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

Many a produce director will agree: The last 100 feet of the fresh produce journey are the toughest.

This is true because of numerous variables found between the receiving dock of a grocery store and the point of purchase, where shoppers decide to buy a produce item and place it in their cart.

The variables include (but are not limited to), training, labor planning, ordering, receiving, back room organization, stock-room and display rotation, sanitation, merchandising, customer service, prep work, culling, signing — the list can certainly go on.

When suffering any shortfall or by taking any shortcuts on any of the variables, a produce department will suffer.

If, on the other hand, a produce manager works hard to do a good job in all aspects of running a department on a consistent basis, the result can be rewarded with maximum sales, strong gross-profit margins and satisfied, repeat customers.

The word uttered to minimize problems and maximize results? Execution.

One produce director explained it this way.

“OK, take the upcoming Thanksgiving ad for example. At corporate-level, we’ve decided on ad items many weeks in advance,” he said. “Then the buyers secure ad lids and volume commitments from growers or other suppliers. From that point we set ad pricing, and as the holiday draws closer we start building inventory on these and other holiday-related items.

“Once this so-called ‘pipeline’ is full, we may push predetermined distributions of things like potatoes, celery, cranberries and sweet potatoes to the stores, sometimes as early as 10 days before the holiday. So even before customers start thinking about shopping for the big meal, everyone from the ad planning office, the produce buyers, even the outbound truck drivers have everything locked in and prepared.”

What remains is that daunting last 100 feet.

Execute the plan

Typically, the average produce manager already has direction from his supervisor/merchandiser. The produce manager has marketing plans made and orders committed, with clerks trained and schedules written.

“The produce manager has all the support of the chain and internally from the store manager,” the director explained. “At this point what we ask of that produce manager is to follow the direction given — and execute the plan.”

This isn’t to say execution is easy. And certainly not for the faint of heart. A produce manager at this point must be assertive in merchandising and providing direction, aggressive in helping out with stocking, and being willing and flexible to go the extra mile to make sure that preparations have been made, communication lines are open and that execution is constant.

The produce manager is the all-important runner in the holiday relay race. It’s time to charge through the last, always-challenging 100 feet, and close the sale.

u Note: See the November edition of Produce Retailer magazine, the Ten-Minute Merchandiser article, which outlines holiday labor preparation.

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.