Costco Wholesale Corp.’s sales rose for the ninth time in the past 10 months, helped by demand for meat and fruit, the club store operator said.

Fresh meat sales rose by low- to mid-single digits, on a percentage basis, in July compared with the same month in 2009, David Sherwood, Costco’s director of investor relations, said in an e-mail today.

Ribs, fish and bagged frozen seafood in particular were “success items” during July, Sherwood said. Fresh produce sales were up by low-single digits, he said.

Costco’s sales at U.S. stores open at least a year, excluding gasoline, rose 3 percent during the four weeks ended Aug. 1 compared with the same period in 2009, the Issaquah, Wash.-based company said in a statement today.

Club stores such as Costco and general merchandisers such as Target Corp. are grabbing a larger share of the U.S. retail food market as consumers seek lower prices and access to nonfood items, such as fuel and apparel, at the same locations they buy groceries.

“There is a continued shift to these non-traditional channels, which are focusing more on food, particularly in perishables,” said Neil Stern, an analyst with McMillan Doolittle LLP, a Chicago-based retail consultant.

Club stores “are gaining more trips as the traditional grocery channel continues to lose customer trips,” Stern said.

Costco, BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. and Sam’s Club, a unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., will account for 9 percent of the $816 billion in sales generated by the U.S. retail food industry in 2010, according to estimates from Citigroup Global Markets analyst Deborah Weinswig.

In 2005, those three clubs stores had an 8.3 percent share, according to Weinswig. Target’s share of the retail food market is expected to grow to 3.6 percent this year from 2.8 percent in 2005.

Including gasoline, Costco’s net company-wide sales during the four weeks ended Aug. 1 totaled $5.86 billion, up 8 percent from a year earlier. Costco, which operates 525 stores in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico, wouldn’t provide a dollar sales figure that excluded gasoline.

“Costco, for the past year, has been a very consistent performer, generally up anywhere from 3 percent to 5 percent and generally outperforming the rest of mass retail,” Stern said.

Also today, Target said July comparable sales rose 2 percent compared with the same period in 2009. BJ’s Wholesale Club, which has 189 stores in 15 states, said comparable store sales rose 1.9 percent excluding gasoline during July.

Still, the overall picture for U.S. retailers has grown murkier in recent months as high unemployment discourages consumer spending, analysts say.

Whole Foods Market Inc.’s quarterly sales, reported yesterday, fell short of expectations and the specialty grocer expressed caution over its outlook for the next year. Supervalu Inc., the fifth-largest U.S. food retailer, in July said it expects identical-store sales to decline 5 percent excluding fuel for the current fiscal year.

In recent months, retail sales have been “hurt by a tough promotional environment and the diverging spending intentions of shoppers by income group,” consultant Kantar Retail said in a statement today.

“Retail sales growth appears to be leveling off at a modest pace as it moderates from a spring surge fed by economic stimulus and pent up demand,” Frank Badillo, Kantar Retail’s senior economist, said in the statement.

“But the results are uneven among retailers, which reflects tough price competition in certain channels and diverging spending intentions among upper and lower income shoppers,” Badillo said.

Wal-Mart, the top U.S. club store operator, had 596 Sam’s Club stores at the end of 2009.