The year marked more of the same challenges experienced in prior years, but this time the pressure got ramped up a notch.
. Companies in trouble sold off their weak and underperforming properties. The economy and consumer confidence became a drag on spending. Shoppers watched their spending and traded down during the first half of the year.
The two biggest stories of the year -- Fleming's downfall and the Ahold scandal -- sent a pall over the entire industry as retailers and wholesalers began to take stock of their accounting practices and get their houses in order. The spin-off of Fleming's grocery wholesaling operation left many independents in the lurch as they struggled to find other sources of supply. C&S Wholesale Grocers emerged to buy most of Fleming's wholesale business, and it subsequently divvied up its properties, resulting in changes to the food-distribution landscape.
Memorable scenes from 2003 include angry stockholders at Ahold's gates in the Netherlands, supermarkets rallying behind the troops being sent to Iraq, union picket lines in Southern California, the ouster of powerful executives, the lashing out at one supermarket executive for his stance on labor relations, Northeast retailers hurled into a blackout, wildfires in California and severe storms, including one Category 5 hurricane.
One event that retailers could cheer about was their victory in a class-action lawsuit against MasterCard and VisaUSA in which the companies faced charges of anticompetitive practices. The settlement awarded retailers just over $3 billion and ended the "Honor All Cards" policy.