Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

Thomas J. Watson Sr., former president of IBM, once said, “Loyalty saves the wear and tear of making daily decisions as to what is best to do.”

This came to mind when I received this e-mail from an old friend, a longtime buyer and category manager.

“Armand — Imagine yourself back as a produce manager. You have all of this publicity about Rocky Fords being only at (Denver-based) King Soopers. Currently they are 69 cents per pound.

“Do you keep just enough on display to handle the traffic or do you build a spillover and put extra signage up?”

To me, this is about not only loyalty but longstanding relationships. As a former manager and supervisor for King Soopers, I am well acquainted with the local Rocky Ford deal and grew up with the popular, sweet cantaloupe being something that customers looked forward to every year with great anticipation. Our chain was front and center in aggressively promoting the crop.

Any recall, especially one that had as tragic consequences as last year’s cantaloupe from Jensen Farms (which was actually 90 miles and two counties away from Rocky Ford), is alarming on all fronts. The important thing to consider is that once the problems were identified, the industry as a whole learned from the mistakes made, and many actions have followed to help ensure the safety of future shipments.

But back to the e-mail in question.

As a produce manager, I would build a display appropriate for a generations-old relationship, not only between the bona-fide, reputable growers and our chain but considering what the shipper brands and the Rocky Ford name have come to mean to our customers.

I would make sure the display is placed prominently in the produce department, with a hearty spillover, as neatly well-stocked and rotated as any other display.

I would also provide information for customers who wanted more information about the melons (as I’m sure the chain would provide anyhow). I would post this on the back of my large easel-sized sign and include what steps have been taken since last season. If I was the produce manager I would make sure that my crew knew every detail so they could answer customers’ questions, face-to-face.

Shoppers will ultimately decide how much support they will show. As with any trust issue, it will understandably take time to rebuild support. All any produce manager can do in the recall-recovery stage is to treat this category as any other, ordering and stocking and sampling as usual.

I applaud King Soopers for openly supporting Rocky Ford growers. It’s the kind of loyal partnership that chains often speak of, but it is great to see in action. Especially when the going gets tough.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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