May 2 (Reuters) - Regency Centers beat market expectations for first-quarter funds from operations (FFO) on Thursday, helped by strong leasing demand at its grocery-anchored shopping centers.

Demand for rental spaces of commercial real estate investment trusts (REIT) held, as their tenants benefited from consumers spending on daily essentials and groceries.

Peers Federal Realty Trust and Kimco also saw steady traffic at their shopping centers.

As per data from, visits at open-air shopping centers rose to 1.6% in March, compared with a decline of 3.9% last year.

Regency also raised its annual FFO forecast. It now expects National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (Nareit) FFO per share to be in the range of $4.15 to $4.21, compared with the prior forecast of between $4.14 and $4.20 per share.

The company reported FFO of $1.08 per share in the quarter ended March 31, compared with analysts' average estimates of $1.03 per share, according to LSEG data.

Regency Centers' portfolio includes over 400 properties, which are rented by grocers like Kroger, Amazon's Whole Foods, as well as retailers like TJX and Target, among others.

Shares of the company were up about 2% in trading after the bell. (Reporting by Anuja Bharat Mistry in Bengaluru; Editing by Tasim Zahid)