The food industry adeptly navigated the uncertainties of external events in 2003.
The war in Iraq, which began on March 19, caused consumers to be anxious about renewed terrorist attacks. Some supermarkets saw a run on duct tape and other survival supplies in the weeks leading up to the war and during several Code Orange alerts. Retailers were minimally affected by the loss of some manpower due to military deployments. However, supermarkets supported the troops with enhanced military leave packages and charitable drives.
While no anthrax scares or white powder was reported in the supermarket aisles this year, the Food and Drug Administration moved ahead with its regulations to protect the supply chain as part of the Bioterrorism Act of 2002.
Supermarket operators also had to deal with weather-related events, disasters, and other disruptions during the year.
The first major winter storm hit East Coast retailers in late February, paralyzing the region and impacting Presidents' Day sales.
In September, advance warning of the approaching category five Hurricane Isabel gave retailers and grocery shoppers along the Mid-Atlantic seaboard plenty of time to prepare and stock up on storm supplies. Yet, the aftermath of the storm left retailers counting millions of dollars in perishable losses.
Winter returned to the Northeast to disrupt holiday traffic and delay some deliveries during the first two weekends of this month.
Besides being pummeled by the weather, those in the Northeast lost millions in sales and inventory due to the August blackout of 2003.
In October, the worst destructive wildfires ever in California added to retailers' woes: They also faced strikes from the United Food and Commercial Workers union. The fires caused evacuations and a temporary lifting of picket lines at some stores.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, added to this year's stress, especially for international trade show operators who saw cancellations and drops in attendance.