FOOD INDUSTRY RALLIES TO NATION UNDER ATTACK

From Ground Zero to the global ramifications of Sept. 11, the food distribution industry was quick to take action on several fronts.In relief efforts, the food industry became a leading force and used its close ties to communities across the nation to raise millions of dollars in aid. Every sector of the industry came forward in community fund-raising campaigns or made direct donations to the American

From Ground Zero to the global ramifications of Sept. 11, the food distribution industry was quick to take action on several fronts.

In relief efforts, the food industry became a leading force and used its close ties to communities across the nation to raise millions of dollars in aid. Every sector of the industry came forward in community fund-raising campaigns or made direct donations to the American Red Cross and other established fund-raising organizations.

There is no final tally on just how much the entire food industry raised. However, Kroger, Albertson's, Safeway, Ahold and Wegmans Food Markets raised over $18.2 million in aid as of October. The packaged goods industry's charitable efforts totaled more than $80 million.

In the chaotic hours and days immediately following the terrorist attacks, which brought the nation to a standstill, the industry hardly missed a beat. Retailers immediately affected by the events who operated stores in Manhattan -- A&P's Food Emporium, Gristede's Foods and Pathmark -- all patiently worked within restricted traffic routes in replenishing supplies to those stores located in the heart of Manhattan.

A Pathmark store less than a mile from the World Trade Towers became a command post for the National Guard and police.

Meanwhile, Food Distributors International's Midyear Executive Conference in Toronto, the International Baking Industry Expo in Las Vegas, the General Merchandise Distributors' HBC Marketing Conference in Palm Desert, Calif., and the Food Marketing Institute's Energy & Technical Services Conference in Cleveland were among the conferences disrupted by the Sept. 11 events, leaving association executives and attendees scrambling to find transportation home.

While panic buying was minimal-to-nonexistent across the country, retailers like Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Ark., jumped on the huge demand to satisfy the nation's patriotic emotions with flags and ribbons.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the fallout continued with the economy and consumer confidence taking a big dive. A depressed economy soon fell into a recession with escalating job losses. The consumer confidence index dropped to its lowest level in 11 years by the end of September, hitting 97.6. By last month, it dropped to 85.3 with no indication of a turnaround until next year.

Food retailers also have reacted to changing consumer consumption patterns caused by the poor economy and the anxious uncertainty that gripped the nation. Some have re-examined and aligned their competitive strategies to deal with a public that suddenly became concerned with their food budgets and shopped even more frequently at low-price discounters.

Steve Burd, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., pointed to dramatic downward shifts in consumer buying patterns from red meat to chicken and deli meats to peanut butter and jelly. As a result, he told analysts Safeway would make changes to its product mix and "batten down the hatches and prepare for those changes in the fourth quarter by being as good at the cost-reduction game as anyone out there."

Finally, the anthrax tremor scared the country and raised questions about the safety of the nation's food supply. It affected retailers such as Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Meijer and H-E-B that reportedly shut down a few stores when mysterious white powder was found in stores.

As a result, the food industry has been forced to re-examine its food-safety policies as Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson alerted Congress to the possibility of a bioterrorist attack on the nation's food supply. The Grocery Manufacturer's of America, in conjunction with the Food Marketing Institute, developed Project Vigilance, a safeguarding program to further tighten food-safety standards.