On page 62 of Associated British Foods’ 2019 Annual Report, published in November, there is a summary of the principal risks and uncertainties that the board believed could challenge its business model or operations over the coming year.
Fluctuations in exchange rates and commodity prices featured, as did the possibility of a cyberattack or a consumer shift away from sugary foods. Brexit got a special mention too. Nowhere, of course, was the notion raised that a virus could emerge from China that would turn high streets across the world into ghost towns.
The Covid-19 lockdown, when it came, cost ABF’s Primark chain approximately £650m in revenues a month. The retailer was among the worst affected in Europe, because it had for years spurned ecommerce in favour of bricks and mortar - a decision that paid off handsomely, until the virus shattered the unspoken assumptions on which it was based.