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

Here’s news from the produce aisle: Did you know that corn is out of season?

At least that is what I overheard a middle-aged couple say when they walked past the corn display. It was 10 o’clock on Sunday morning. Hundreds of shoppers were in the store that was at least as big as 60,000 square feet, and dozens were shopping in produce. I just happened to be shopping behind the couple, and they already had several produce purchases in their cart.

The corn in question was certainly not out of season. The corn was obviously left out overnight, and the husks had dried up considerably.

“Who would buy this stuff? It looks awful,” the woman said.

“It’s probably been sitting in a warehouse somewhere,” the husband answered.

With that the couple placed a bunch of bananas in their cart and disappeared into another part of the store.

Getting an earful at the corn displayI wanted to grab the produce manager, who was in the middle of stocking a beautiful display of berries on the other side of the department, and give him a heads-up on the situation. It would have taken just a few minutes to pull all the old corn and put it into the back room, out of sight. Then it would require just a few more minutes to stock some new corn, taking care of immediate quality perceptions and sales.

I also wanted to interrupt the couple’s conversation and explain that spring corn is indeed in season and comes from Georgia, Florida or California this time of year. I wanted to say that this was simply a case of neglect on the store’s part.

Corn is but one of those extra-sensitive, high-respiration items that must be pulled at night, top-iced and stored in the cooler. Then bright and early the following morning a fresh display must be built using fresh stock.

Only then is older inventory rotated onto the display, trimmed, culled and only high-quality ears offered for sale. Sometimes the prior day’s inventory is shucked and wrapped in trays for quick sale.

But, 10 o’clock on Sunday and still no activity on this corn display?

I got the impression that the store was having other problems. The assistant store manager was on his cell phone, straightening the banana display while calling someone to come in to work. However, there were no legitimate excuses. The produce manager and another clerk continued with their stocking duties, unaware of what I had just witnessed.

In a time when shoppers are sensitive to what is locally grown, the second to last thing a produce manager can afford is to neglect displays that the customer could perceive as “not in season.” This couple, after all, stopped shopping for produce at this point.

The last thing a produce manager can afford? Those lost sales.

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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