Ask any produce director and they will attest: there’s no single important task a produce manager does than write a good order. A good order requires quite a bit of skill.

Which begs some questions. What exactly is a “good” order? And how does a manager write a good order on a consistent basis?

First, block off ample time to write the order. Many produce managers with excess inventory or high shrink rush through the order process. Even an accomplished produce manager typically takes at least an hour to write a good order.

Give ordering the attention it requiresUse an updated and organized order guide. As you write the order, it’s important to know what items are coming off an ad, what your current ad items are and what ad items are approaching. Some managers use different colored highlighters to keep the order guide organized and easy to follow.

As you begin, take an accurate inventory of what you have on hand. Not only what you have in the stock room, but take a walk around the sales area too, and take note of anything that will affect the outcome of the order.

Note: The better the back room and cooler organization, the better ordering. Train your clerks to consolidate merchandise and keep the back room clean and neat so you don’t waste time digging through racks or re-stacking cartons while you write the order.

The formula for accurate ordering of course, is very simple: Need minus inventory amounts to order.

The challenging part is the “need” portion of the equation. How much you will need to order starts by knowing what sells on an average day, or if the days being ordered for include busy or slower shopping periods, and how long it will be before your next delivery from your supplier. There’s nothing like experience to determine how much of something to order, so the longer you do the ordering the better you should get.

Stuck on an item? Don’t be afraid to ask your clerks. They are often willing to help and can be a great resource.

Finally, consider the variables: Produce quality, time of season, upcoming events, holidays, school schedules. Don’t personally care for kale or brussels sprouts? Take care not to let personal preferences cloud your vision or you will run short.

Writing a good order affects how fresh the produce will be that you offer your customers.

Customers buy based on many points. So if you order closely (frequent inventory turns) and order enough (but not too much), then you will have minimal out of stocks and you’ll keep most everyone happy.

Which, in our business, is not an easy thing to do.

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.