FACING AN UPHILL BATTLE

As the stock markets rebounded from a two-year slump in 2003, shares of publicly traded food retailers and wholesalers sat mostly on the sidelines.Shares of some food-distribution companies exceeded the sluggish growth rates of their peers in 2003, but the stock of the three largest traditional supermarket companies -- Kroger Co., Safeway and Albertsons -- all underperformed in the Dow Jones Index

As the stock markets rebounded from a two-year slump in 2003, shares of publicly traded food retailers and wholesalers sat mostly on the sidelines.

Shares of some food-distribution companies exceeded the sluggish growth rates of their peers in 2003, but the stock of the three largest traditional supermarket companies -- Kroger Co., Safeway and Albertsons -- all underperformed in the Dow Jones Index and the S&P 500.

Analysts attributed the weakness to a combination of facto

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