up from 22.0 million pounds in the previous year.

The group, which mostly sells the products of upmarket grocer Waitrose , said sales increased 16.6 percent to 642.8 million pounds.

Ocado said in December earnings had been hit by higher staffing costs as it battled to overcome capacity constraints at its main distribution depot in Hatfield, north of London.

However, earlier this month the firm posted a 16.6 percent rise in Christmas sales.

Shares in the firm gained some ground after that update but fell again less than two weeks later on fears over the firm's growth prospects after it said chief financial officer Andrew Bracey had been poached by recruiter Michael Page .

Shares in Ocado, which have lost nearly two thirds of their value since floating at 180 pence in July 2010, closed Monday at 80.2 pence, valuing the business at about 425 million pounds.

(Reporting by James Davey; editing by Rhys Jones)