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

Even the great business pioneer Henry Ford wasn’t perfect.

While building his automobile empire, however, he shared a lot of wise insight. One quote attributed to Ford is this: “A handful of men have become very rich by paying attention to details that most others ignored.”

Are there details in the produce aisle that can affect success? You bet. Imagine a customer that has 10 minutes to shop for dinner. The produce department may be in great shape in most regards: Clean, well-stocked, good quality. But what if the plastic bag rolls are empty? Supposing price tags are missing on the multideck case?

You may not see these details, but your customers do, and enough negative points can repel sales and profit.

During my time as a foodservice buyer, I made it a point to personally take care of the herbs. I learned early on that this was a hands-on category. Our quality-control people were usually busy on the dock, so my early morning routine included helping out, digging through the herb pick-slots.

Herbs are a delicate category. Some items last a few days; others need to turn much quicker. Every morning I culled the herbs carefully, adjusted my inventory and replenished the stock in time for the evening orders.

Why go to so much trouble? Because chefs look at the herbs they receive with the keenest eye. I can’t say for certain this way led to measurable success, but we had very few complaints. My theory was if the details (as in herbs, tomato color or avocado ripeness) went well, then the customer’s confidence in other categories rises as well.

My thinking is this: if the details are handled correctly, the customer will supplement their orders with staples, not the other way around.

Now that every neighborhood has its core of Food Network fans, retail customers are better educated and demanding of the detail — fresh items they need — for hundreds of recipes.

I know my neighborhood store’s herb section is usually stocked at a fair level and chock-full of marginal offerings at best. It isn’t a busy store, and I’m sure that the herbs look acceptable at least twice a week when someone gives the section some attention. I’m sure my store is typical in this regard.

Still I wonder, “What if?” What if a produce manager took as good a care of this category like a good foodservice buyer in a warehouse? Supposing this section was culled and stocked a couple times per day?

I suspect what would happen is that sales would eventually rise, along with customer confidence, knowing that at least this one detail is covered.

Now to work on the other hundred or so details.

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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