Most publicly traded food-retail stocks posted double-digit declines in 2002 as investors abandoned a sector that in the past was viewed as a defense in bad economic times. The SN Composite Index, which tracks shares of 33 food-retail and wholesale companies, turned in its worst performance in a decade in 2002 as only eight companies posted gains. Even alternate-format retailers posing major competitive challenges to supermarkets had trouble in the stock market last year. The few shares ...

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