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

Produce managers generally aren’t into middle-of-shift pep talks.

However, it doesn’t mean they can’t convey a daily or weekly message on the run. If I were in some produce manager’s shoes right now, the message to my clerks would be this: Try to see the produce department through a consumer’s eyes.

I see different produce departments each week (usually at the end of the day, when I’m rustling up dinner), with clerks working hard. And yet, they’re not necessarily taking care of business.


In one store I shopped this week a clerk was busy stocking an apple display, being careful to hand stack the fruit. Normally I applaud such attention to detail. However, the item that I was interested in buying, peaches — was nearly empty. The selection was slim, and what was left was, shall we say, less than desirable.

It’s summer! Consumers are looking for tasty seasonal stone fruit!

I heard the same clerk mention to another that he was nearly done with the apples, and planned to tackle the stone fruit table ... after his lunch break.

Meanwhile, the store was getting busier as customers funneled for after-work shopping.

Granted, the clerks on duty were more than likely part-timers with less experience than the senior produce clerks one finds on duty in the morning. But this is where the produce manager has to be the guiding hand in getting the clerks to think like a consumer.

Think like a consumer

My own little pep talk might go into detail: “People, you must put yourself into the shopper’s shoes for a minute.

Your productivity priorities don’t always make sense when it comes to taking care of the customer. You have to keep your head in a swivel in regard to priority replenishment. Think bananas, lettuce, tomatoes — if those are stocked, then take care of ad items. The whole time, keep in mind one question.

“If it were me shopping right now, what would I be looking for?”

Being summer, I know I’d be thinking (besides stone fruit) berries, melons, fresh-cut fruit. I’d want fresh lettuce and other salad fixings, fresh corn, grapes and cherries.

These should be your priorities, too — what the customer is looking for. You can take care of all the other, busy-work stocking needs once the priority items are covered or when business dies down.

In the process, cull any unsightly produce you come across. Even with a mostly good display,if a customer sees a moldy tomato or dried out ears of corn, it’s all for naught.

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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